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3 ways to reel in diners with seafood-focused bar snacks

Photograph: Shutterstock

From shrimp cocktail to fried calamari, seafood has long been a staple on starter menus. As more consumers clamor for fish, shellfish and other sea-dwelling proteins, there’s an opportunity for operators to expand their menu and increase sales with seafood-heavy bar snacks. More than 40% of consumers note that they would like more full-service restaurants to offer small plates, finds Technomic’s 2017 Starters, Small Plates & Sidesreport, so the time is right to make the move to seafood.

Menu diverse seafood options

Guests are most likely to order salmon, shrimp and tuna, the top three most popular seafood menu items, according to Technomic’s 2017 Center of the Plate: Seafood & Vegetarianreport.

It’s a fantastic idea to keep those proteins on the menu to cater to customers who don’t want to stray from their favorites, but there’s an increasing desire of patrons to want to try something new and a little exotic.

Bar snacks provide a perfect opportunity for guests to do just that. Because they’re smaller than standard menu items and often lower in cost, customers are frequently willing to take a chance on an unfamiliar flavor or protein. It might be a type of fish that isn’t common, such as Hoki, or a paired flavor that’s unexpected. Ethnic flavors, such as miso, saffron and Hawaiian, are growing rapidly in popularity, while grapefruit, Meyer lemon, Daikon and pear are in the introductory level of growth, according to the Center of the Plate: Seafood & Vegetarian report.

Pair comfort foods with the unfamiliar

The fastest-growing seafood dishes on menu today are rice dishes that have Asian or Spanish influences, according to the Center of the Plate report. Similarly, a number of restaurants have added sliders to bar snack menus—sliders that feature a seafood burger rather than one featuring beef, poultry or pork.

A customer that sees a familiar term such as “rice bowl” or “burger” in a menu item description may be tempted to try an unfamiliar option in that category, such as a shrimp burger or poke and rice bowl with raw seafood and fresh vegetables. Casual restaurant Yard House has tapped into the poke bowl trend, riffing on it by creating poke nachos—a combination of marinated raw ahi tuna, avocado, serrano peppers, nori, green onions and Sriracha aioli atop a pile of crispy wontons.

Play up the health aspect

Technomic’s Center of the Plate report on seafood finds that 58% of consumers consider seafood to be healthier than beef or pork, and 43% say they think it’s more healthful than chicken or turkey. Bar snacks are also often smaller than standard menu items, meaning they’re inherently calorie-controlled—often a plus for health-conscious consumers.

Additionally, customers are frequently increasing their consumption of vegetables, so there’s an opportunity to pair the healthy nature of seafood with produce. At PF Chang’s, the happy hour and appetizer menus feature Tempura Calamari and Vegetables, which combines crispy calamari with colorful vegetables such as bell pepper and carrots and a Sriracha honey dipping sauce. There’s something about that union of lean protein, healthy vegetables and a little bit of sweet-and-spice in the dipping sauce that allows a customer to feel like they’ve made the right choice.

For operators looking to boost sales of seafood on bar menus, offering familiar flavors, fresh produce and unique ingredients and formats is the perfect way to do so.

This post is sponsored by High Liner Foods

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