At the end of 2015, Technomic published a blog post titled “Small Plates Will Continue to Rise in Popularity, Replacing Traditional Mealparts”. Looking at consumer behaviour in 2016, it is clear that their prediction is coming true. Mintel Foodservice Analyst Kathy Hayden has stated, “The tapas style of eating has gone mainstream.” But why? The shift points to an increase in sharing tendencies among diners.
The rise of flavourful, high quality small plates, sides and starters suggests a movement away from traditional centre of plate dining to a greater emphasis on more small plates. This allows diners to pick and choose the dishes that make up their meal, delivering on their desire to make their dining experience personalized and shareable.
Are you surprised to learn that appetizers are more commonly shared than eaten alone, even more so than small plates? Technomic found that 61% of consumers feel appetizer portions should be large enough to share. Sharing dishes makes for a more social, interactive and memorable dining experience. Splitting modular offerings is ideal for diners who may be interested in trying an appetizer, small plate or side, but want to avoid filling up before their main arrives. The increasing popularity of sharing may also be influenced by diners’ desire to split costs among the table and decrease the total cost of their individual bills. Most significantly, small plates, starters and sides offer consumers a low-risk, low-cost way to explore new flavours.
Think bold and imaginative. Shareable dishes that provide something new and exciting are a great way for chefs to flex their creativity and boost buy-in among groups. More than two in five Canadian consumers said greater variety of appetizers would encourage them to order appetizers more often.
As a result of diners’ preference for diversity, new and exciting interpretations of bruschetta are now emerging on menus (check out page 19 of theSlice for our Whipped Feta Bruschetta recipe). Charcuterie boards with an assortment of meats, cheeses, crostini and house-made accoutrements pepper casual dining menus. In fact, 500 Canadian chefs were recently surveyed and the group cited “charcuterie/house-cured meats” as the number two hot trend for 2016 – second to “craft beer/microbrews.” Mini formats also continue to evolve as a way to promote innovation in bite size morsels.
Three shareable ideas to consider:
- Potato skins reinvented: sweet potato tater-tots topped with crumbled goat cheese, chopped chives and turkey bacon. Put a unique spin on familiar favourites and consider offering a “build-your-own” platter of assorted appetizers that offers groups an opportunity to customize their experience.
- A flight of unique, house-made dips to accompany toasted breads and crudités paired with a glass of wine is indulgent without being excessive. A great option for groups visiting during off peak dayparts in search of a satisfying snack.
- Globally inspired mini-hamburgers – check out our Vindaloo Burger for inspiration! Entice parties by pro-rating the price per slider so they can order the exact amount needed to satisfy the group. This will ensure a party of four doesn’t have to fight over three sliders!
Sides, small plates and appetizers have huge revenue-boosting potential for your operation. Don’t let these small but mighty offerings be a second thought as you develop your menu or plan your promotions. Pouring the same culinary creativity, value and quality into your “left side of the menu” offerings as you do into the rest of your menu is a powerful strategy for attracting new visitors and keeping loyal customers excited and engaged. Think small, win big!