Consumers are growing more curious to find new ethnic culinary experiences beyond the three top familiar ethnic cuisines: Italian, Chinese, and Mexican. One ethnic cuisine has emerged as the “fourth cuisine” to meet consumer appetite—Mediterranean. Exciting to the consumer and convenient for operators, Mediterranean offers attractive culinary attributes, and a refreshingly simple and delicious approach to ethnic cuisine.
With its ability to capture the zeitgeist of interest in the region and other culinary trends as well as timeless, evergreen benefits like its versatility and shareability, operators can capitalize on Mediterranean’s benefits and boost their bottom line by menuing the fourth cuisine.
Capitalize on Consumer’s Growing Interest in Mediterranean Cuisine
Over the last 20 years, international tourism for the Eastern Mediterranean regions of Greece and Turkey has more than doubled. This surge to record-level tourism and greater exposure to the cuisine and the true flavors of the region has clearly registered with consumers when they return home. As more consumers gain familiarity with these foods, they value the replication of these authentic flavors as they try to recapture the magic of the vacations and trips that they have taken to this culturally and culinary rich region.
Even for those who have not traveled to the Mediterranean, the widespread popularity of travel and cooking shows that have featured the region, as well as an increased awareness of cultural diversity in the United States has inspired an overall interest in authentic cuisine from around the world.
Luckily for operators, menuing Mediterranean cuisine helps capitalize on consumers with rising interest in the region, while offering a bevy of benefits easily translatable to other consumers to increase a full-service restaurant’s bottom line.
Add Mediterranean to Meet Protein Consumption Trends
Aside from the rising interest in travel to the region and the following interest in its cuisine, the Mediterranean diet offers consumers a lot of the trending values that they are seeking in their culinary experience. The Mediterranean lifestyle relies heavily on lean proteins like poultry and fish, while also emphasizing whole grains, center plate vegetables, good fats like olive oil and herbs and spices for flavor.
Ranking high among the many trends the Mediterranean diet capitalizes on is plant-based proteins. A rising new star matching consumers’ growing desire for plant-based proteins with a kick of spice is falafel. Like the gyro, one of the most synonymous cuisines with the region, falafel is a staple of the street food scene, especially in the eastern Mediterranean countries. Adding this item to a menu instantly provides operators with a fun, delicious protein option that vegetarians and carnivores can enjoy.
The established star and plant-based protein of the Mediterranean Diet is, of course, hummus. Hummus continues to find its way into more menu applications. In recent years, hummus has found a place as a favorite topping on salad bars, a flavorful and nutritious replacement to mayonnaise on deli sandwiches, a protein addition to veggie wraps and even as a spread for a morning bagel. With so many flavor varieties available, and an ease of ability to customize its traditional base, hummus is one flexible item no full-service restaurant menu should be without. Hummus, in its own way, serves as a great demonstrator of the widespread versatility of Mediterranean menu items.
Utilize Mediterranean Ingredients to Decrease Waste
Operators need versatility from their ingredients. As new trends arise, operators need to know that when adding to their menus they won’t be left with items that can be only used one way, and if not used, turn into waste. But many Mediterranean menu items provide operators with a variety of options to add an ethnic flare to a variety of dishes across the menu. Take, for example, the three key ingredients of gyro sandwich: gyro meat, pita and tzatziki sauce.
Rather than see this as one menu item, operators should see these three new ingredients as an exciting opportunity to bring Mediterranean to so many items on a menu. Gyro meat can be an excellent and exciting new option for bistro-style flatbread pizzas. Patrons are looking for more ethnic protein toppers on menus, and gyro meat is a great solution as a new pizza feature. Gyro meat is also a tasty addition to breakfast omelets or as a salad topper.
Tzatziki is great as a salad dressing, sauce alternative for fish sandwiches, chicken wing dip or as a mix in for a Greek mashed potatoes or Greek mac ‘n cheese. Pita bread options extend across as pizza crust, cut and fried as pita chips or as a carrier for salads, deli sandwiches or melt sandwiches.
Give Millennials and Gen Z Sociable, Sampling Experiences
Millennial patrons, and Gen Z behind them, are seeking experiences when they dine away from home. They want to try new flavors and foods, and order something they cannot easily replicate at home. Mediterranean is a perfect fit as it provides great ethnic flavor experience that is not so common, but not too exotic either.
Mediterranean even offers a solution for millennials—the sociable, experience seeking generation that has helped make snacking a daypart: the Mezze concept. This shareable appetizer platter or Mediterranean spin on a charcuterie platter. It is a great way to give your guests a sampling of a variety of Mediterranean foods and flavors. Using meats, sliced flatbread, hummus, a sauce, plus olives and feta, full-service restaurant operators can create an authentic Greek shareable experience with versatile ingredients that can be incorporated into a number of other dishes.
Catherine Porter is the director of foodservice marketing & commercialization for Grecian Delight Foods. Her role includes maintaining a comprehensive understanding of foodservice trends, consumer insights and industry dynamics with the ability and vision to synthesize the information into new products and solutions for operators. Catherine has over 20 years of marketing experience in the food industry, ranging across most foodservice segments and retail channels.”