With dining room closures and other restrictions limiting the ways to serve customers, it’s not surprising that restaurants got creative over the last year in order to stay afloat. One way many operators worked to cut costs was by trimming the menu.
And while cutting down on ingredients used in the kitchen can help reduce prep and inventory costs, the flipside is that it can be tricky to keep ingredients from feeling overused on menus, leading to guests getting bored of what’s offered. But simplified menus don’t have to be boring—the key is to utilize those cost-cutting ingredients in innovative and distinctive ways so that no two dishes are too much alike.
According to Technomic’s recent Value & Pricing Consumer Trend Report, 42% of consumers say menu variety is important in creating a good value at a restaurant, and in a post-pandemic landscape, offering customers good value will be key to future success. By choosing ingredients for the menu that can be adapted into an array of delicious, craveable dishes, operators set themselves up for success.
As for how to best appeal to diners, making sure that the menu features both familiar options as well as new flavors is the way to go. Additionally, it can be helpful to know which types of dishes diners are most likely to seek out when they want to try something new—that is, are they more likely to try an appetizer or an entree that features an ingredient or flavor they’re not familiar with? Knowing consumer preferences can be a big help when planning; according to Technomic’s 2019 Flavor Consumer Trend Report, diners are most likely to try new flavors at dinner—61% say they are likely to order new flavors at dinner compared to 49% at lunch and 34% at breakfast. As far as menu parts, consumers are almost equally likely to try a new flavor in an appetizer (57%), entree (55%), side (54%) or dessert (55%), so operators can consider offering new flavors all day long without worry.
As for getting the creativity flowing, here are three ingredients that offer versatility for operators—and three ways to use each ingredient in different menu items.
Even with plant-based options on the rise in popularity, it’s understandable that operators might not think of cauliflower as a menu powerhouse. But in reality, it’s a food that works well in an array of applications. Plant-based choices are becoming increasingly common on menus, as are global flavors. What’s more, cauliflower can be used as a low-carb substitute for foods like rice, making it a good option for “grain” bowls.
According to Technomic’s 2021 Center of the Plate: Seafood and Vegetarian Consumer Trend Report, 42% of consumers eat a vegetarian or vegan meal at least once a week—up from 34% in 2018. As for the reason for the increase, the top reason diners are eating more vegetarian options is because they are trying to eat healthier and consider vegetarian options to be healthier.
Cauliflower, thanks to the many ways it can be prepared, is a great option for plant-based choices, both familiar and innovative. With the popularity of street foods, global cuisines and lower-carb alternatives, cauliflower gives operators the chance to appeal to a wide range of diners. Want to try adding it to the menu? Try these options:
As an underused protein, skirt steak offers operators a lower-cost way to include beef in a number of dishes, and offers customers the chance to enjoy the upscale feel of ordering and eating steak at a restaurant. According to Technomic’s 2021 Center of the Plate: Beef and Pork Consumer Trend Report, a whopping 70% of consumers say they eat beef at least once a week, but only 25% say they eat steak once a week. This means there’s big opportunity to appeal to diners who want to eat steak more frequently.
Beyond consumers’ frequency of eating beef, there are other indications that skirt steak dishes would do well on restaurant menus. For example, about a third of consumers say they are now eating cuts of beef that they didn’t used to eat a year ago, and only 12% of consumers said that they ate skirt steak often. That is, there are a lot of consumers out there who haven’t yet added this tasty protein to their regular rotation.
And because skirt steak takes on flavors from cooking well, it’s perfect for use in dishes more innovative than just a simple steak and two sides—check out these three tasty ways to use this cut of beef.
Finally, chickpeas are a perfect option for operators looking to trim their back-of-house inventory without shrinking the menu. Because they can be used whole, as well as smashed, mashed, or blended up into a delicious dip, they’re a versatile protein that’s perfect for vegetarian diners and meat-eaters alike.
Technomic’s 2021 Seafood & Vegetarian report notes that when diners are ordering meat-free options, the foods they are most likely to order as protein substitutes include vegetables (58%) and beans (52%). What’s more, about a third of consumers say that when they are ordering vegetarian or vegan dishes, they prefer to order dishes that do not feature plant-based substitutes of meat items (such as faux chicken).
Consumer preferences toward whole foods such as chickpeas make it even more appealing for operators—this inexpensive ingredient that doesn’t take up space in the walk-in is also something diners are seeking out. Try these three ideas.
As diners gravitate toward plant-based choices, familiar favorites as well as unique and signature options will help draw them in. Be sure to promote these menu items, as well, so diners know they’re available.
As restaurants continue the road to recovery in a post-pandemic landscape, the importance of versatile ingredients will remain high. Be mindful of current trends, including both better-for-you eats as well as comfort food classics, when planning menus.
Other ways to ensure menu success include reassessing which items are selling well and which should be phased out, offering LTOs to keep regular diners interested and engaged and ensuring all items are ideal for off-premise dining, as consumer interest is expected to remain high, even after the pandemic.
To learn more about versatile ingredients that help trim the budget while maximizing the menu, be sure to visit Unilever Food Solutions online.
This post is sponsored by Unilever Food Solutions