Trends & Insights

5 Tips to Leverage the Escalating Appetite for Appetizers

Monday, November 28, 2016


Starters, small plates and sides – often referred to as the left side of the menu (LSM) – hold tremendous opportunity for foodservice operators to boost incremental sales. As consumers’ attitudes about dining occasions evolve, LSM items can serve as a chef’s blank canvas, a low-commitment, high-impact means to experiment and address trends.  

According to Technomic’s Starters, Small Plates & Sides Consumer Trends Report, all 231 leading full-service restaurant chains offer appetizers, which make up the greatest share of the LSM mealparts at an average of 16 items per brand.

To help overcome the once-popular belief that appetizers are non-essential, superfluous mealparts, foodservice operators must reshape how consumers view these offerings by improving the value proposition to drive LSM orders. The following are five tips to leveraging the escalating appetites for appetizers:

  1. Make it Social. Food and social interaction go hand in hand. Tapas-style, build-your-own samplers and tableside preparation for appetizers and small plates engage diners, enhancing the social aspect of the meal. By creating this engaging atmosphere – be it through offering interactive meal prep or larger, sharable dishes – operators can ensure meals remain a desired social “event.”    
  2. Elevate the Offerings. As commodity prices soar for some center-of-plate menu items, consider offering those premium products as starters. By conveying quality through starters, operators give customers that premium experience, minus the entrée-level costs.
  3. Take Chances. Appetizers offer an easy way to introduce innovative and unique offerings without significant impact to the core menu. Their low-risk positioning allows operators to push the envelope with bold flavors and unique ingredients. Taking chances on LSM offerings can lead to new flavors, formats and preparation styles that can later be applied to full-sized entrées.
  4. Be Transparent. In the day of information overload, consumers demand no surprises when it comes to their food. Whether through materials sourcing or nutritional transparency, operators can empower consumers with knowledge, making them feel better about what they’re eating. Technomic’s report goes on to say that 41 percent of consumers indicate that it’s important that restaurants reveal nutritional information for menu items. 
  5. Up the Options. Operators offering variety in price and portion on LSM items are finding success. Whether serving up smaller portions of rich, indulgent fare or larger portions of sharable items, alternating quantities and prices present opportunity to increase sales. LSM breadth also presents opportunity to satisfy different eating occasions, such as snacking during off-peak hours.

How will you pique interest for the left side of the menu and convince your customers that starters, small plates and sides are essential mealparts?