The first pictogram to appear on menus was the chili pepper. Next to the description of a menu item, shrimp diablo, for example, would be an icon clearly emphasizing that the dish was spicy. The intention was to steer spice-averse diners clear of menu items that packed a punch as much as it was to attract heat-seeking palettes. These little chili peppers created a new way to think about menu design and how to play to customers’ preferences.
Menus today proudly showcase a litany of symbols or letters to designate organic ingredients and a host of dietary preferences, including gluten-free. Organic and gluten-free dining isn’t just about eating healthier, it's about letting diners exercise their freedom to choose what they put in their bodies. This freedom of choice is redefining the dining experience as restaurants level up to meet the demand.
It’s common practice for restaurants to list local purveyors on their menus. If the tomatoes on a salad are from a farm down the road, it is worth pointing out. The chef knows where the tomato is from and is proud to have it on the salad. By indicating where the food comes from, the restaurant builds trust with guests. Establishing trust is critical when dealing with allergens. The guest can make a short leap of faith: A restaurant that cares about the provenance of an ingredient will also care about isolating allergens. With easy-to-clean equipment, your operation can confidently avoid cross-contamination. Trust through transparency is an ethically sound business practice. It can also add value as customers are willing to pay more for organically grown food. According to the 2022 “Business of Sustainability Index” report, 66% of consumers in the United States and 80% of young U.S. adults (ages 18-34) are willing to pay more for sustainable or organic products versus less sustainable competitors. Take the nothing-to-hide approach to showcase peak freshness with display cases and merchandisers. You can quite literally demonstrate total transparency.
Like the story of the chili pepper icon first appearing on menus, healthier lifestyles are as much about what people choose to put in their bodies as it is about what they want to avoid. On a basic level, organic agriculture leads to produce that is more nutritious and possesses more antioxidants and flavonoids than industrial farming. Organic livestock contain higher levels of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids. Soil alone holds 25% of all biodiversity on the planet; it’s also Earth’s second largest carbon sink. When sustainably managed, organic food systems allow farmers to feed the world and restore habitats through soil health, in effect, mitigating climate change. Choosing organic food also means choosing to put less toxins, antibiotics, hormones and other unnatural substances in one's body. As farmers continue to develop, improve and reduce the cost of organic farming techniques, we will see healthier foods in our kitchens. The onus is on chefs to finish what the farmers started. A lighter hand in cooking preserves nutrients better in food. This calls for next-gen light cooking solutions such as induction cooktops, which are energy efficient and offer precise temperature control. This allows chefs to lock in flavor and health benefits.
There was a time when healthy dining had a bland and boring stigma attached to it. Now the opposite seems to be true. Organic produce and proteins can be featured on menus, often becoming synonymous with the highest quality. Nobody sees Wagyu beef or heirloom Brandywine tomato on a menu and doubts how delicious they will be. When it comes to the flavor of optimally grown organic foods, the simpler the better. This idea of simplification has paved the way for the rethinking of other ingredients. Gluten, for example, is often avoided by diners for allergy and other dietary reasons. The upshot is that the increase in gluten-free eating has led to a rediscovery of ancient grains, rice and legumes that fill the role traditionally played by gluten. These former underdog ingredients are now the stars of signature dishes. Michelin-starred restaurants and neighborhood joints alike have embraced organic ingredients such as farro, millet, sorghum, chickpeas and lentils. This diverse range of ingredients beckons for an all-around versatile piece of cooking equipment such as a salamander to cook, grill, reheat and keep an array of foods at their optimum serving temperatures.
Land has to be free of industrial-strength pesticides and fertilizers for three years before it can attain the USDA’s standard for organic farming. More and more diners are connecting climate change, the degradation of land and water supply levels as reasons for eating organically. Large-scale farm operations that generate global greenhouse gas emissions are a major cause of biodiversity loss and account for large amounts of water usage. Fortunately, organic farming can help reverse these trends. Sustainably managed organic farmers have proven that it is possible to revitalize critical habitats, restore soil health, mitigate climate change and produce delicious tasting food. Restaurants can do their part by supporting smaller, independent organic farming operations. Restaurants can also play a proactive role by reducing food waste and composting organic materials.
Where restaurants go, large scale foodservice follows.
Organic and gluten-free foods are not a fad nor a trend. They represent a paradigm shift in how people are choosing to eat. Restaurants are the traditional cradle of innovation in dining. When fine dining, family-friendly, fast casual and concept restaurants all align on the same philosophies, large scale foodservice operations must take note.
One can look back as recently as the pandemic to find former trends such as contactless pick-up, grab-n-go, and curbside service now permanently woven into the fabric of all foodservice operations. Don’t be left behind as the organic and gluten-free revolution takes hold. Contact a Hatco representative today to see what cooking, storage and merchandiser solutions await your foodservice operation.