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Sides get the DIY treatment

From customizable pizzas to mile-high burgers to burritos built to taste and beyond, customizable foods have become ubiquitous across foodservice segments. A main driver of this trend is changing consumer preferences—according to Technomic’s recent Future of LSR: Fast-Food & Fast Casual report, 45% of consumers say they would like fast-casual restaurants to offer more build-your own options, while 40% say the same about fast-food restaurants.

Moving beyond the main dish, though, these customizable dishes have started to take over sides as well.

Although the build-your-own trend has been gaining momentum for the last several years, it doesn’t show any signs of waning. Whether it’s a dietary need or personal preference, the option to personalize their dish is important—38% of consumers say they would be likely to visit a casual-dining restaurant more if they offered greater customization, according to Technomic’s 2016 Future of FSR report. Customizing everything can be a way to not only ensure guests’ personal preferences are addressed, but it can also be fun for diners, who get to choose how to adorn their meals from start to finish.

Build-your-own options are a natural fit for speed-scratch preparations. For instance, sides of mac and cheese can be customized to include mix-ins and premium toppings such as sundried tomatoes, bacon or mushrooms.

These customizable options can work in concert with speed-scratch sides that feature premium base ingredients, such as specialty cheeses. “A ‘white cheddar’ style premium offering, such as Stouffer's White Cheddar Mac & Cheese, is right on the trend our customers expect,” says Nestlé Professional Chef Ryan Baxter. “It’s great as a stand-alone side dish and works well with the addition of fold-in ingredients for more versatile and customizable dishes that reflect regional and ethnic creations.”

Other side dishes that can be reimagined as build-your-own options include French fries, baked potato and more. For instance, at Potatopia, a fast-casual chain with locations in New York, New Jersey and Florida, diners enjoy a “build your own potato” menu with options including bases of baked potatoes, several types of fries and more, which they can then customize with different proteins, cheeses and sauces.

In a similar vein, Potbelly Sandwich Shops just introduced a Craft Your Own Mac and Cheese option, which features a creamy three-cheese mac and cheese that customers can top with two ingredients of their choosing.

Operators offering build-your-own sides should consider offering an array of both vegetarian and non-vegetarian sides, as well as healthy and indulgent options to satisfy a range of consumers. Restaurants can also give suggestions of pairings of toppings to get diners’ creativity flowing, or they can offer premium toppings or mix-ins, such as avocado or bacon, to help boost check averages.

Giving consumers what they want is easy with the rise of build-your-own menu items. Operators have mastered mains—now it’s time to let sides shine.

This post is sponsored by STOUFFER’S®

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