Culinary-driven sides can make your restaurant the destination for picky eaters
Side dishes aren’t free, right? So why not give them the same nod as the other categories of your menu? Vegetables and non-entree elements can heft 20% of sales, while desserts, for instance, may be only about 3%, yet chocolate gets more attention from the back-of-the-house than the roasted beet salad or the cheese plate.
Right that wrong for the sake of driving sales, keeping your menu sharp, and making good restaurant sense.
Side dishes make the meal. Just don’t call them side dishes.
Add-on dishes drive top-line sales and raise the per-person average (PPA.) Desirable side dishes jazz guests - even picky ones - with more opportunities to be impressed by your food.
What do interesting ‘sides’ look like? Start by not calling them sides. Just like the value of vegetables is diminished with “veggies,” find nomenclature that works for your brand, but stay away from sides. Vegetables, shareable, or ‘for the table’, are more marketable terms than sides, unless you are pedaling a 2-ounce soufflé cup of coleslaw or apple sauce, you can do better. Also, bump the list to better menu geography to raise the dishes’ status.
Feed the table
Portions large enough to make a lap around the table impact more guests and fetch bigger sales; that’s easy math. Take Toronto’s Fat Pasha’s roasted cauliflower; the whole vegetable is roasted with tahini, skhug, pine nuts, pomegranate, and halloumi. Something for guests to talk about (and post on Instagram) and it pays your rent.
A fundamental ingredient upended with a culinary flourish can coax some of the reluctance out of those less food-forward. Again, another win.
Take the lead from Joe’s Stone Crab and label the vegetable category “...large enough to share.” Why? Group mentality. If it’s for the table, then there’s no guilt about ordering too much food. A humble order of grilled asparagus or onion rings both could fetch a cool $10. That translates to one dish dropping an extra $2.50 to PPA.
Easy on the season
An accompanying dish is easy to re-engineer with the season versus a main course that may have a multi-pan pick-up. Who says specials are only for main dishes? When Mark from the produce company calls with a deal on a bumper crop of little eggplants, make the move. Deliver the vegetables as a feature, share it with the table, and put good margins on an item at the top of its seasonal game.
In the era of community tables and shared dining experiences, having dishes designed to divvy is an automatic. Cleveland’s Flying Fig boasts only two sections on their core menu - entrees and everything else. It’s the latter that ups the stakes for the culinarily enchanted. Their taleggio polenta, tempura green beans, or bacon wrapped dates tickle the right spots.
A concert is live music. Garnish the performance with lights and some crazy-ass visuals and you have a happening! The same goes for a meal, right? Some devil is in the details, all the way across the menu, not just center stage. There is the same seismic emotion in great food - regardless of where it falls on the menu - as the charged arm flailing at a great show. Do not diminish the value of righteous cornbread studded with currants and caressed with maple butter. A dish is a dish is a dish. Allowing any victual to languish as “just” a side, is a culinary felony. Get each dish up and moving.
Looking for some more words of wisdom from Chef Jim? Check out the latest Chef AF podcast episode below where he discusses with fellow Chef Derek Stevens about cities where the culinary scene is somewhat forgotten in the food world and which cities are now seeing a food resurgence.