By Brian Murphy, Foodable Industry Expert
The change of the calendar year provides an opportunity for everyone to “start over” in some way, and your establishment is not excluded. Drastic changes at the start of the year may be a bit cliché, considering nearly half of the US population makes some sort of New Year’s resolution, but guests will be more receptive to menu changes — especially when they will be inundated with resolution-related media for weeks.
According to Statistic Brain, only about 8 percent are successful in achieving their resolution. Don’t be a statistic. Make an effort to embrace rapidly changing customer demands in order to be a business that supports customers’ efforts in the new year.
The most common goal resolution-makers have is to lose weight. There are several ways to help and do it with authenticity and integrity. The last thing people want is another salad to choose from, even if it has a low-fat dressing that makes up for flavor loss with a sweetener of some sort. Think about modifications that are not so predictable and offer guests a realistic look at perhaps exploring your menu thoroughly and more often.
Changing a spread on a sandwich or burger to a non-fat yogurt-based spread, for example, offers guests the idea that you support their realistic, long-term goals and that you are in it together. Fine-tuning condiments and sides are a great place to start. Guests will take notice, but the center of the plate is where bigger changes should be taking place. The increased hunger for plant-based foods is a move that puts operators on the cutting edge of a food movement that is slowly starting to swell.
One of the largest changes to the food industry is the increased desire for plant-based foods, including protein. While many incarnations of veggie burgers peaked, and fizzled out a bit, plant-based additions to beef and entire vegetable-based patties are surging. Technology is taking a larger role in alternative meat products, as companies jockey for positions to create a viable, long-term solution to a rather complex issue.
Brands like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat offer products that collectively took years to develop and offer a juicier version of the veggie burgers many meat eaters tried once. Hype has been all over social media. Although not widely available, there is a buzz not only about those brands, but also about the sustainability issues of beef production. Earlier this year, the James Beard Foundation introduced the Blended Burger Project that asked chefs to substitute mushrooms for 25 percent of the meat in a burger. The challenge was widely accepted in many successful ways, leaving guests happy and satisfied all over the United States
No matter the route you decide to take, it is time to consider what is increasingly on the minds of informed consumers and consider the costs of continuing with business as usual in the protein department. Considering a blended burger to start offers a better solution financially, as new vegan meats become more widely available. Mushrooms offer the texture and umami flavors that pair perfectly with beef patties, but other veggies can be ground or chopped up and mixed in as well.
Sautée some onion, garlic, summer squash, as well as some mushrooms, cool them, and then mix the minced veggies into ground beef for a healthful addition that also helps keep the burger juicy. Take care to not overdo it with the burger mix, or else your burgers will end up looking and eating like a meatloaf sandwich. (Not that that is a terrible thing for some.)
Veggies Go Mainstream
Fake meats derived from vegetables are some options that may help with environmental issues and perhaps help an avid burger eater cut down a bit on occasion, but there are plenty of guests out there who don’t seem to be missing the protein in the center of the plate. Some of this stems from palates and dining experiences that were formed at the height of “small plates,” but guests are increasingly interested in using that heavy steak knife on a roasted head of cauliflower and other hearty vegetables.
The associated creativity that comes with the vegetable interest is exciting for chefs in standalone restaurants and R&D chefs alike. Roasting, fermenting, and pickling are just a few examples of the wholly-embraced veggie revival. The beautiful thing about these methods is that they represent another opportunity to set trends and turn heads in that they allow kitchens to use “ugly produce.” Being one of the first restaurants on your block to partner with a farm or organization that offers their less-than-perfect produce is something to brag about.
Be the restaurant that helps guests stick with resolutions, and this year, be the establishment that gives deeper meaning to those resolutions.