Mexican Concepts Remain a Foodservice Mainstay

The evolution of the Mexican foodservice segment mirrors that of Italian restaurants: an increased focus on regional, authentic ingredients and from-scratch preparation. Mexican foodservice operators across the board, from QSRs to fine dining restaurants, from chains to independents, continue to embrace these trends as their concepts evolve.

El Centro 4El Centro D.F.’s innovative tacos are the mainstay of its menu.Sales among the top Mexican restaurant chains totaled roughly $17.4 billion in 2013, a 6 percent increase from a year prior, according to Chicago-based market research firm Technomic. Taco Bell accounted for $7.8 billion of that total, with Chipotle second on the list at almost $3.2 billion.

Menus at Mexican-inspired concepts hinge on flavor and seasonings that typically add spice to a dish. "What we're seeing is a twist on things, like fire-roasted poblano pesto using grilled poblano peppers instead of basil or salads topped with queso blanco cheese instead of cheddar," says Dean Small, founder and managing partner of Synergy Restaurant Consultants, based in Laguna Niguel, Calif. "Dishes are being elevated by adding Hispanic ingredients."

Also, incorporating fresh cilantro or ingredients such as chicharrones (Mexican snack chips made of pork rinds) continues to grow in popularity.

On the beverage side, flavored water — called agua fresca — is becoming increasingly popular in these operations as a substitute to soft drinks. "This combines watermelon, cantaloupe or pineapple juice with an agave-type sweetener," Small says. "People perceive these beverages to be fresh, authentic, unusual and healthy."

The Mexican segment depends on foodservice equipment that can help culinary staff prepare from-scratch items. One such example is the grills cooks use to prepare homemade tortillas. "This makes a huge impression when it is homemade," Small says.

Another common equipment theme centers on flexible items that can address a variety of production tasks for these diverse menus. "An example is the combi oven, which allows restaurants to cook beans, rice and carnitas," Small says. "These units are very versatile."

As more Mexican-inspired chains evolve, a growing number look to incorporate wood-broiled items on their menus, which requires a wood broiler or smoke oven. Often, restaurants will place this type of equipment close to the front of the kitchen to provide enticing aromas. "Due to the emissions from this equipment, it can be an expensive proposition, but adding a wood flavor to foods goes a long way," Small says.

Key Equipment

  • Ranges
  • Planchas
  • Convection ovens
  • Griddles
  • Grills
  • Fryers
  • Walk-ins
  • Reach-ins
  • Refrigerated prep tables
  • Steam wells

E&S Considerations

  • Durability: Equipment used to prepare Mexican food can experience a great deal of wear and tear due to high volumes. Heavy-duty units can better withstand hard-core use.
  • Size: Operators in this segment seek units that can help conserve space in the back of house and that are less costly.
  • Efficiency: Speed of service is key with Mexican food, so equipment that can keep the pace with quick recovery is preferable.
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