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How one fast casual is re-thinking its menu for the COVID era

Is customization still king for fast casuals? Some chains are moving toward more chef-curated items to speed ordering.
Photograph courtesy of Roti.

Roti, a Mediterranean fast-casual concept formerly known for its fully customizable menu, is going in a different direction as the pandemic forces it to reevaluate what its customers are looking for.

The chain recently added several chef-curated dishes, following extensive consumer testing, to give diners who may be ordering quickly in-store or via app an easier, one-click option.

“They told us it’s great to have a build-your-own experience, but sometimes in the middle of lunch, I don’t remember what I got last time,” Nico Nieto, the chain’s vice president of marketing and brand, said. “Maybe you can make it easier for us. I feel pressure with people in line behind me.”

Roti Pita

So, the chain added curated items with playful names such as I Dream of Tahini (chicken, watermelon radishes, marinated cabbage, microgreens and honey-tahini vinaigrette on hummus); California Sunset (chili-tahini cauliflower on mixed greens with tomato and cucumber, marinated cabbage, dill cucumbers, pickled onions and red pepper sauce with feta crumbles and pita chips); and Lil’ Lamb (lamb shawarma on hummus with dill cucumbers, watermelon radishes, pickled onions and tahini dressing with a side of pita).

Diners can still build their own items from the full range of options, though the chain’s new digital menu boards urge them strongly toward choosing chef-created entrees.

The new menu items are also designed with an eye toward dinner, a growing daypart for Roti, the chain said.

Consumer testing showed that diners didn’t feel like the dishes were comforting and hearty enough for the evening meal, a spokeswoman said, so the new items were designed with a focus on being warm and satisfying.

Diners were surprised by the new creations, Nieto said.

They said, “I thought the only way to approach Roti was to go through the line buffet-style, but I realized less things in the right combination tastes better,” he said.

The curated dishes allow for “personalization” rather than customization, giving the customer the chance to select from several different finishing sauces.

Roti Salad

Changing the menu also involved reconfiguring the makeline to focus on the chain’s proteins, all displayed in cast iron vessels with spotlights.

“We knew we were changing more into chef-curated items and we don’t want to lose our legacy customer,” he said. “It’s less about setting up a line where people can choose and more about how do we merchandise our food so it looks as good as it can? It’s almost like a little stage.”

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