Casual dining was hit particularly hard by the pandemic. Even the brands which excelled in pivoting to off-premises channels still lacked the dine-in revenue that is the backbone of the sector’s identity. But as capacity restrictions are lifted and enthusiasm for dining outside of the house grows, casual dining brands are ready to get back to what they do best: serving guests at their restaurants.
A new challenge has emerged: Chefs are being pulled in different directions when it comes to constructing menus that will both excite diners and meet their expectations. Datassential reports that 58 percent of diners are looking for healthful offerings, while 57 percent are still looking for the comfort foods that were so popular during the pandemic.
“People want the best of both worlds,” says Amanda Hadad, research and development chef with Blount Fine Foods. “They want comfort food, but they also want to be healthy. I think that’s why brands have seen so much success offering combo meals, where the customer can get a half sandwich-half soup, or half soup-half mac and cheese, or some other combination like that.”
This slideshow will look at a few ready-made kitchen solutions that are helping full-service restaurants deliver the “best of both worlds,” as Hadad puts it. Many of the items also exhibit the versatility of Blount’s solutions, which can be used across a menu and daypart, making them the perfect addition to any kitchen looking to create on-trend combo meals.
Hadad built this Spinach & Chicken Panini for an operator client that was looking for a new application that leveraged Blount’s fan-favorite Spinach Artichoke Dip. The sandwich is a twist on something comforting without being overly filing, and could be easily paired with a spring or summer-themed salad.
“This build helps illustrate the versatility of what might just seem like a dip,” Hadad says. “The Spinach & Artichoke Dip can be added onto a sandwich like this, or put on top of a burger in place of cheese.”
Datassential reports that 62 percent of consumers first think of mac n’ cheese when they think of comfort foods. Mac and cheese is the perfect menu option to incorporate into combo meals for those looking for something indulgent without necessarily committing to a full dish of it.
“For me, mac n’ cheese can either be eaten on its own, or it’s something to build on to help make something unique,” Hadad says. “So whether that’s putting Buffalo Chicken on top, or creating a Barbecue Mac and Cheese, there’s no food that is as comforting. It’s the type of nostalgic food that makes you feel like a kid again.”
Blount’s has a lineup of seven different mac and cheeses that all allow for a brand’s own touches of customization.
With labor top of mind for so many operators, it’s a luxury to have ready-made kitchen solutions that diners will love. Blount Fine Foods creates world-class soups that are used but some of the industry’s largest brands. Some of Chef Hadad’s favorite Blount soup offerings include Minestrone, New England Clam Chowder, or Cream of Jalapeno.
The Cream of Jalapeno soup is also a great example of a versatile ingredient: Hadad and her team have used it to create other unique and on-trend menu items, like a Spicy Shrimp & Polenta bowl, Jalapeno Corn Fritters, or a Jalapeno Corn Bread.
Another Blount SKU that exhibits the company’s products’ versatility are these Chicken Pot Pie sliders, which use Blount’s Chicken Pot Pie filling and Blount’s pre-made buttermilk biscuits.
“Our goal is to help our customers get the most out of what they are buying from us,” Hadad says. “In other words, we’re not going to say, here’s our plant-based chili, sell it. We’ll get on the phone multiple times and help come up with menu ideas—whether it’s using that chili on baked potatoes, or for a plant-based quesadilla—these solutions are meant to make a chef’s life easier.”
CTA: For more information on how Blount can help you build an array of comforting, yet healthy combo meals, visit the Blount foodservice website.