Today’s Menus: Fresh, Healthy, Made-to-Order

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Menus have evolved as customer expectations have changed. Is your menu meeting the new paradigm that is focused on authenticity and customization? Learn how to update your offerings.
Chef preparing plates at an action station

Menus sure aren’t what they used to be. Yes, there is still room for the traditional appetizer/entrée/dessert progression and the always-comforting entrée with starch and vegetable, but the times, they are a-changin’ around what customers expect from menus now. The fast-casual restaurant and college/university dining led the charge into the new Millennial marketplace over the past 5 to 10 years, disrupting for good the way the food service industry presents itself to the public.

Today’s most successful menus highlight clean, authentic food in a customizable, made-to-order format that welcomes all comers—from traditional diners to those following plant-based or allergen-free lifestyles—with a big dose of technology-driven convenience.

Take Starbird, a new prototype in the San Francisco area, featuring all-natural Petaluma chicken, fried or grilled, as well as tofu in multiple guises (sandwiches, salads, plates, tacos, and more). There’s an app that lets customers order and pay ahead online, and instead of a drive-thru, there are dedicated parking spaces where runners deliver food. The concept’s founders call it “fast food for the modern era,” or “super-premium fast food.”

Or The Stand, a growing Southern California-based fast-casual mini-chain that emphasizes such sophisticated selections as a Porchetta Sandwich, the ingredients for which are prepped up to 24 hours ahead so that the item can be made-to-order with all the speed of a more familiar burger.

Savvy noncommercial food service operations are making the same kinds of strides, offering a wide variety of exciting, freshly made food that meets the demands of an increasingly demanding clientele.

At Virginia Tech University, for instance, the Dining Services department has developed nine separate dining centers, including West End Market, which houses seven different restaurant concepts, from made-to-order lighter fare to a chop house.

Fusion, the employee dining facility at Idexx, an animal healthcare products company in Westbrook, ME, features brick-oven pizza, made-to-order sushi, and sustainable seafood sanctioned by the nearby Gulf of Maine Research Institute.

Castle Rock Adventist Hospital in Colorado not only has a sit-down restaurant called Manna, which touts locally raised and sustainable ingredients, it grows many of its fruits and vegetables in a 15,000-sq.-ft. garden.

Here are some of the game-changing developments that have helped create a new menu paradigm in food service.

  • Clean and Authentic – Clean, authentic food is food that’s perceived as healthy, and today’s diners demand it. Meeting this need requires transparency and telling consumers where their food is coming from

  • Made-to-Order Quality – Patrons also expect better-quality ingredients, and the skill of a real chef in the kitchen executing made-to-order food

  • Variety – The food that people grew up with is no longer enough; customers expect new experiences and new flavors, including ethnic foods, unusual combinations, and a constant choice of new options

We’re Here to Help: The Nestlé Professional portfolio of brands is all about helping operators offer authenticity, quality, and menu variety within the demanding constraints of the professional food service kitchen.

  • Customization – Being able to specify what and how they want their food made allows patrons to decide portion size and design their own flavor and ingredient combinations

Get Started: Nestlé Professional Action Stations are plug-and-play platforms for fully customizable menu concepts—including breakfast, desserts, soup and noodles, salads, snacking, street food, and wellness—both attended and self-service.

  • Inclusivity – With so many different diet preferences—from gluten free to vegan, healthy to hearty—menus must accommodate all diners’ tastes without sacrificing speed of service and operational efficiencies

Did You Know? Nestlé Professional offers dozens of gluten free product options, from staples such as bases and sauces to fully prepared, ready-to-menu specialty items.

  • Technology – Because all of the above add complexity, technology has become a must, from mobile ordering and payment to iPad-based menus and labor-saving automated equipment