Leveraging the Left Side of the Menu

We’re seeing a lot of movement from the Left to the Right, but it’s not in the political sphere—it’s on the menu. And it’s pushed by consumers’ shifting eating and dining behavior.

Today’s consumers no longer structure their daily consumption around three square meals, but increasingly graze and snack throughout the day. They use restaurants not only to satisfy their hunger, but to serve as a form of entertainment. Restaurant visits are a way to socialize, share and connect with others and experiment with new foods and flavors that add to the overall experience without veering too far from the overall balanced diet they seek.

All of these factors are creating opportunities for options traditionally offered on the left side of the menu to expand beyond their established positioning. Our recent Starters, Small Plates & Sides Consumer Trend Report shows that each of these mealparts is becoming an increasingly opportune category as the lines between them continue to blur.


  • Though appetizers are still primarily ordered as starters and shared with others, consumers say that about 17 percent of the appetizers they order are eaten as an entrée, 13 percent as a side and 12 percent as a snack.
  • 40 percent of consumers say ordering appetizers in place of an entrée is a good way to spend less when dining out and control portion sizes.

Small Plates

  • According to consumers, most small plates are ordered either as a starter to a meal or as an entrée (both 33 percent). Nearly a fifth are eaten as a side (19 percent) and 14 percent are eaten as a snack.
  • Health is a very strong small plate purchase driver as consumers seek these options when looking for smaller portions and light options.


  • Just a slight majority of sides are ordered to accompany an entrée (53 percent). About a fifth are ordered either as a meal (19 percent) or a starter to a meal (18 percent) and 10 percent are purchased as a snack.
  • 23 percent of all consumers and 41 percent of Millennials say they often order sides as a snack.

Consumers signal loud and clear that each type of menu item need not be relegated to its standard place on the menu or on their plate. Each can be effectively positioned to meet a variety of needstates and eating occasions and appeal to a broad customer base. Developing and offering a variety of options and creating marketing messages to promote them as suitable for a range of occasions may help spur incremental traffic or sales and help operators drive business during non-peak mealtimes.


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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