Tips on How to Work on Your Side Dish Hustle

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.

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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.

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Shutterstock

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.

What Your Restaurant Can Do To Generate Revenue During Thanksgiving

What Your Restaurant Can Do To Generate Revenue During Thanksgiving

Each individual has their own personal explanation of what Thanksgiving means to them. The general, modern celebration of Thanksgiving however, is characterized as an opportunity to enjoy quality time with friends, family, food, the occasional beverage, large parades, and yes, often the game of football.  

It’s also a time to reflect, set aside political and corporate related agendas and turn a blind eye to the negative news surrounding us from around the world. Smiles, laughter, and memorable experiences are often shared over the course of the long weekend.

With so much focus around food, drink, and togetherness; what does all of this mean for restaurants on Thanksgiving?

Well, restaurants aim for a similar experience each and every day— offering food, beverage, smiles, laughter, and memorable moments with friends, co-workers, family, and loved ones.

Depending on the restaurant concept and its location, there likely lies a large opportunity to generate awareness, increase revenue, develop repeat customers, or hopefully, a combination of the three.

Here are six elements to consider for your restaurant around Thanksgiving:

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Pumpkin Spice Is Overrated. There We Said It... But These Recipes Are Not

Pumpkin Spice Is Overrated. There We Said It... But These Recipes Are Not

Autumn’s most eponymous squash, pumpkin, has much more to offer this season than a hurried rush of spicy latte in a green and white cup in one hand and the Instagram machine in the other.

There is reasonable certainty that what we like about pumpkin spice latte is not so much the latte, nor the pumpkin, but all the sugar, cinnamon, ginger, clove and vanilla that makes coffee devotees clench their fists in spasms of caffeinated angst.

Pumpkin is inexpensive, abundant and swollen with complex, deliberate flavor that is celebration-worthy rather than tucked under too much spice. Loaded with plenty of naturally occurring sweetness that can be coaxed with a long cook time, pumpkin flavor can be lost under the clove of darkness.

In the North End of Boston, for instance, Giacomo’s North End Ristorante lifts their pumpkin game with pumpkin tortellini in sage-mascarpone sauce. The subtle Italian cream cheese works as a velvet canvas for the pumpkin to be the star. Just around the corner, in the very same neighborhood, La Famiglia Giorgio gets all Italian with their pumpkin treatment, too. Pumpkin is tucked into pasta pillows and dressed with marsala in pumpkin ravioli.  

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Fall Flavors That Are Sure to Keep Guests Engaged Through the Winter

Fall Flavors That Are Sure to Keep Guests Engaged Through the Winter

The weather shifts again and guests will soon be clamoring for all things autumn.

Higher octane and fuller-flavored brews paired with bold-flavored dishes that keep the menu offerings clean and satisfying, should round out seasonal menu changes.

The savvy guests visiting your establishment will be expecting seasonal flavors, prepared in ways that incorporate spices and ingredients from all over the world. Guests have moved beyond the American fall classics and are ready for your interpretation of a world-influenced fall dish.

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The Main Dish: Houston-Based Restaurants Respond to Hurricane Harvey, How to Adopt Japanese Flavors, and Other Highlights

In the age of information overload, refinement is key. That was the thought behind The Main Dish — a quick compilation of the most bookmark-worthy links from the Foodable Network. Aside from our usual daily content, every Sunday, The Main Dish will serve a fresh batch of handpicked pieces of the most appetizing lists & literature that you may have missed.

Japanese food

Getting Past the Labor Crunch Affecting the Restaurant Industry

Forget why it happened — or continues to happen — but there is a very real shortage of kitchen labor. You can have a shimmering five-star Yelp rating, a filled dining room, and the best craft beer list around, but without staff to make food and make drinks, you are nowhere. Throwing your hands up in meaningless desperation because ‘there aren’t people out there!’ is less than productive. Instead, get real about plugging employment holes.

12-Year Local Brand Urbane Cafe Thinks There's Room for Growth in Fast Casual

On this episode of On Foodable Weekly, host Paul Barron talks to Tom Holt of Urbane Cafe about why he decided to take on a full made-from-scratch menu in Ventura, California 12 years ago. In 2003, Holt was a professional motocross racer and couldn’t find a healthy fast casual in Ventura. He took that as inspiration to create his own. And thus, Urbane Cafe was born. Everything at Urbane is made from scratch from the bread and the sauces to the dressings. 

How to Adopt the Flavors of Japan

Guests are increasingly adventurous with the help of social media, which is educating and luring guests to establishments that are offering delightful new flavors. These flavors comfort, intrigue, and perhaps confuse a little–all at the same time. Adopting the flavors of Japan, even when used in non-traditional ways, is a way to offer guests an authentic flavor that satisfies and doesn’t have to add much to existing food costs. 

 

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Everytable: The Oasis Found in U.S. Food Deserts

Foodable met up with some of the great minds in hospitality at this year’s HUB conference in Southern California. On this episode of On Foodable Weekly we hear how CEO Sam Polk started Everytable and how the company stays profitable. Everytable creates healthy grab-and-go meals and sells them for cheaper than the price of local fast food. The goal is that everyone, even those in food deserts, can afford to feed their families nourishing meals.

How Houston Restaurants are Giving Back to the Local Community Post-Hurricane Harvey

Hurricane season is upon us and as another beast of a storm comes tumbling our way, Texas is still recovering from Hurricane Harvey. People’s houses, businesses, and even lives has been destroyed in a matter of days. But out of the bad comes the good. In these times of hardship, we really see America’s charitable spirit. Millions have been donated and there have been so many volunteers after the storm that they are being turned away.

The First Step To A Better Restaurant

Do you want a better restaurant? Of course you do. You wouldn't be reading a blog post like this if you didn't. You can have a better restaurant today. Actually, right now. It starts with one simple decision. Just three powerful words: raise your standards. While it sounds simple on the surface, it’s actually a little more complicated than that. Saying you want a better restaurant and actually getting a better restaurant can be the challenge.