Operators who lean into the culinary momentum already shaping the foodservice landscape for 2022 will be best positioned to please crowds and build profits. Tap into any of these three trends to secure your spot at the table.
Comfort food gets dressed up
Uncertainty and stress tend to drive consumers to the food version of flannel pajamas. Think macaroni and cheese, pizza, ice cream and any number of favorite indulgences. But with the never-ending pandemic, plus economic and global stresses, those comfort foods are getting a bit uninteresting. Rather than toss them out, operators are shaking them up — with more spice, new global flavors, better-for-you tweaks and mashups.1
For fall 2021, SONIC Drive-In combined a grilled cheese sandwich with a burger for its Grilled Cheese Burger LTO.2 Meanwhile, Panera offered a Grilled Mac & Cheese Sandwich.3 With the kids’ menu in mind, consider expanded opportunities for chicken nuggets, perhaps offering a better-for-you plant-forward alternative that combines real chicken with plant proteins and vegetables.
Don’t forget the cozy place turkey holds — usually as Thanksgiving comfort fare. Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop, a 100-plus-unit fast-casual Nevada-based chain, is famous for putting turkey with Thanksgiving trimmings between two buns year-round. It describes its popular The Bobbie sub as “The nationally acclaimed bestseller! Homemade turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing and mayo.” Providing a trendy take on a holiday favorite can be the best of both worlds — comfort food with an exciting twist.
Crafting Efficient Menus
Operational costs and challenges continue to trend up with increased minimum wages, inflation and supply chain disruptions. This will continue to lead operators to declutter the menu, letting economical ingredients carry the load.4
While Bastille Brasserie & Bar in Alexandria, Virginia, reduced the number of entrees on the menu, it changed the menu more often for the sake of variety for regular customers. It also removed filet mignon from the menu and introduced a flavorful chicken breast, which allowed for a 10%-15% price decrease for guests to better afford to eat there.4
Since Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop already slow-roasts turkey for its famous The Bobbie sub, it utilizes the economical poultry throughout the menu. The Cole Turkey sub combines the bird with provolone cheese, Russian dressing, coleslaw and mayo. It also offers a BBQ Turkey salad and a basic turkey sandwich. Finding ways to repurpose rock-star menu items while providing variety for customers will be key in 2022 menu development.
Online search trends drive the menu
Chicken tenders and wings are flying high in internet and app searches. Those who use third-party delivery services tend to search for a type of menu item rather than for a specific chain, according to Restaurant Business.5
This is likely the reason why most of the delivery-only virtual brands opened lately are chicken wing and/or tender concepts. For starters, consider Applebee’s Cosmic Wings brand; Chili’s It’s Just Wings; Smokey Bones’ Wing Experience; and Bloomin’ Brands’ Tender Shack. Red Robin Gourmet Burgers and Brews recently launched three virtual concepts, two of which sell chicken. In September 2021, Chick-fil-A revealed more details of its delivery-only Little Blue Menu brand test in Nashville, Tennessee, which is three virtual concepts — Flock & Farm, Outfox Wings and Garden Day. Flock & Farm will focus on roasted chicken and bone-in wings, among other items.6
With chicken wings being in short supply and high demand, many restaurants are turning to chicken thighs as a way to keep poultry in the spotlight. Wingstop temporarily expanded its offerings with Thighstop, an online-only restaurant that delivers chicken thighs via DoorDash7. Thighs cost less and offer more meat and flavor, providing a win-win for restaurant operators.
For those not looking to start a virtual concept, be sure to elevate the much-searched poultry on the menu. For example, while Oak Wood Fire Kitchen in Draper, Utah, and its Southside Pizza Co. virtual concept center on pizza, both sell chicken wings — whole wings at Oak Wood and wing segments with a choice of six sauces at Southside Pizza. The multiple sauces are a way to offer variety with minimal cost or labor complexity, according to the restaurant.4
These food trends for 2022 are as much about operational and menu strategy as they are about innovation. Look for ways to dress up comfort fare, economize with fewer ingredients and tap into searchable favorites. Customers will reward you with their wallets and loyalty.
- Cobe, Pat, “Look for Restaurants to Dig Deeper into 2021 Trends and Freshen Them Up for 2022,” Restaurant Business, Sept. 2, 2021, https://www.restaurantbusinessonline.com/food/look-restaurants-dig-deeper-2021-trends-freshen-them-2022
- Thorn, Bret, “Menu Tracker: New items from Buffalo Wild Wings, Shake Shack and Sonic Drive-in,” Nation’s Restaurant News, Sept. 2, 2021, https://www.nrn.com/menu/menu-tracker-new-items-buffalo-wild-wings-shake-shack-and-sonic-drive/gallery?slide=18
- Thorn, Bret, “Menu Tracker: New items from IHOP, Jack in the Box and Panera,” Nation’s Restaurant, News, Sept. 16, 2021, https://www.nrn.com/menu/menu-tracker-new-items-ihop-jack-box-and-panera/gallery?slide=14
- Thorn, Bret, “Restaurant menus will stay lean, efficient and smart in 2022,” Nation’s Restaurant News, May 18, 2021, https://www.nrn.com/menu/restaurant-menus-will-stay-lean-efficient-and-smart-2022
- Romeo, Peter, “Outback’s Parent Tries a Virtual Chicken Restaurant,” Restaurant Business, Sept. 8, 2020, https://www.restaurantbusinessonline.com/operations/outbacks-parent-tries-virtual-chicken-restaurant
- Petre, Holly, “Chick-fil-A Shares Some Details of its New Virtual Brands’ Menus,” Nation’s Restaurant News, Sept. 14, 2021, https://www.nrn.com/quick-service/chick-fil-shares-some-details-its-new-virtual-brands-menus
- Hines, Morgan and Tyko, Kelly. “'They eat like a wing, but with more meat': Wingstop launches Thighstop amid chicken wing shortage,” USA Today, June 21, 2021, https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/restaurants/2021/06/21/wingstop-chicken-thighs-thighstop-chicken-wings-shortage/7770315002/