Between increased labor costs compounded by a labor shortage—plus frightening inflation, if you’re like most operators, you’re faced with having to tighten menus and raise prices.
Meanwhile, diners are fighting their own economic battles in search of value on the menu. According to surveys, 40% of respondents say they are getting less value from restaurants, and of those, 82% blame higher prices. Some 46% say they are ordering less from restaurants, and 34% say they choose less expensive items.1 Some say they are sharing appetizers or skipping the extra drink.1
In fact, appetizers, which can also be menued as snacks or small plates, might provide the best solution for value. When restaurant traffic fell across dayparts during the pandemic, late afternoon and after-dinner snack visits increased, according to market research firm The NPD Group.2 Consumers said they visited from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. because of the quality of the food and the desire for a treat.
From menuing products with advantage claims to incorporating flavor trends, here are three ways you can maximize profits down the line.
Protein conveys value
Meat-filled nibbles shine as an appetizing value solution. “Proteins in general on a menu tend to lead diners to believe they are getting their money’s worth,” says Ben Lee, director of culinary services for Creative Food Solutions. He adds, “Individually portioned, single-bite shareable dishes are always welcome for the appetizer course.”
From an operator’s point of view, when it comes to poultry in particular, these one-bite delicacies can utilize the cheaper parts of the bird, “like the legs to braise and pull apart to offer maximum utilization,” Lee says.
Make sure the meaty morsels you offer are fun and have a shareability factor. For example, Turkey Meatball Sliders or Chicken Tostadas. Sliders and tostadas both lend themselves to small plates that can be easily paired up on the menu, providing an inherently fun format for guests to share.
Consider offering a combo of protein-forward appetizers, such as Chili’s® Grill & Bar Triple Dipper™, which combines their sliders, wings and egg rolls all on one plate. This conveys value and allows guests to sample different appetizer offerings.
Global flavors rule
Appetizers easily borrow from hand-held street food cultures from around the globe and are a great vehicle to introduce new items and flavors. Many are not yet ubiquitous on American menus, which gives you the opportunity to offer a valuable first taste. According to Datassential, satay (Southeast Asian skewered chicken), empanadas, fritters and croquettes are trending, while lumpia (spring rolls), samosas and bao (buns) are starting to be introduced on menus.3 Each of these is abundant on the global stage and could find an eager audience, especially among millennials. At 46%, they are the demographic most interested in trying traditional chicken menu items with a global flavor twist.4
Even common appetizers like wings, flatbread, bruschetta, pot stickers and egg rolls get a lift with international or regional flavors. New appetizer wings with flavor-fusion sauces and global accents are the second leading trend among appetizers and sides, according to chefs who participated in the National Restaurant Association’s 2022 What’s Hot survey.5 Adding global sauces and garnishes to wings is an easy way to incorporate global fare on the menu, such as this Crispy Korean BBQ Boneless Wings recipe, which combines trending salty-sweet Korean barbecue flavors with the ever-popular offering of boneless wings.
In a move toward fusion, Mugshots Grill and Bar’s Southwest Eggrolls offer the name-implied shredded chicken, Monterey Jack cheese, corn and bell pepper filling, but surprisingly they come with sweet chili Thai sauce.
Leverage premium ingredients
Another way to drive profitability with appetizers is to incorporate quality ingredients in your appetizer menu items. The majority of consumers are willing to pay more for Clean Label, No Antibiotics Ever and All Vegetarian Fed chicken and turkey items,6 so be sure to call out appetizer dishes that feature high-quality ingredients on the menu. And, considering labor challenges, make sure to source poultry in its most value-added form for less preparation time, whether that be Perdue TenderReady fully cooked sous-vide chicken products or Perdue Sandwich Builders sliced turkey and ham.
Also, roughly two-thirds of consumers stated that they would visit a location with important claims on the menu more frequently.6 So, make sure you communicate your brand’s commitment to ingredient quality on your website, social media, signage and wherever you are also promoting your appetizers to engage repeat customers.
Tap into supplier expertise
While you look for ways to create flavorful appetizers economically, remember that a freshened-up small-plates list is easy to execute with the myriad supplier ready-to-use products available that help to reduce preparation and training time.
Consider Buffalo Chicken Dip as an alternative to expensive buffalo wings, for example. Instead of one whole wing per person, six servings of the dip calls for one 9-ounce bag of frozen PERDUE® HARVESTLAND® No Antibiotics Ever, fully cooked, boneless, skinless, diced chicken breast. “You can use the supporting ingredients of the Boursin cheese, the creamy Caesar dressing, and of course the buffalo sauce to still offer a buffalo chicken dish,” Lee says. “Diners still get to share with their friends, perhaps paying a little less than they would on an order of wings, and feel they are getting the value of having buffalo chicken.”
However, if wings are important to your operation, leverage other parts—offering boneless wings and thigh wings.
Above all, use your appetizers to join flavor with value and give guests a reason to keep returning for more.
Get appetizer inspiration with Perdue’s Menu Ideas.
- Jennings, Lisa, “Is it Time to Ease Up on Restaurant Menu Price Hikes?” Nation’s Restaurant News, May 27, 2022, https://www.nrn.com/fast-casual/it-time-ease-restaurant-menu-price-hikes
- Nunes, Keith, “Snacking Seen as Reemerging Opportunity in Foodservice,” Food Business News, April 13, 2021, https://www.foodbusinessnews.net/articles/18368-snacking-seen-as-reemerging-opportunity-in-foodservice
- Datassential Appetizer Dishes Menu Adoption Chart, August 2021
- “Center of the Plate: Beef & Pork,” Technomic 2021 consumer trends report, https://pages.winsightmedia.com/rs/561-ZNP-897/images/Technomic_US_CTR_sample_slides.pdf
- What’s Hot 2022 Culinary Forecast, National Restaurant Association, Nov. 16, 2021, https://go.restaurant.org/rs/078-ZLA-461/images/2022_What%27s_Hot_Report.pdf
- Perdue Proprietary Research, May 2022