2006 Menu Development Survey: Menuing up

Twenty percent of meals are consumed away from the dining hall.

Portable menus and display cooking will grow in 2006, according to FSD research, while new ethnic cuisines vie for the top spot.

“We need to make lunch a great meal.” So says Russ Benson, president of the Society for Foodservice Management, as well as vice president of guest strategies for Parkhurst Dining Services and Cura Hospitality, sister companies under the Eat’n Park Hospitality Group corporate umbrella.

Benson, in describing the improvement of lunch as one of the main goals of and challenges facing non-commercial foodservice operators, also believes there’s opportunity for growth in home-replacement meals—a business line worth revisiting as a way to make foodservice more value driven. “We have to remember that lunch is probably the main meal of the day for most customers,” he says. “People don’t want to go home and cook after a 10- to 12-hour day. We need to deliver a better meal that people can grab-and-go for dinner.”

Grabbing more: According to FSD’s third annual Business Builder Study on Menu Development, sell more grab-and-go is just what many non-commercial operators plan to do this year. The study shows that nearly 20% of operators’ meal volume is consumed away from the dining hall (close to 30% in workplace settings like B&I and hospitals), while more than 20% expect that volume to increase during the next 12 months.

Ethnic foods are playing a large part in that endeavor. “Some of our international offerings are outselling pizza,” says Rick Postiglione, ceo of contract foodservices for Compass Group, Americas Division. “Latin and Indian cuisine are especially popular, specifically vegetarian fare.”

A year ago, respondents to FSD’s menu survey placed “Indian” at the top of their list of foods they planned to add.

This year, Indian takes second to “Mediterranean/Greek”—though “Thai” tops their list of “hot” cuisines for 2006.

To improve meal quality, and ensure authenticity in their ethnic offerings, operators employ a number of tactics:

  • This year, 38% of menu study respondents employ an executive chef, up from 28% in 2005. In fact, 61% of B&I operators have an executive chef on staff, up from 38% a year ago.
  • More than three-quarters of those surveyed send staff to conferences and trade shows for culinary training, while 73% conduct in-house training seminars and workshops and just over one-third send staff to institutes, schools or academies for that kind of training.
  • In 2006, 43% of respondents say they offer display cooking, up from one-third a year ago. Of that percentage, nearly half expect frequency of display cooking to increase this year. Doing so leads to an increase in meal volume, 63% of them say.