Five Menu Trends and their Impact on Foodservice Design

Here is a quintet of menu trends that can impact the way foodservice operators equip and layout their facilities.

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Consumers want it all: They want it healthy, they want it indulgent and they want it portable. That was the message menu expert Nancy Kruse, president of the Kruse Company shared with those attending Technomic's 2013 Trends and Directions Conference.

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Kruse's 40-minute presentation was loaded with plenty of tasty bits of information, like pointing out that adding the word artisanal to a menu is like culinary catnip for today's consumer. While there was a lot more to her presentation, here are five key trends Kruse discussed, and I have added some operational considerations that go along with them.

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Better Pizza: Driven by the growth of fast-casual restaurants, this movement embraces customization through an assembly line process, similar to the way Chipotle builds its menu items. Key elements of this movement include upscale toppings such as premium vegetables and proteins, quickly cooked to order in high temperature ovens.

Gourmet Snacks: Full-service restaurants looking to generate incremental sales during non-peak hours are adding high-end snack items to their menus and they often pair these foods with specific drinks. The smaller portion sizes of these menu items allows for culinary exploration on the part of the consumer. In addition, the trend cuts across all operator segments, including QSRs, who may not offer gourmet options but will make enhanced menu items available.

Ramen: Given that most people associate eating Ramen noodles with their college days, it's only fitting that this trend is taking root in the college and university segment and seems poised to soon go mainstream. But instead of the cheap noodles that consumers bring to life by pouring hot water over them and heating in the microwave, this trend uses Ramen noodles to facilitate culinary exploration of a variety of flavor dimensions through a simple format, Kruse said. To capitalize on this, operators need to make sure their cooking stations have the right cooking equipment, such as woks or pasta cookers, and the ability to hold a variety of ingredients.

Everything on the Go: The types of menu items being made in a portable format continues to expand, this includes some food items that previously seemed to be immune to this. As an example, Kruse pointed to Sushiritto, which are handheld sushi burritos and a pasta wrap. "Everything that can be made portable is being made portable so customers can get what they want to eat and get on with their busy lives," Kruse said. Operational impacts of this trend is in understanding how converting menu items into a portable format will impact processes and the people executing them, understanding the need for holding equipment and more.

De-commoditizing the Beverage Menu: This trend touches operators from all segments as they try to enhance the experience they provide by offering something more indulgent or unique. It can include a range of options from premium coffee to craft beer to ethnic beverages. Some operators are even starting to make their own lines of artisanal soft drinks. In this arena, being able to produce and hold product at proper temperatures is critical and having the correct glassware helps sell the program. So operators should pay close attention to such equipment items as beverage dispensing systems, refrigeration, merchandisers and more.

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