The aisles of Chicago’s McCormick Place were packed as day two of the National Restaurant Association Show got underway on May 20. Certain exhibits continued to attract crowds—most notably the two suppliers grilling plant-based burgers and sausages, as well as the booths dispensing booze in the BAR Pavilion. But in between the eating and drinking, some serious learning went on. Here are the highlights from the second day of the 2018 show.
1. The vegetable takeover
Cauliflower was the darling of the vegetable world last year, showing up as the base for gluten-free pizza crusts and center-of-the-plate cauliflower “steaks.” Now chefs and manufacturers are playing around with other vegetables. During her presentation on this year’s menu trends, menu expert Nancy Kruse cited carrots and turnips as the next veggie steak ingredients. (Lady of the House restaurant in Detroit serves a carrot steak with hollandaise and pesto sauces, while Yale University menus a porcini-dusted turnip steak with a soy sauce glaze.) In addition to its cauliflower crust, one exhibitor introduced broccoli-cheddar pizza crust at the show. And jackfruit—the popular plant-based swap for pulled pork—is not only available packaged in shreds but those shreds are now seasoned with smoke, barbecue and Mexican flavors.
2. Upgrades for meat eaters
Plants are a powerful force, but Americans still love their meat, said Kruse. With beef supplies up and prices down, per capita consumption is expected to reach 222 pounds in 2018. But consumers are looking for better quality meats, and operators are responding. McDonald’s switched to fresh beef for its burgers, Kruse pointed out, while a smaller chain, LGO Hospitality, launched its own branded beef, LGO Reserve, at its 11 locations. And chefs are partnering with meat companies to add cachet to the products. At one booth, Australian chef Curtis Stone cooked up sliders and chili using his branded seasoned grass-fed beef.
3. Presentation for all ages
It’s no secret that kids menus have undergone a cleanup at many restaurant brands. However, getting young diners to eat healthier can be as simple as building excitement with unusual food presentations, said Rosalyn Darling, an R&D chef at CSSI Marketing + Culinary, during a demo on how to beef up kids meals beyond chicken nuggets. Operators give plenty of thought to the appearance of meals for adults, so why not devote a bit of that attention to what kids are eating? Some menu items she suggested: deconstructed cheeseburger kabobs and a build-your-own breakfast that includes pancake strips, yogurt and fruit for dipping and a squeeze bottle of syrup or sauce for an extra interactive element.
4. Cocktail lists for specific guests and locations
“One size doesn’t fit all,” when it comes to creating a cocktail list, said Mitchie Kanda, beverage director for Houlihan’s, during a session on adopting cocktail trends at small or multiunit operations. Houlihan’s breaks its restaurants into three tiers to create drink menus that best fit patrons at specific locations. Tier 1 guests care most about value, while Tier 2 customers put equal weight on brands and value. Tier 3 is the most flexible type of guest—one who spends more and seeks on-trend drinks. Analyzing bar tabs for purchases and check totals helps Kanda craft a list that best suits a location or region.
5. Staff training’s modern turn
While authenticity on the menu is a hot topic, some operations are finding success by making HR materials more authentic as well. Millennials, in particular, gravitate toward an organic, less polished vibe, even when it comes to training videos, said Lexi Burns, VP of talent management for Twin Peaks, during a session on the death of the training binder. As such, concepts replacing traditional training manuals with videos shouldn’t overcomplicate the process, she said. Her co-panelists agreed. On ArbyTube, Arby’s internal platform inspired by YouTube, videos tend to be under two minutes and are often user-generated, said Damian Hanft, senior director of learning for the chain. And Jim Quinlan, operations training manager for Westgate Resorts, gave a nod to the “amazing” quality that can be achieved with nothing but a smartphone.
6. Delivery companies as restaurateurs?
Third-party delivery companies are thriving in Britain as well as in the U.S. But one U.K. delivery brand may be poised to disrupt the brick-and-mortar restaurant model, according to Peter Backman, a restaurant consultant based in London. In a one-on-one conversation, Backman revealed that Deliveroo is expanding its Deliveroo Editions locations, so-called “dark kitchens” or commissaries where existing restaurants can launch virtual brands. The expansion has not been as fast as the company first predicted, said Backman, but Deliveroo currently has about 74 kitchens at 12 sites in London—outnumbering the “ghost” kitchens in large U.S. cities such as New York or Los Angeles.