Tips from the Menu Experts

Like most consumer-facing businesses, foodservice has a seasonal rhythm. Moving into the year-end holiday season, chefs, operators and suppliers are thinking about winter LTOs as well as menu introductions for 2016. So this is a good time to share key insights from presenters at Technomic’s recent conference for subscribers to our MenuMonitor database, which tracks thousands of menus around the country.

  • Ride the flavor lifecycle, but get on at the right stop. Flavors are first picked up by trendy eateries in big cities; climb the growth curve to mainstream adoption; then begin their slow or fast slide to menu standby or forgotten fad. Operators and suppliers must approach consumers where they’re comfortable; trendsetters require emerging flavors, while peak-of-the-cycle flavors are best for middle-of-the-road concepts and their customers.
  • Distinguish fickle fads from true trends. A genuine trend can be easily grasped, meets real needs and builds slowly. Fads rocket up quickly, are emotion-driven and sometimes inexplicable. Should you ignore the fads? No—just recognize that the benefit of jumping in will likely be short-term.
  • Keep an eagle eye on independents. These restaurants are typically menu trendsetters, so they’re worth watching no matter how prosaic your product or consumer. Independents’ ethnic spice blends, for instance, may find their way to mainstream chains as dipping sauces or sandwich spreads that add a unique twist.
  • Look to the lowly. Technomic’s 2016 Trends Forecast predicts more attention to elevated peasant fare: meatballs and sausages with an innovative twist as well as ethnic dumplings like pierogi and bao.
  • Welcome winter flavors. We’ll see the usual cranberry, cinnamon and ginger in upcoming LTOs, but less traditional wintertime flavors—like clementine, radicchio or kale—might make diners sit up and take notice.
  • Give consumers frequent jolts. Almost four in 10 consumers, and half of those 18–34, seek out restaurants offering new and innovative flavors. But with so many concepts clamoring for attention with LTOs and menu rollouts, diners are jaded. Today, they need to be wooed with constant novelty.
  • Find something to celebrate. Christmas and Super Bowl Sunday are looming on the horizon, but so are Ugly Sweater Season and National Soup Month. Celebrations—no matter how silly—are great hooks for LTOs, deals and social-media promotions. 

AS I SEE IT, restaurants and their suppliers are more likely to build sustainable profits by competing on value rather than focusing on price. Four out of five consumers say taste and flavor, food quality and freshness are important to value. Half would willingly pay more for signature items and unique ingredients. Use these trends and tips to customize your offerings for your customers to give them reasons to keep coming back.

Note: This content originally appeared in the November 2015 issue of Technomic’s Foodservice Digest newsletter

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Darren Tristano

Darren Tristano is President of Technomic Inc. Since 1993, he has led the development of Technomic’s Information Services division and directed multiple aspects of the firm’s operations.

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