Archives for June 2016
Sitting at a communal table, ordering nothing but appetizers for dinner. Selecting one decadent dessert, then asking for four forks to go with it. Diners are increasingly wanting a bit of this and a bite of that, and they’re willing to share with one another to feed their seemingly endless appetite for small-bite variety.
Sharing happens when food is served from platters and bowls that diners pass and serve themselves (family-style fried chicken dinner special). It’s natural when many small plates are ordered to make up a meal (dim sum or tapas). And it also occurs when a group orders a single item that is easily distributed into individual portions.
“Diners love sharing because dishes ordered and eaten that way tend to have a higher perceived value, which addresses their lingering concerns over economic pressures and rising food costs,” says Melanie Young, a consultant in the food, wine and hospitality industry, and the founder and cohost of The Connected Table LIVE! radio show on IHeartRadio.com. “People are also paying attention to the oversized portions often served in restaurants, so allowing them to order smaller plates, or to serve themselves only as much as they want from a communal item, helps them feel more in control of their dining experience, while still getting the variety they crave.”
For operators who have shied away from sharing-centric menus or seating, Young has some advice: “Many people don’t understand this sort of structure can be profitable. Get out of that first, second, third course mindset and be more creative. If you try more items that encourage sharing, you’ll be able to offer more variety and interest, which is what consumers are looking for.”
As temperatures rise this summer, many restaurants are cooling off with new spins on popsicles and other frozen treats. Small batch retailers across the US like Street Pops, Pop Lab, Swell Pops and Lil’ Pop Shop are bringing both fresh international flavors and locally sourced ingredients together in unexpected ways through gourmet frozen desserts. With a little inspiration and innovation, you too can surprise customers with new, tasty ways to enjoy a familiar frozen treat.
Anthony Fellows of HipPOPs found success in thinking outside the box. HipPOPs is taking gelato, frozen yogurt and sorbet on the road by putting these grown-up sweets on a stick. One of his best sellers is The Godfather, a pistachio gelato dipped in semisweet chocolate and encrusted with roasted pistachio pieces and sea salt.
Bill Kim, chef-owner of Chicago’s Belly Shack, takes a similar creative mindset when concocting his take on soft serve. The ice cream base is created with a gallon of coconut water and served up in chilled, steel bowls. He then leaves it up to diners to mix in huckleberry lime, Vietnamese cinnamon-caramel, bacon-chocolate chip cookie crumbles or mint brownie bits.
Looking to incorporate a non-dairy alternative to ice cream? Look no further than the granita, which is similar in texture to sorbet and Italian ice. Made with semi-frozen water sweetened with a variety of flavorings, the granita practically begs for experimentation. Pastry chef Anna Shovers at The Publican in Chicago brings in regional flavors ranging from Vermont maple, to Lebanese yogurt, to Pennsylvania Dutch apple.
Need more inspiration? Our R&D team has been experimenting in our test kitchen to uncover a new frozen treat based on Mochi, Japanese rice covered ice cream balls found at a local Asian market. The exotic delicacy had our R&D team bursting with potential ideas. Here are three delicious exotic takes on Mochi:
Mango Mochi with Pineapple Mango Habanero Sauce: Includes fire-roasted pineapple and red bell peppers.
Chocolate Mochi with Spicy Chocolate: Similar to a Mexican chocolate with cinnamon and added heat from various seasonings.
Vanilla Mochi with Mixed Berry: A blend of raspberry, strawberry and blueberry.
Regardless of your take on frozen sweets, don’t miss an opportunity to spark consumer’s interest to try something new and tasty. In fact, based off Culinary Visions’ consumer research, “consumers purchase interest in dessert increased by 81% if the server offered them one with an interesting or new flavor profile.” Why not take a chance on a cool treat and excite your customers by presenting a unique frozen dessert during the summer months?
Just a few years ago an ice cream or taco truck was the only mobile food experience available, especially if you lived outside a metropolitan area. Today, food trucks are almost commonplace with a variety of creative cuisines for any palate.
It has been a boom for the industry, as visitors will seek out specific trucks. When the popular Food Network show Eat Street filmed in Columbus, Ohio, we were able to get some perspective from behind the wheel of a local food truck owner, Keith Smith, owner of The Green Meanie. He gave us his thoughts on the food truck phenomenon.
What made you decide to open a food truck?
We decided to start a truck because we are very passionate about food and cooking, but opening a restaurant was more of a financial risk. We still wanted the flexibility and creativity owning a business allowed, and this was a way to get into the local food scene, test the waters and see what the response to our cooking would be on a smaller scale.
What is your favorite thing about cooking in a food truck?
The most rewarding thing is the opportunity to watch customers’ reactions of enthusiasm and excitement when they are handed their food. It is gratifying to be able to interact with people who take the time to find the truck and genuinely enjoy the food. Another great thing is the ability to be more creative with the menu. We typically have a “core”, but enjoy having fun with specials and new things we find.
What are some challenges that you face?
The most challenging thing about a food truck is the space constraint. Although it is a full-sized commercial kitchen, the space is small and you can only have so much food on hand and so many people working at one time.
Where do you find most of your success?
We do a lot of corporate lunches as a steady source of business, but the most successful are private events for weddings, graduations, birthdays and fundraisers.
What kind of foodservice needs do you have that you wouldn’t have in a traditional restaurant?
Typically, we spend a lot of time shopping for food as opposed to having it delivered. Space is always a challenge. If the kitchen on the truck cannot accommodate the amount of prep required for a particular event, a commercial kitchen must be rented.
Where do you think the expansion of food trucks will go next?
The food truck scene has exploded around the country in the past few years and continues to grow. With the upscale mobile kitchen gaining momentum, sales have increased where some trucks have started identical trucks to handle demand.
One new aspect is food truck pods have also opened, such as Dinin’ Hall in Columbus. These places have food trucks that supply food to a brick and mortar location on a rotational basis. This allows you to get variety from different trucks, but have a place to sit down and eat.
Along those same lines, some new bars have sprung up that are intentionally designed with a small or no kitchen with the idea of having a food truck there to provide the foodservice.
Continuing to support local food and local small businesses has become popular. This development of understanding and embracing food trucks removes the limits to creativity and quality that can come from a food truck.
Food trucks may not be the right approach for all small business owners. They come with some of the same challenges as traditional restaurants along with some added hurdles. They do, however, offer the opportunity to perfect your craft, act on an idea and become a restaurant owner with a smaller investment risk.