Chef Kevin Felice’s Barilla Rigatoni with Sausage Caponata.

Chef Kevin Felice’s Barilla Rigatoni with Sausage Caponata.

Pasta Delivers What Diners Are Looking For

Those returning to dining rooms seek what they’ve been missing.

With summer weather approaching and capacity restrictions being eased by the day, the average American is looking forward to a return to life as it once was. As a result, chefs and operators are drawing up menu items that will help lure customers back and capitalize on pent-up demand for the restaurant experience. But those same chefs and operators say they’ve been surprised at what diners are craving after all of this time away—they aren’t looking for something new so much as something that they can count on.

“People want that normal dining experience they’ve been missing,” says Kevin Felice, director of food and operations with Villa Restaurant Group. “They want familiarity, something that is time tested and proven.”

Felice says in many ways this has been a pleasant surprise, as his kitchens are ill-equipped to be rolling out complex and trendy dishes that require obscure SKUs and skilled labor. Instead, he’s focused on ingredients like pasta that are versatile and familiar to both kitchen staff and customers alike. His brands have gone so far as to abandon their themed menus in favor of familiar dishes he knows his kitchen can consistently execute.

“Pasta travels well and is easily executed,” Felice says. “It doesn’t matter what kind of skillsets you’re dealing with from an employee standpoint, you know that your employees will be able to consistently produce great pasta dishes. It’s approachable, time tested, people love it, and, really, what’s better than a hearty bowl of bolognese?”

Similarly, Tamra Scroggins, director of culinary at Grill Concepts, Inc., says her menus have been based around consumers’ desire for “comfort with a twist.” Pasta dishes are a natural fit for that, allowing her to play with familiar ingredients while adding something new into the mix to help attract attention. For example, her gastro pub concept menus a mac-n-cheese burger and a lighter spring pasta with veggies in a light lemon butter sauce over campanelle pasta. But most of all, Scroggins says her dishes right now are aimed at providing something visual and unique that guests can share on Instagram—another aspect of life they’ve been missing.

“You have to keep in mind that because they’ve been mostly reduced to takeout food, people have been starved of putting their restaurant food on Instagram for over a year,” Scroggins says. “You have to be providing an Instagram-worthy experience with little twists that make dishes unique and visually appealing.”

In order to achieve familiar and thoughtful pasta dishes that diners will love, both Scroggins and Felice use Barilla’s dry pasta for its quality and durability. Scroggins, too, has dealt with the labor issues Felice describes and says Barilla’s pasta as a foolproof way to ensure consistent dishes that diners will connect with.

“Barilla is the gold standard of foodservice pasta,” Scroggins says. “Whether it’s being used in a to-go dish or being put together by a newer line cook, Barilla’s pasta always seems to turn out perfect because it’s durable, resilient, and of that quality that you’re looking for.”

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