Small Plates Will Continue to Rise in Popularity, Replacing Traditional Mealparts

Evolving foodservice usage and behavior drives left side of menu opportunities, Technomic Inc. study finds.

Though some foodservice consumers still view the left side of the menu (LSM)—particularly starters, small plates and sides—as “extras,” the LSM is uniquely positioned to serve consumers’ shifting dining needs. According to Technomic’s Starters, Small Plates & Sides Consumer Trend Report, the LSM offers incomparable opportunities for personalization, socialization and flavor experimentation, providing fun, unique and memorable experiences both during and between traditional mealtimes.

As diners become increasingly adventurous, the LSM is a place for operators to stand out by featuring unique, signature and bold flavors that cater to demands for customization. Allowing consumers to express themselves through low-risk experimentation creates a “connection” with a restaurant. Modular pick-and-choose menus are an area of opportunity: both consumption and menu presence of small plates, for example, has increased since 2013, and interest in these versatile offerings shows no signs of waning.

Spotlight on Starters, Small Plates & Sides

[View larger INFOGRAPHIC: Spotlight on Starters, Small Plates & Sides]

Find more starters, small plates and sides insights here:

Compiling findings from more than 1,500 U.S. consumers, as well as Technomic’s MenuMonitor, Digital Resource Library and Top 500 Chain Restaurant Report, the Starters, Small Plates & Sides Consumer Trend Report also reveals:

  • 53% of consumers order sides, 39% order appetizers and 30% order small plates on all or most of their restaurant visits;
  • Nearly half of consumers (47%) say that happy hour deals would encourage them to order appetizers more frequently;
  • The fastest growing sides include non-breaded vegetables, deli salads, fruit and beans at limited-service restaurants and pasta/noodles, other potato (au gratin, hash browns, home fries, tater tots, etc.), fruit and rice at full-service restaurants.

The Technomic Starters, Small Plates & Sides Consumer Trend Report is one of 12 topics in our 2015 Consumer Trend Report series, offering the most current analysis, insight and opportunities to help grow your business. Our best-in-class intelligence combines 50 years of foodservice expertise with critical findings from over 7,000 menus per year and nearly 30,000 annual consumer interviews.


Kelly Weikel

As Director of Consumer Insights, Kelly specializes in using her background in psychology to understand the “why” behind consumer decisions. Her focus is on uncovering the underlying consumer needstates and motivations that shape foodservice behaviors and providing insights on consumer attitudes and usage across foodservice products, amenities and brands. Since joining the firm in 2007, Kelly has played a key role in developing Technomic’s Consumer Trend Reports and Access platform and manages the series of more than 20 annual studies that keep U.S. and Canadian foodservice professionals up to date on evolving trends in food and beverage categories, restaurant sectors, dining occasions, consumer segments and more.

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