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The Rise of Small Menus (and the Equipment To Support Them)

The Rise of Small Menus (and the Equipment To Support Them)

2022-10-13

Enjoy a meal at any local eateries lately? If so, you may have experienced a simple one-pager set in front of you. That’s right, welcome to one of the newest fads in foodservice — fewer menu options. While the concept isn’t entirely new, the rise of small menus flowed into mainstream existence during the pandemic when foodservice operations encountered many hurdles. Limiting options became a quick fix, but after noticing the benefits, many operations didn’t look back. Now, there’s less flipping through mammoth menus filled with seemingly countless salad selections and endless entree options. Let's explore why scaled-back menus rose in popularity and what equipment you need to support them.

Challenging supply chain

The interconnectivity of the supply chain means that disruption to one link affects multiple processes and supplies down the chain line. For instance, less driving during the pandemic caused lower demand for fuel and, subsequently, less need for ethanol. The thing is, carbon dioxide (CO2) forms when ethanol is made — which so happens to be the key ingredient used to create the tingly bubbles found in a tasty soda pop, refreshing seltzer water or nice frothy beer. It’s all a chain reaction; even one seemingly unrelated thing can have a domino effect and make its way all the way over to the foodservice industry. CO2 is just one example, but foodservice establishments have seen their fair share of supply chain shortages and challenges that have ultimately pushed them to adapt.

One way operators pivoted when faced with supply chain challenges was by paring down menu choices. Less menu selection means fewer products to purchase. And if operations do their homework before creating different recipes, they can steer clear of products that are in short supply (or might be soon). As a result, providing fewer options to customers means less disruptions to the menu.

Thankfully, fewer menu options don’t necessarily mean less variety; it can actually mean more room for increased creativity and flexibility because it allows operators to keep a small menu and then incorporate seasonal or other limited-time offers into the menu rotation more frequently. That said, an increase in creative and evolving small menus makes versatile equipment in the kitchen a must. But what kind of equipment is needed?

A flat-top griddle like Hatco®/Krampouz® Electric Griddle is one great suggestion. This unit can sauté a variety of vegetables, brown burgers, sear steak and sunny-side an egg (to name a few) with no problem. It works for all dayparts and even comes with two temperature zones so you can cook up different types of food at one time; it’s no wonder foodservice operations everywhere rely on a griddle. In addition, a multi contact grill, multi-purpose baker or commercial toaster’s functionality and small footprint are excellent solutions for establishments looking to shake up their menu on the regular while grilling, baking or toasting critical components.

Increasing to-go trends

The booming and steady call for to-go service is now unquestionably a part of foodservice culture — no matter the type of establishment. All the prepping and packaging of pickup and delivery meals occupies precious staff time, not to mention a fair share of kitchen real estate. In order to keep up with the demand of to-go, as well as in-house customers, many establishments adopted a “less is more” philosophy and slimmed down their menus to a manageable amount of options. That said, some menu offerings didn't make the cut, either because they aren't a customer favorite, their quality doesn’t hold up while en route on delivery or they simply take too long to cook and get out of the door. Operators knew that executing fewer quality meals was more valuable than just pumping out more product.

Pruning the menu to just a few of the best options helps save time, but useful equipment is also instrumental in helping ease the burden of increased pickup and delivery demands. Case in point, a portable commercial induction cooktop cooks food at an incredibly quick rate. That’s because induction technology uses magnetic forces to create heat with virtually no lag time. So, instead of boiling six cups (1.42 liters) of water in six to eight minutes, some induction cooktops get that water rolling in three. In addition, some models of induction cooktops come with automation features such as programmable presets that free up time for staff to multitask, enabling employees to package products for to-go while simultaneously cooking food to perfection. Smaller menus, automation and quick cooking technology are a definite win for keeping up with the to-go trends of today.

Declining workforce

Businesses everywhere have experienced the staggering effects of the most recent labor shortage, and the restaurant industry isn’t an exception. As a matter of fact, recent statistics from the National Restaurant Association (NRA) state that two out of three operations report that staffing shortages have affected their ability to meet customer demands. And if the adage, “Many hands make light work” is true, then the opposite is probably just as accurate. Consequently, fewer employees mean less capacity for chopping, mixing, broiling, baking, serving and more. By embracing smaller menus, the industry could lessen the labor load.

Investing in equipment that cooks food quickly and conveniently makes sized-down menus downright appealing to stretched-thin staff. One small but mighty force that can help is a salamander oven. Yep, you read that right. But this salamander isn’t the green little lizard that likes to jet back and forth on the forest floor. Nope, this equipment is an oven that specializes in grilling, toasting, broiling, caramelizing, glazing and even hot-holding a whole host of products — quickly. And like the induction cooktop mentioned above, some salamanders on the market even provide programmable heat settings for added functionality, less labor and increased ease of use.

Benefiting guests.

Countless menu options might sound like a dream come true. But believe it or not, that’s not actually the case for many diners. While some decisions are good, people presented with fewer choices tend to be happier during the decision-making process (science even backs this up). A scaled-down menu with just the right amount of incredibly prepared menu offerings, instead of a smorgasbord of food to sift through, will likely benefit your staff, your operation and your guests.

At Hatco, we also believe in doing everything we can to benefit our customers. Interested in learning more about what we can offer? Visit our website to check out our quality equipment offering.

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