Now Trending: 2021 Summer Restaurant Menu Items
As states are easing restrictions and people feel more comfortable dining out, Summer 2021 will be a season of eating and drinking to make up for lost time. If you’re looking to add a few hot items to your menu to pique your guests’ interests and whet their appetites, then look no further.
Cooled Down Caffeine
Most people wouldn’t want a hot, steaming cup of coffee on a 90-degree day, but a few other cool caffeinated treats are making waves across the nation. According to Yelp, strawberry matcha, iced coffee drinks featuring cold foam, and lavender lattes are on the rise. Beyond breakfast time, espresso martinis as cocktails or after-dinner treats are starting to spike in popularity as well.
Can You Pickle It?
This year has brought a newfound interest in homemade pickling, so expect to see this interest carry over into consumers’ ordering habits, too. What can you pickle? Well, just about anything, but if you’re looking for some fun alternatives to the standard cucumber, carrots or radishes are a good place to start. Consider adding pickled foods as an appetizer or part of a charcuterie board.
Cauliflower Rice and Plant-Based Proteins
Cauliflower is remarkably versatile, posing first in its “steak” form (remove comma) and now making a comeback as a rice alternative. Many major chains, including Chipotle and Zoe’s Kitchen, have added cauliflower rice as an option for patrons who can’t eat rice or would prefer a more nutrient-rich carbohydrate.
Beyond rice, Whole Foods also predicts a rise in the popularity of plant-based proteins, including barbecue, “fish,” and even “chicken” nuggets for the little ones. Consider throwing vegetarians a plant-based “bone” by adding one of these to your menu.
Eat Your Veggies
Americans gained an average of two pounds a month during lockdown, and as a result, the general population is aspiring to eat healthier these days. Think about adding veggie-forward salads to the menu and taking advantage of grilled vegetables’ summertime popularity as a side or main dish.
A Local Focus
After 2020 took a dark toll on local businesses, Americans are looking to do what they can to feel like they’re supporting them again. The first female executive chef of Commander’s Palace in New Orleans, Meg Bickford, would have to agree: “Supporting local is more important than ever.” Look to nearby farms as sources of herbs, veggies, and meats, and be sure to call out their local origins on your menu.
Non-Dairy Ice Cream
The non-dairy ice cream market is expected to grow by over 13 percent by 2026. Adding it as a menu item is a double-bonus because it appeals to both vegans and those with lactose intolerance. Many varieties of non-dairy ice cream are available, from sorbets to recipes that rely on milk alternatives, like almond milk or coconut milk.
Keeping Quality High
For current menu trends as well as future ones, it’s important to retain high quality across the board. Consider using the Synergy Sync restaurant training app to keep staff on the same page with new menu items, and keep procedures in place to ensure the successful production of delicious food. Trends might come and go, but a well-trained staff can help ensure that all menu items will come out delicious.
Restaurant Menu Refresh
Menu reengineering—we’re not going to lie; this term sounds like a daunting and complicated task for a restaurant manager. The good news is that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to refreshing your menu. In the age of COVID, restaurants now more than ever are looking for creative ways to trim costs and attract more guests. A menu revamp is a great way to do just that.
Now, that doesn’t mean you have to scrap your entire menu or add in a bunch of new dishes, quite the opposite. You want to key-in on your best-selling items and imagine new ways you can leverage those offerings.
Let’s Get Seasonal!
One quick approach that can make add life to a tired menu is by incorporating seasonal ingredients to your offerings. Consider this an easy way to pique interest, similar to the idea of limited time offers (LTOs). Slapping an avocado on a meat patty and naming it California burger isn’t innovative or unique, but it’s a step in the right direction. The key here is to offer something different, with an emphasis on fresh! Seasonal foods are not only fresher, but they are also tastier and more nutritious. Are fish and chips a hot seller for you? How about offering a seasonal, lighter version – grilled fish topped with fresh tomatillo salsa with baked, seasonal zucchini fries on the side? A chilled roasted corn soup may be a great addition to your soups of the day, to replace a boring clam chowder or chicken noodle.
If breakfast is your forte, imagine the innovative possibilities of introducing a Summer of Toppings menu! Your guests’ favorite pancakes, waffles, and French toast with a variety of summer fruit compotes (passion fruit, melon, apricot) to indulge in. You could even offer summer fruit-infused maple syrups.
We can’t stress enough the importance of offering vegetarian or even vegan options for customers. Convert a couple of your core menu items into a tasty meat-free or vegan offering. With meat made from plants from companies like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, the conversion should be simple. Be careful of getting into any legal trouble regarding how you cook these vegan or vegetarian options. Plan wisely, and you may have just invited a new loyal customer base to your restaurant.
With various alcohol selling restrictions, it might be a good idea to offer beautiful, over-the-top, house special drinks and mocktails—a perfect refresher for the hot months. Watermelon and guava mojito mocktail or non-alcoholic sangria for (a very timely) al-fresco dining, anyone? A low-calorie papaya seltzer can be an excellent way for your guests to cool off, too.
Since summer is in full swing, let’s take a look at some seasonal foods you can experiment with right now (and a longer list here):
- Bell peppers
- Passion fruit
Plus, in-season ingredients tend to be more cost-efficient. Check out this produce guide from the USDA for more ideas on seasonal ingredients.
Pro-tip: Your new menu offerings should be proudly announced on your website and social media profiles. Remind your guests of your take-out and delivery options, take great photos, and then share away!
We asked some of our Synergy consultants about the new favorite ingredients they’ve discovered and used lately. Check these out for inspiration:
“I’ve been enjoying espelette pepper recently. The smoky, sweet, and slightly spicy flavor gives a new dimension to roasted meats and fish.”
Dean Small, Founder & Managing Partner
“I really enjoy experimenting with dry Spanish chorizo because it’s so versatile. You can eat it as is, dice it and cook it crispy to add to egg dishes, and the oil is great to whisk into a vinaigrette.”
Operations & Beverage Consultant
“I like to use sodium citrate in the test kitchen to make cheese slices or sauces out of any cheese, even those that don’t melt well normally.”
Natasha Reta, Chef/Culinary Consultant
“If you haven’t had a chance to use green almonds, definitely check them out. They’re basically unripe almonds, and they are great for pickling or for making a delicately flavored almond soup.”
Anne Haerle, Concept Development & Culinary Consultant
With customer interest in global cuisines continuing to grow, restaurants are constantly challenged to develop dishes that deliver enticing combinations of flavors from across the globe. At the same time, menu trends like spicy condiments and superfoods are riding strong. By merging these trends with new players on the ingredient scene, restaurants can ride the waves of the latest trends and create unique eating experiences for their guests.
Below are some emerging ingredients and preparations that you can use to keep ahead of the global flavor curve:
Heat Seeking: Searching for the Next Spicy Condiment
The appetite for tongue-torching hot sauces shows no sign of waning. Now that Sriracha graces almost as many restaurant tables as ketchup, restaurants are looking for hot condiments beyond harissa and sambal oelek. Enter ajvar, a fire-roasted red pepper condiment from the Balkans that brings the heat. Preparations like this add smokiness, fruitiness, and a spicy kick to meats, sandwiches, and as a dip. An option to typical red pepper flakes is urfa biber, a Turkish dried chili pepper with smoky and raisin-like flavor notes. Use urfa bibier as a garnish on roasted meats, or in your own custom spice blends.
Go with Your Gut: Expanding the Range of Fermented Drinks
With awareness of gut health reaching mainstream status, fermented drinks like kefir and kombucha continue to grow in popularity. To stay at the forefront of this trend, try tepache, a fermented pineapple-based drink from Mexico. With added flavor from cinnamon and unprocessed brown sugar, tepache can be offered as a “mocktail” for guests craving unique flavors in their healthy beverages.
Origin Story: Exploring the World of Superfoods
The search for foods that improve physical and mental health grows daily as restaurant guests connect what they’re eating with how they feel. Ingredients like kale, beans, avocado, acai, and coconut often appear on top ten superfoods lists. A new contender from the Philippines is pili nuts, which resemble an oversized almond. Their status as a complete protein with a high mineral content launches them into the superfood category. They can be added to salads as a topping, incorporated into nut mixes, or ground into flour for baking.
Spice Hunter: Delving into Exotic Spices
Another way to add a global touch to your dishes lies in exploring exotic or little-known spices to create new flavor combinations. One such spice on the rise is grains of paradise, hailing from West Africa. With its distinctive taste and aroma of black pepper, cardamom, citrus, and florals, this intriguing spice can be used to flavor seafood, drinks, or sweets. Another exotic spice to sample is anardana, the dried seeds of pomegranate arils. They contain many of the same flavor qualities of pomegranate juice and can add a sour flavor and crunch to a number of dishes or cocktails.
Fruity Goodness: Sample Some Far-Flung Fruits
If you’ve never branched out from apples, pears, and grapes, it’s time to venture into the world of little-known fruits. Besides dragon fruit and jackfruit, which are appearing on a greater number of menus, take a look at calamansi, a unique citrus fruit from the Philippines. With a sour yellow flesh and a skin that’s bright green and sweet, this flavor powerhouse can add new dimensions to desserts, salads, and drinks.
If you want to amp up the Instagram factor of a plain fruit salad, give cucamelons a whirl. They look like tiny watermelons with a taste reminiscent of cucumber, and they provide a stunning visual quality to sweet and savory dishes, or as a cocktail garnish.
Incorporate some of these ingredients to bring a unique global twist to a number of dishes on your menu and add a new level of culinary innovation to satisfy the curiosity of new and existing guests.
Success in the Restaurant Business (When It’s Not Your Business)
Today’s non-commercial foodservice providers face more pressures than the average restaurant. So how do you stay competitive and wow your guests?
The dining public has high expectations that continue to grow. Whether it’s organic ingredients, local sourcing, fair trade certified, or cruelty-free, today’s restaurant guests expect that their standards for quality, as well as their dietary needs, are met at every meal. Restaurants with experienced back-of-house teams strive to meet these ever-changing demands while keeping food and staffing costs at bay.
Whether ordering a post-workout smoothie at their gym, buying lunch at their corporate café, or treating their family to snacks at an amusement park, foodservice customers assume that they will have their pick of high quality, better-for-you menu options no matter where they’re eating.
This long-standing trend puts additional pressure on businesses that operate dining facilities but aren’t traditional foodservice operators. Amusement parks, family entertainment centers, corporate and college cafeterias, airports, and housing communities are just a few of the entities who have been forced to upgrade their menu options and food quality to serve a demanding dining public. Rather than seeing this challenge as an inconvenience, institutions and corporations with F&B programs can develop dining strategies that create a competitive advantage.
Amusement Parks and Entertainment Centers: Bringing the Wow with Wellness
In our recent work with water parks, family entertainment centers, and amusement parks, the challenge is to balance the expectation of “fun foods” with a growing desire for healthier options. We’ve addressed these needs by raising the level of food quality in ingredient sourcing for menu items with wide appeal. For example, using a blend of chuck, brisket, and short rib for burgers and top-shelf ice cream for milkshakes greatly enhances flavor and gives the operator a greater value proposition to promote on their menus. In addition, by building these items with greater plating presence and over-the-top garnishes, guests looking for these fun foods to complement their experience are willing to pay a bit more for visual appeal.
At the same time, not every amusement park guest wants burgers and shakes. Creating healthier options that still convey a brand personality infused with fun provides an interesting culinary challenge. Items like elote corn with herb garnishes and grain bowls with interesting blends of roasted vegetables deliver color, depth of flavor, and appealing options for vegetarian and vegan guests. Offering these better-for-you items appeals to adults who bring children to amusement parks but want a better meal for themselves. This type of menu approach satisfies a wide range of guests and, if promoted correctly, can provide a compelling point of difference for the park operator.
Colleges and Universities: Aligning with Guests Needs and Values
The drab cafeteria offerings on college campuses are largely a thing of the past, considering today’s student demands and increased competition. The typical college dining hall has been replaced with vibrant food stations and grab-and-go options to cater to a generation more inclined to snack than sit down to eat. In addition, university cafeterias no longer have a lock on the student dining population. Restaurants looking to appeal to college-age audiences build a part of their real estate strategy around securing locations near college campuses and offering promotions and delivery deals geared toward students.
So how do college dining halls compete with the marketing power and brand recognition of large restaurant chains? One strategy is to align their operations with the expectations and values of their student customers. Besides being focused on ingredient quality and sourcing, college-age customers are also concerned with sustainability, reducing food waste, and eliminating food insecurity. Along with meeting the menu variety and student health concerns, university foodservice outlets can develop programs to donate leftovers to local food banks, collect food scraps for composting, and offering specially priced meals for students on strict budgets.
Solutions for Non-commercial Foodservice Operators
Considering the pressures on noncommercial food outlets for menu innovation and operating efficiencies, how do these hospitality providers stay competitive? Partnerships offer a compelling solution for companies who would rather pay an outside operator to provide food service within the facility. For example, Sodexo is partnering with plant-based chain Veggie Grill to install outlets on select university and college campuses next year. On the upside, contract foodservice operators like HMS Host provide a turnkey solution for institutions who don’t want the pressures of being in the food service business.
For smaller operators such as residential clubhouses or country clubs with a limited customer base, using a contract operator may not be an option due to low volume. So what’s the solution? Work with an experienced food service provider or consultant to help develop a scaled foodservice solution that can be operated successfully with a lean staff and minimal overhead. For example, smaller operators can take cues from restaurants who have scaled their operations to fit the smaller footprints of food halls and food trucks but still provide innovate and vibrant menus that appeal to today’s diner with minimal space and maximum food quality.
Meeting today’s expectations for food quality, convenience, and sustainability doesn’t have to be a chore. Contact Synergy to help turn your noncommercial foodservice operation into a competitive advantage and profit center.
Retirement Communities Going Above and Beyond
Assisted living, retirement homes, active senior communities – all terminology referring to communities with a minimum resident age, typically starting at 55, and this demographic is booming. According to the US Census Bureau, the number of Americans ages 65 and older is projected to nearly double from 52 million in 2018 to 95 million by 2060. The demand for senior living facilities and communities will continue to grow.
And with that ever-growing demand comes more options as consumer preferences evolve. These days, it is not uncommon to find senior lifestyle communities that are much like resorts, equipped with high-end amenities like movie theaters, fitness centers, salons, and restaurants. Of course, not all retirement options are this glamorous, but focus on improved food choices provided at these homes and centers is on the rise. Traditional meal options won’t make the grade for today’s more active and food-savvy seniors.
Consumers not yet living in senior living communities often have concerns about menu fatigue and uninspired foodservice. Savvy residential operators are addressing concerns proactively to attract retirees with dining options that cater to their unique tastes and needs while offering a restaurant-quality experience and opportunities to socialize. Surveys show that retirees looking to join a senior living community are interested in having a variety of foodservice options from which to choose including cafes, restaurants, food halls and retail markets. They also want more access to snacks and room service.
At Garden Spot Village in New Holland, PA, you’ll find four unique restaurants (plus a Starbucks) each with a distinct menu and style—from table-side service to casual dining. Over in Westport, CT, Maplewood Senior Living offers residents locally-sourced ingredients from their own farm as well as other vendors. Yes, it’s senior-living with garden-to-table cuisine! Finding that they were behind the times, Elim Park in Cheshire, CT has recently overhauled its dining and common areas to give seniors a unique and engaging multi-restaurant platform experience. The building footprint expanded by 5,000 square feet, providing space for the new Springhouse Bistro and the Elim Park Baking Co. bakery café, connected through a common seating space that ties the concepts together and creates a sense of community.
Other senior food trends to look out for
- Skilled chefs heading up the kitchen and delivering unique meal choices
- Open kitchens to elevate the dining experience and provide transparency in food preparation
- Food trucks to bring an array of culinary options
- Individualized attention for those with special food preferences, dietary restrictions or food allergies
Dining options and foodservice strategy can differentiate one senior living community from the other. We’ll be on the lookout for more of these trends as the aging demographic increases and becomes choosier. If you operate a retirement or senior living community and would like to learn how you can improve your foodservice operations or restaurant menus, please contact Synergy.
The Importance of Margins over Food Costs
The bottom line is top-of-mind for all restaurant owners in an industry where margins are very slim. Naturally, operators are seeking ways to reduce costs. The importance and logic behind this is sound. However, we want to dispel the notion that keeping food costs as low as possible alone, is the key to running a profitable restaurant.
There are multiple operating expenses to focus on to optimize in order to increase profit margins. Food cost is certainly a large factor, but it is not the only area you need to examine when seeking to increase profitability. For example, often restaurant operators seek to purchase the lowest cost ingredients or buy in bulk to take advantage of a discount. This type of practice can inadvertently lead to more food waste (overbuying and the resulting risk of spoilage) and ironically, increases food costs.
The formula for calculating your restaurant profit margin is:
Net profit margin percentage = (net profit / revenue ) x 100
Think about additional areas that can cut into your bottom line, such as labor, rent, marketing, repairs/maintenance, technology, and other overhead expenses. Can you make your labor processes more efficient? Can you utilize better technology and equipment to increase production?
Another opportunity to help increase your margins is strategic menu pricing. Steer away from pricing menu items solely based on food cost percentage. Hard and fast rules do not apply to menu pricing. However, a deep look at your target market, food cost percentage, labor, and competition will be required. It is wise to examine your menu and look at each item’s contribution margin (menu price – food cost). You will notice that it’s not always the items with the lowest food cost percentage that are the most profitable! This type of analysis can help you further identify ways to increase your margins.
Think of the old saying, “You can’t save your way to prosperity,” which is very fitting when it comes to food costs at your restaurant! If you would like your menu or labor processes analyzed for efficiency, please reach out to Synergy.
Pushing the Edge of Culinary Creativity
By Anne Haerle
With the competition among restaurants for “stomach share” nearing Game of Thrones intensity levels, chefs are flexing their creative muscles even harder to capture their share of customer dollars. Between cheeky fusion concepts, turn-anything-into-a-taco, and Instagram eye candy menu items, restaurants are driving differentiation by seeing who can conquer their competitors through next-level creative food and dining experiences.
But pushing the edges of culinary creativity will only take you so far when it comes to attracting new guests and can actually force you over the cliff if you’re not careful. Innovation — the ability to harness new ideas and make them work for your restaurant — is creativity’s true partner. We chefs love to concoct edgy menu items that represent our creative drive on the plate but if that menu item doesn’t represent the restaurant’s brand, is too complex for the kitchen to pull off consistently, or doesn’t meet goals for food cost and margin, then it doesn’t belong on the menu. Period. That’s why menu innovation has to ride shotgun with creativity.
When the Synergy culinary team works in the test kitchen, we’re always pushing hard to develop menu items that balance broad appeal with breakthrough creativity. Take the burger for example. You might think there’s nothing new to discover there, especially considering all the competition in the burger space. By viewing the burger through the lens of both the restaurant concept and the guest, we tweak every aspect of the dish to deliver the very best eating experience that only our client’s brand can deliver. Every detail — from the thickness of the burger patty to the right amount of acidity in the sauce to the order of toppings and more — is meticulously crafted into a unique and craveable menu item.
While we’re creating that ultimate burger, we’re simultaneously envisioning how each ingredient and recipe will flow seamlessly through the kitchen. For instance, do we have the equipment, talent, and capacity to make our own burger buns? Is that important to our customers or do they care more about a house-ground fresh beef patty? Do we buy sliced Cheddar or does the restaurant brand demand that we slice all our cheese fresh daily? Should we serve our burger with sliced tomato year-round, or only when local heirloom tomatoes hit their peak? Once we make all these decisions based on our client’s vision for sourcing, quality, flavor, and value, we develop innovative and practical solutions that ensure the restaurant’s team can make and sell that burger to help meet sales and profit goals.
For us, the pairing of creativity and innovation allows us to develop those signature menu items that help define a great restaurant brand. If you see an opportunity for us to help, please get in touch.
Learn Your ABZs
We are fortunate to be exposed to a broad range of research and strategic marketing strategies that enable our clients to out maneuver the competition. This year the focus seems to be on the Gen Z’s–the population of those 21 and under who tend to be dreamers, consumers and world saviors. What is fascinating about this generation is that they’re obsessed with all things culinary.
The research is telling us that Generations Z demands WOW food and beverage presentations as a form of indulgence, and they’re are using eye-catching food and beverage offerings and onsite experiences to express their creativity and distinguish themselves from their peers. While Millennials do share this passion for food, the Z’s are taking this trend to the next level.
If you’re scratching your head trying to figure out how to grow top-line food sales you might consider connecting with this overlooked market of obsessed foodies. Gen Z’s want restaurants to WOW them with new indulgences and over-the-top food presentations to they can share them via social media. They want epic food that they can talk about and with the rise of video-based sharing platforms like Instagram and Snapchat, they now enjoy taking videos of presentations being made tableside.
If you’re not attracting this generation it’s a huge missed opportunity that could be remedied. Don’t let menu fatigue drive this generation of spenders to your competitors. Don’t forget about Gen Z– they enjoy
Synergy offers affordable menu development and culinary support that can help you raise the bar on your food and beverage strategy.
Burger Wars: Beef versus Plants
When you think of a delicious and juicy hamburger, several components need to be spot on—fresh vegetables, delicious bread, and first and foremost, a delicious patty (preferably a hand-pattied blend of beef). The star is certainly the meat—but what if there is no meat? Can a non-meat burger still be craveable and sought-out by consumers?
With shifts in attitude and preferences for healthier and even animal-friendly (think veganism and vegetarianism) meal options, it’s no wonder that more plant-based burgers are making their way on menus. While many veggie burgers are made from a combination of legumes like beans and lentils, new varieties are trying to come as close to a true meat flavor as possible.
Take the Impossible™ Burger. The company the produces it utilizes “ingredients with the precise properties needed to deliver the taste, texture, flavor and juicy sizzle that meat lovers crave ” In fact, these burgers even “bleed” like the real thing (heme is the key ingredient to produce this effect). Its primary ingredients are wheat protein, coconut oil, potato protein, and their meat is sold in restaurants across the country. So does it live up to the hype? You may have to try it yourself to determine this, but in the meantime, check out this review from The Spoon.
Meanwhile, some fast casuals are going 100 percent animal-friendly. Plant Power-Fast Food, based in San Diego, has a large menu featuring all your favorites like bacon cheeseburgers, chicken sandwiches, breakfast burritos and more. Everything served is plant-based and non-GMO.
If you are thinking of revitalizing your menu to include plant-based options, contact Synergy.