While some dining-out occasions are special—dates, birthdays or anniversaries—many others are simply a result of not wanting to cook at home, which has helped propel delivery and takeout occasions to new heights. But while off-premise continues to be an area of opportunity, restaurants that work to elevate the dine-in experience can see additional payoff.
Rather than focusing solely on new and innovative ingredients and dishes, some operators are pivoting toward offering the meals diners would like to make at home if they had the time—scratch-made comfort food dishes reminiscent of Mom’s cooking. Meat-and-sides platters and other classic comfort food entrees offer diners the comforting, familiar flavors they love, without the effort (or the dishes!).
Here are three reasons why restaurants are making this shift.
Diners love familiar flavors
When dining out, poultry options are some of the most popular diner selections. And while turkey perpetually shines around Thanksgiving, restaurants are taking notice that diners are interested in it year-round and they’re adjusting their dine-in offerings accordingly.
According to Technomic’s 2019 Center of the Plate: Poultry Consumer Trend Report, 48% of consumers order turkey as an entree at least once a month. Additionally, 42% agree that restaurants should offer more turkey-centric dishes outside of the holiday season, and 40% say they would order turkey more often at restaurants if it were available.
For operators, this means that offering scratch-made favorites that include turkey and other familiar proteins can entice trial. Cracker Barrel Old Country Store recently offered a limited-time dish of Country Fried Turkey—tender turkey filets handed breaded and fried crispy, topped with creamy herbed pan gravy, and served with green bean casserole and diners’ choice of an additional side, such as cranberry relish, homemade buttermilk biscuits or corn muffins.
Balancing health with indulgence and comfort
It can be hard for diners to balance lighter options with busy schedules. Luckily, restaurants are recognizing consumers’ growing desires for health and convenience and are perfecting healthful indulgence. Using purposeful substitutions, such as part-skim cheeses and lean proteins, chefs can create delicious, scratch-made comfort foods that balance diners’ need for convenient eats and healthier choices with their cravings for tasty, familiar foods.
By offering protein-and-sides entrees with a lighter spin, such as roasted turkey with green beans and sweet potatoes or spaghetti and turkey meatballs with a side salad, restaurants can appeal to diners who want a tasty meal that’s not too heavy.
Benefitting the bottom line
Scratch-made comfort foods can drive check averages as well. Restaurants that offer comfort foods can categorize different sides as premium options and menu them for an additional charge. For instance, the standard sides offered with an entree might be green beans, corn or mashed potatoes, while premium side options could include loaded mashed potatoes, roasted Brussels sprouts or macaroni and cheese. Restaurants can also menu shareable sides at a different price point—larger portions are perfect for sharing with the whole table and could entice diners to order more food so they can try a few different sides.
Scratch-made comfort food entrees are a boon to the dining-in experience. By offering a comforting, familiar meal that includes all the foods diners know and love, as well as offering coordinating drinks and desserts, restaurants can appeal to diners who want a home-cooked meal without all the prep work, cooking and cleaning.
This post is sponsored by Butterball Foodservice