As businesses reopen during the coronavirus pandemic, restaurants are quickly adapting menus to serve diners and protect public health.
For the near term, operations will have to make do with a fraction of their usual number of diners allowed on premises, possible labor shortages in the kitchen, and supply chain changes. This new world will require new kinds of menus and service styles. Here’s how menus are expected to change in the wake of the pandemic:
So-long shareable portions. “There could be a significant shift towards individual portions to address safety concerns in on-site dining,” says Sojo Alex, senior associate, Envision Strategies. For example, tapas-focused restaurant Cooks and Soldiers in Atlanta will be reopening with a menu of more entrées and fewer small plates.
For home orders, however, sharable meals and family-style entrées still sell well.
More plant and seafood proteins. With interruptions in the nation’s meat supply during the pandemic, more restaurants may be relying on other proteins on their menus. This disruption in the supply chain has also caused meat prices to rise and many restaurateurs are choosing to move away from offering as many meat-based meals to avoid having to adjust menu prices.
For example, after the price of short ribs went up $2 a pound, Max’s Bistro in Fresno, Calif., has temporarily taken the customer favorite off the menu and replaced it with plant and seafood-based entrees.
Another approach could be to serve smaller portions of animal proteins, making up the greater portion of the plate with delicious, innovative plant-based sides.
Self-service may be shelved. To help minimize the transmission of COVID-19, the FDA has recommended restaurants discontinue self-service stations with high-touch points such as buffets, salad bars, and beverage stations.
When 15,000 Burger King, Popeyes and Tim Hortons recently reopened, they provided drinks from behind the counter instead of offering soda fountain-dispense stations.
Buffet-specialist Golden Corral also has changed its service model by shifting to family-style table service as well as cafeteria-style service in which only staff touches serving utensils to serve guests’ portions.
Pizza Ranch has assigned servers to its buffets; customers approach and talk through what they’d like the server to plate for them from the buffet selection.
Continued focus on takeout. With restaurant capacity still capped in most states and some diners still hesitant to return to on-premises dining, takeout continues to be an essential revenue stream for restaurants even after reopening.
To that end, menus will likely veer toward dishes that travel well. “The new menus will have a focus on what is transportable as consumers’ demand for curbside, delivery, drive-thru and any other form of pick-up continues,” says Karen Malody, FCSI, principal, Culinary Options,
Streamlined menus. Food options may be more limited on menus to account for labor challenges, supply chain interruptions and to capitalize on menu items that bring in the core of an operation’s revenue.
“There also will be ingredient cross-utilization to reduce the number of SKUs in inventory, which is essential for controlling waste and food costs,” says Malody. “Having ingredients that are only used in one recipe won’t cut it anymore.” Diners should expect fewer customizable options as well, says Alex, to allow the operation to save time and increase convenience.
Cater to comfort cravings as well as health concerns. During periods of stress, people tend to eat more and show a greater preference for higher calorie foods that have nostalgic flavors. Reopening menus will likely include classic comfort foods, which often are also best sellers.
However, after months of more sedentary lifestyles and perhaps less-than-ideal eating habits, including eating breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks at home, restaurants expect some consumers to be motivated to order based on health. For instance, Chipotle Mexican Grill recently introduced five new Lifestyle Bowls for those who want to “get back on track with their health and fitness goals.”
Whether menu changes will be long-lasting only time will tell. But in the meantime expect these menu tweaks to help maximize revenues and table turns and ease dine-in customer concerns.