As consumers return to dining rooms in a post-pandemic world, several trends are starting to converge. Restaurant guests want familiar comfort food, but they also want to sample bolder flavors. When they dine out with their loved ones, they want to have an elevated experience that reminds them of the good times as much as it generates new memories.
“Consumers want something that feels like comfort food, but they can’t make it at home—they want an elevated version of comfort,” says Chef Billy Kalil of Land O’Lakes Foodservice. “At the same time, we’re also seeing the trend of returning to group dining. People are shaking off the chains of the last couple of years when they couldn’t gather together and enjoy the company of their friends.”
OpenTable recently found that reservations for two-tops and four-tops have increased their share of total dining reservations by 3 percent. Single-diner reservations have simultaneously decreased by 15 percent. People are ready to connect—and reconnect—and restaurants are once again a preferred environment to do so.
At the same time, nostalgic flavors and twists on familiar foods are surging. Seventy-one percent of American consumers say they appreciate things that remind them of their past, according to Mintel, and 41 percent are interested in trying new flavors similar to those they know they enjoy.
A few foods sit at the crossroads of these trends, and queso is one of them. “Sharing chips and a bowl of queso with your friends feels like a special occasion,” Kalil says. “Queso also feels like it skews toward comfort food, but it’s not necessarily something that would be easy to replicate in your home kitchen. Our Land O Lakes® Queso Bravo® Cheese Dip is high-quality and very dairy-forward with a nice spicy kick. It creates an elevated experience for guests, but it’s very easy to use back-of-house.”
Opportunities to menu queso go beyond the typical shareable appetizer, however. As a simple way to spice up an eggs benedict, queso can add interest to a brunch menu, or, as an alternative sandwich spread or pasta salad addition, it can work wonders during a lunch rush.
“Menus are shrinking, and people are circling the wagon when it comes to ingredients, due to supply chain issues,” Kalil says. “Queso is a spicy, savory way to dress up any number of dishes across dayparts. And Land O Lakes® Queso Bravo® Cheese Dip is ready to eat right out of the bag—you can heat it just by throwing it in boiling water, but you don’t have to. If you have a smaller or less experienced kitchen staff these days, or if you just don’t have the labor dollars to spend on someone making queso from scratch, it allows you to deliver a consistent product to customers every time.”
Kalil recommends introducing queso to a menu as part of a limited-time offer. “With National Queso Day coming up on Sept. 20, it’s a good time to take some ingredients you already have on your menu and add queso to create something new, fun, and exciting,” he says.
To learn more, visit landolakesfoodservice.com