Every meal has a star and most chefs cast the main dish in this role, but lately more and more are looking to sides to steal the show. On top of bringing seasonal variety to dishes, sides are the most adaptable menu item, able to take on different forms from appetizers to small plates. Their versatility and potential should not be overlooked when looking to take your menu to the next level.
Operators are finding that innovative sides encourage consumers to spend a little more. According to Technomics MenuMonitor, “new sides have been cropping up on restaurant menus in all segments in the last two quarters.” Traditional side dishes like potatoes and steamed veggies are still very common, but dishes with more interesting ingredients are growing such as jicama and red cabbage slaw. Chef Wes Morton of Art and Soul states that “sides have the potential to increase check average only…when the dishes are creative, attractive, [and] have meaning.”
Flavor & The Menu agrees, saying that operators are realizing that sides are more than what they used to be. Sides have moved to different categories such as, “Bar Bites, Shareables and Small Plates.”
Sides are truly becoming a differentiator when it is time for guests to order. “Appetizers, small plates and accompaniments are becoming more of a draw,” said Darren Tristano, e.v.p. of Technomic. “In fact, our data shows that consumer purchases of appetizers are steadily getting closer to pre-recession levels. That’s good news for operators looking to promote add-on sales of starters and other extras. Highlighting the shareable, fun factor of these foods—as well as their versatility—helps them function as menu differentiators.” What’s more, 36 percent of restaurant patrons admit they choose entrees based on the accompanying sides.
So how do you make sides, the supporting cast of menus, into center-of-the-plate stars? Try some dressing them up with some of these innovative recipes: