Small plates, a.k.a sharing plates have had a place of privilege in several cultures around the world, with Spanish tapas, Italian antipasto, Chinese dim sums and Mezze from the Middle East probably being the most famous of them all. However, shifting eating habits in the US has now brought small plates to the mainstream and restaurants are now increasingly beginning to introduce these in their regular menu, and quite rightly so too.
In the National Restaurant Association What's Hot 2019 Culinary Forecast, small-plate menus have been ranked fourth in the top restaurant concepts category. According to Technomic’s Starters, Small Plates & Sides Consumer Trend Report 2019, 43% of diners would like restaurants to offer more appetizers featuring new or unique ingredients and flavors.
The verdict is clear. But if you still need more convincing, here are six reasons why you might want to add small plates on your menu.
Consumers are more health-conscious now than ever before. This represents a huge opportunity for restaurants to tap into. While small plates don't necessarily mean healthy, chefs can create innovative small plate offerings using nutritious ingredients.
For instance, you can replace a full-sized burger with a plant-based slider. Wholefoods has suggested that ‘blended burger’, in which beef is mixed with plant protein, will be a leading trend in 2020.
According to a Euromonitor report on mindful eating, customers are attracted to healthy ingredients and superfoods not only for health and nutritional benefits but also for factors like novelty and exotic adventure. This could be taken into account while creating healthy small plates. Desserts, which are usually shunned for its high calories content, could also be presented as appetizing mini bites.
One of the reasons why small plates are growing in popularity is because it allows for a shared dining experience. In the Starters, Small Plates & Sides Consumer Trend Report 2019, 55% of the people surveyed admitted that they typically share appetizers with others in their dining party. A study from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business has also revealed that when people in a business negotiation share not just a meal but a plate, they collaborate better and reach deals faster.
However, when we say ‘social’ dining, we also mean that small plates can draw in diners because of their ‘Insta-worthy’ quality. Small plates are known for their attractive presentations which provide Instagrammable pictures for the digitally-savvy customers of today. This, in turn, gives free publicity to the restaurant through user-generated content. A win-win for all.
Restaurants who’ve already adapted the small plates trend have claimed that customers tend to pay more for tapas-style meals as opposed to one large main course. A small plate of Hakka Noodles with Scehdzuam Sauce has more potential of repeat order than a large plate of Hakka Noodles that customers usually aren't able to finish in one sitting and take the rest home?
On the other hand, millennials are adventurous eaters. They want to try out different things when they dine out or order-in. Since small plates are usually shared among a group of people, customers usually end up ordering more than 3 dishes at a time.
Studies have also shown that customers are more averse to certain forms of payment than others. When they pay $50 for five different small plates, they are more likely to be satisfied than paying the same amount for one large dish.
Customers today are looking to satiate individual taste, a demand which is driving restaurants to offer more and more personalized menus. Diners do not want to be told what to eat, rather they want to actively participate in the decision-making process when it comes to restaurant menus.
Small plates provide a great opportunity to develop the build-your-own concept and attract diners, who can try out varied flavors and different cuisines, as well as order according to their food restrictions and diets. Such a concept is quite appealing to the younger generation that’s more inclined toward trying new dishes but are also price-conscious.
Interested in learning more about effective menu design? Check out our blog post here
Zero-waste cooking is ranked third in the overall trend in the National Restaurant Association What's Hot 2019 Culinary Forecast.
As customers become more mindful of ecological and social impacts, chefs are getting more creative in how they use discarded ingredients. US restaurants generate an estimated 22 to 33 billion pounds of food waste each year, and a large part of this is a result of oversized portions. Small plates allow restaurants to utilize ingredients that would usually be considered waste, thus helping in reducing food waste to a large extent.
Small plates have the advantage of making restaurant kitchens more efficient. Since preparing and serving the small plates take less time, the turnaround time to serve the guests is relatively shorter, service is quick, keeping the diners happy.
Small plates also mean that chefs are allowed to be more focused on high-quality dishes, not only in terms of taste but also presentation. Small plates are also beneficial because they help reduce food inventory, losses from spoilage and allow for lower cost and higher margins.
Small plates let you break out from the confines of your typical feat. Reducing the size of your restaurant menu, as well as the size of the plates can have a positive effect on your restaurant’s profits.
How can your restaurant implement smaller portion sizes?
Restolabs’ analytics system makes it easy to understand which dishes are the highest performing on your menu so you can make the most of them and maximize profits.