Following and setting food trends is critical to the success of a brand, but frequently changing menu offerings or creating dishes that require new, expensive ingredients can put financial strain on the business and increase pressure on busy kitchen staff members. Yet there are strategies restaurants can use to stay on top of food trends without breaking the bank or adding too much strain to crew members. Speed-scratch and pre-made sides, for example, help restaurants accomplish goals without adding additional operational stress.
Though many people assume hot new dishes must be entrees, by adding unique twists through sides, restaurants can inject life into menus while using many of the same proteins and center-of-the-plate items that are part of more traditional offerings.
The point, says Bob Sewall, executive vice president of Blount Fine Foods, is that people go to restaurants to get foods they can’t get anywhere else, and small changes can have a huge impact on customers’ perception. Whether trying to capture the ethnic or healthy food trends or simply trying to elevate a dish, changing sides can have tremendous impact on customer experience.
“You can take short ribs and put them on top of black truffle polenta, for example,” Sewall says. “People don’t have black truffles in their houses. By combining a traditional offering with unique sides, you still give your customers something they can’t get anywhere else and give the dish more visual appeal.”
This strategy also removes much of the risk associated with trying trendy dishes. By using existing entrees customers already love for new combinations, consumers are more likely to order new offerings because they are familiar. This also reduces the need to order additional SKUs, cutting down on the investment required to offer new selections.
“You can take tried and true entrées that are already at your disposal, and by switching out easy-to-make appetizers and sides that come fully prepared, you can make a huge difference,” Sewall says. “For example, take a regular protein, but pair it with broccoli rabe and white beans to create something truly unique.”
Sides also offer more price stability than many proteins and entrees, and changing them instead of entrees can improve operational efficiency. For example, Sewall says that organic heat-and-serve sweet potatoes not only give a dish a healthy halo; they also take pressure off the kitchen.
“When you don’t have to peel eight pounds of sweet potato, you can spend more time creating new dishes or on plating and garnishing,” he says.
It is crucial for restaurants to change menu offerings often to encourage guest loyalty, but that doesn’t mean that kitchen staff and the budget have to face additional strain.
“Customers want to have a great experience, so if you aren’t elevating the dining experience you’re going to have an empty dining room,” Sewall says. “By having some high quality prepared sides dishes, you gain the luxury of spending time on other aspects of the experience.”