Trends & Insights
Consider the Classics
Monday, October 24, 2016
Some comfort foods are so popular that they’ve become menu must-haves. Fried chicken, meat loaf, steak, ribs—these are enduring customer favorites, and sure-fire bestsellers for restaurant operators.
No matter the protein or the cooking method, these classic comforts have one thing in common: Customers grew up eating them. That makes them familiar, dependable and craveable.
According to proprietary research prepared by Technomic for AdvancePierre® Foods, the menu incidence of the company’s top comfort-food product categories reads like a list of America’s Greatest Food Hits:
#1 Fried Chicken
#2 Meatball Sandwich
#3 Beef Ribs
#4 Meat Loaf
#5 Prime Rib
#6 Chicken/Country Fried Steak
#7 Chicken and Ribs
#8 St. Louis Style Ribs
#9 Meat Loaf Sandwich
#10 Steak and Ribs
Fried chicken has always been popular, but right now it’s hotter than ever, thanks to its relatively low food cost and to growing interest in regional American cooking.
Customers love fried chicken, but few people cook it at home, so savvy restaurant operators are doing it for them. Muscadine, a Southern restaurant in Portland, Ore., specializes in fried chicken, available in either buttermilk or Nashville hot versions, served with a choice of three sides and a biscuit or cornbread. Feed, in Chicago, riffs on the Sunday-night supper tradition with its weekends-only fried chicken dinners. And the latest wrinkle in the fried chicken tradition is the growing number of casual and quick-service concepts specializing in this proven favorite, including California’s new Starbird, with its menu based on fried chicken tenders, and Joella’s Hot Chicken, in Kentucky, known for its fried chicken and waffles.
Menu Sampler: Chicken and Waffles (crispy battered chicken, Belgian waffle, Sriracha butter, pepper Jack cheese, and maple syrup for dipping); Melt Bar & Grilled (casual restaurant concept with seven locations in Ohio)
The enduring love of fried food doesn’t stop at chicken, however. Battered and fried specialties such as country-fried steak, breaded pork loin and steak fingers also tap into consumers’ love of all things comforting
This one’s all about nostalgia—for a past that may be real or may be idealized, but either way it drives powerful cravings.
Meat loaf, pot roast, Salisbury steak, spaghetti and meatballs, pork chops, chicken pot pie… all these classic comfort foods have never gone out of style. In fact, trend-watchers suggest that cravings for these things only grow in times of stress or tightened budgets.
One particularly effective way of merchandising the wide-ranging group of menu items in this category is with a Blue Plate Special program: Meat Loaf on Monday, Pot Pie on Tuesday and so on. Experiment with customer preference and feature the top-selling items on the slowest nights, in order to build traffic.
Menu Sampler: Beef Shepherd’s Pie (tender beef covered with homemade mashed potatoes and baked to perfection); Sunday Comfort Food menu at Chef Point (specialty restaurant in Watauga, Texas)
Everybody loves a cookout, with delicious steaks, chicken and ribs cooked on the grill—to say nothing of burgers and hot dogs.
That’s part of the appeal behind the year-round popularity of these foods in restaurants, where a well-tended charbroiler or wood-fired grill gives these favorites that comforting flavor of summertime fun.
The best of all possible worlds is the mix-and-match combo plate where customers can choose among juicy steaks, smoky grilled chicken and tender ribs. Each of these popular proteins is available in a variety of different cuts, and can be enhanced with the zippy flavors of marinades, barbecue sauce and more, representing a stellar opportunity for a restaurant to set itself apart.
Menu Sampler: Chicken & Rib Combo (Tennessee whiskey beer can-style chicken, Kansas City sweet and sticky ribs and Memphis dry-rub ribs); Daisy May’s BBQ USA (barbecue specialist in New York City)
Isn’t it comforting to know that food fads may come and go, but the classics always endure?