Throughout the pandemic, restaurants in every segment worked hard to constantly adapt to consumer preferences, government guidelines and more. Going forward, it will be critical for operators to continue paying close attention to foodservice trends, as well as consumer behavior, to ensure not only customer satisfaction but overall business success.
Of course, given the fluid nature of the post-pandemic landscape, this will likely be an ongoing effort for restaurants. But three major trends—small plates, better-for-you offerings and comfort foods—have demonstrated longevity in driving foodservice sales.
By learning all about these three trends, as well as maintaining a deep understanding of consumer demands and habits, operators can be well-prepared for whatever comes next.
What happened last year—and what’s happening now
The landscape of the restaurant industry over the past year has been challenging, to say the least. Some of the biggest changes involved consumers turning to delivery and takeout more, thanks in part to dining room closures. But operator changes, such as trimming the menu, implementing third-party delivery service, adding curbside pickup and more, also helped shape the way consumers interacted with restaurants. As operators worked to ensure delivery and takeout food maintained the standard of quality their restaurants were known for, sometimes that meant eliminating or adding menu items that were better suited for longer hold times, or rethinking packaging (to ensure crispy food didn’t get soggy, for instance).
Going forward, while some consumers will likely return to their pre-pandemic habits of on-premise dining nearly exclusively and ordering delivery or takeout sparingly, operators do need to continue catering to the large number of guests who will maintain their pandemic behavior of ordering food to-go.
In the post-pandemic landscape, at least a quarter of diners say they will continue to order takeout and delivery in lieu of dining in—so restaurants will need to ensure their menu and operations are still serving those diners.
Small plates: Perfect for a group
Despite some consumers saying they’ll continue ordering off-premise eats, many will indeed return to dining rooms to share a meal with friends and family. And when it comes to dining with loved ones, there’s nothing more appropriate than small plates and shareable options. Popular at happy hour, great as a starter before a larger meal and perfect for trying multiple different dishes without ordering too much food, small plates give diners and operators a lot of room to experiment.
According to Technomic’s recent Starters, Small Plates and Sides Consumer Trend Report, 40% of consumers say they order appetizers most times that they visit restaurants, and 45% would like more restaurants to offer small plates. Small plates and appetizers are great for drawing in crowds looking for a snack rather than a big meal, too—35% of consumers said they would be highly likely to order appetizers or small plates for a midafternoon snack if they were offered at a restaurant.
As for what kind of small plates diners are interested in, familiar flavors reign supreme; garlic bread tops the list of preferred apps/small plates that are bread-based, and barbecue wings, chicken strips and buffalo wings all rank highly among consumers’ most-preferred protein-based apps and small plates.
Healthier, better-for-you options
Another trend making waves on menus is consumer desire for better-for-you choices. According to Technomic’s 2020 Healthy Eating Consumer Trend Report, 25% of consumers say their definition of health has changed over the last two years, and 23% say they are ordering healthy foods and beverages more often than they were two years ago. What’s more, they’re ordering these foods primarily at the same spots they used to dine at—74% said they were ordering healthier options at the same foodservice locations they used to visit two years ago, while 38% said they were visiting new locations to do so.
Health, of course, can mean different things to different people; for some, healthy items may be dishes that are low in calories and fat, while other consumers may look for items that are low in sodium or made with organic ingredients, for instance. One thing’s for sure, though—no matter what someone considers a healthy option, they want it to taste good. Luckily, there are plenty of ways for operators to ensure these diners find something delicious on the menu.
One great way to do so is to use minimally processed proteins with no artificial ingredients, such as Tyson® FC All Natural* chicken products. Because chicken can take on an array of flavors, using all-natural chicken means it’s easy to create a varied menu with lots of big flavors without sacrificing health.
Check out these three recipes for inspiration—all of which use Tyson® FC All Natural* Low Sodium Chicken.
Comfort is King
Last but definitely not least, comfort foods have been highly popular during the pandemic. In fact, Technomic’s Healthy Eating report found that 60% of operators said their customers have been purchasing more comfort-focused foods since the onset of the pandemic, and nearly half—44%--said the menu at their restaurant has shifted to offer more comfort-focused items since the pandemic started. Operators pointed to dishes including mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, chicken fingers and more when describing the foods their customers have been interested in and purchasing more of since the pandemic started.
Of course, it’s important for operators to consider the ingredients they’re making their comfort foods with, too. Some customers may be looking for indulgent offerings made with high quality ingredients—if they’re going to treat themselves, they pick the best option they can get, in other words. Other diners may simply be looking for foods that satisfy a craving for something familiar —for instance, if they want the comfort of a nostalgic dish, they are likely not going to be looking for a kale salad.
To ensure there’s something for everyone on the menu, operators need look no further than Tyson Foodservice options. Try these recipes for diners seeking comfort food:
Planning for 2021 and beyond
Now, more than ever, operators are going to have to pay close attention to what consumers are looking for on the menu in order to draw them back in and keep them as loyal customers. Trends such as small plates, better-for-you choices and comfort food classics are three things that diners will be looking for as they re-enter restaurant dining rooms (or place their takeout orders).Use high-quality ingredients to boost menu appeal and highlight new menu items for returning customers who may be looking for something exciting to try during their next visit.
To learn more about how Tyson Foodservice can help restaurants plan for future success and to get more recipe inspiration, click here.
*Minimally processed, no artificial ingredient