Trends & Tidbits December 2008

Mini Me

While the words “small plates” may seem overused lately, that trend in menu and tabletop design has not gone away. Instead, it's broadened to segments of the foodservice industry other than just high-end, independent restaurants, according to Zena Dater, of Oswalt Restaurant Supply and FE&S'2008 DSR of the Year. “In the past, only fine dining seemed to do the tasters or flights, if we are talking wine, and small plates for food,” she says. “Now, casual dining is jumping onboard.”

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These tasting meals and flights give the customer the chance to experience more foods in smaller portions, which brings a health-conscious aspect to the trend. Now, instead of huge desserts, more restaurants and operators offer mini ones. Bravo Development Group's Brio Tuscan Grille and Bravo Cucina Italian concepts play along by offering mini desserts using shot glasses to hold tiramisu and other treats. P.F. Chang's has also capitalized on this concept.

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“And, instead of one large entrée, you can get three to five appetizers in much smaller portions,” Dater says.

When it comes to the plate- and glassware to support this service style, “unusual shapes and plates that are long and narrow seem to be what's hot,” she says.

Still or Sparkling

Alice Waters, said to be the birth child of the local/sustainable/organic movement among restaurants, stopped using bottled water at her acclaimed restaurant, Chez Panisse, in Berkley, Calif., last year, after reports said the non-biodegradable plastic has overtaken landfills and caused more harm to the environment than perhaps originally thought. Now, a number of restaurants across the country have joined in the effort to avoid purchasing the poisonous plastic. Waters (no pun intended) installed an enhanced water treatment system that also adds carbonation for sparking water, and comes with flavoring options like lemon, vanilla and other syrups. The dispensing system resembles stainless-steel beer taps you might see at an upscale bar, with carafes for serving the water to guests at their table. The outcome? Environmentally friendly sparkling or still water that's cheaper than some name brands and tastier than tap water. Other restaurants jumping on this trend include: A Mano, Chicago – Red Rock Canyon Grill, Oklahoma City – Spring, Chicago – Broadway East, New York City and Coi, San Francisco.

Concept Close-Up

In a foodservice fashion sense, burgers are the new black. Seems burgers are constantly making headlines in the foodservice industry, with hot spots BLT Burger and Michael Mina's Burger Bar opening in Las Vegas, Burgerville pushing green initiatives in the Pacific Northwest, recent expansions by Five Guys Burgers and Fries and Fatburger, and the list continues. Now, The Counter (Custom-Built Burgers), a Los Angeles-based chain, has capitalized on this rapidly growing trend, with a kitschy ordering system, affordable prices and of course, all-natural, hormone-free beef. Diners can belly up to the bar or sit down for full-service to order their burger using a check-mark system with a pencil and paper like you'd find in a casual sushi restaurant. You pick your protein, cheese, toppings and bun for 312,120 burger combinations, plus sides like cheese fries and fried pickles. Service is fast and friendly, a borderline between quick-serve and casual dining. At this location in Chicago, garage-door-like front windows, brushed stainless steel throughout, lightweight chairs and black and white photos of rockstars and local figures create an airy and bright interior with a fun vibe. Think 1950's California burger joint, millennium-style.

60

The percentage of restaurants that invested in energy-saving equipment during the last two years.

Source: National Restaurant Association

20

The gallons per day operators can save just by fixing a leaky faucet, or as much as 140 gallons a week and 7,300 gallons a year.

Source: National Restaurant Association

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