2008 Menu Development Survey: The state of the plate 2008

Ethnic menu items continue to gain popularity among noncommercial foodservice operators.

The desire for a growing variety of ethnic cuisines certainly is influencing non-commercial operators, as our 2008 Menu Development survey shows. But wellness issues and a strong push for local and sustainable are also playing prominent roles.

FoodService Director’s 2008 Menu Development Survey indicated that the depth and breadth of ethnic foods is having a major impact on most operators’ menu planning. Display cooking stations also have grown significantly in popularity among all market segments, but the push toward more environmentally friendly items such as local and organic products continues to meet resistance from a lack of available items.

Authentic Ethnic
Overall, ethnic menu items continue to gain popularity among noncommercial foodservice operators. For example, 47% of operators say they are offering Mediterranean items on their menus; 38% were last year. The percentage of operators offering Thai foods rose from 21% last year to 29% this year. Other popular ethnic foods, outside of the established cuisines such as Italian, Mexican and Chinese, are Caribbean (27% of operators), Middle Eastern and Nuevo Latino (25%), and Cuban and Indian (23%).

But the embrace of ethnic cuisines is far from universal; 40% of operators polled say they don’t offer any items outside of longstanding favorites. Long-term care and school foodservices are least likely to offer the less common ethnics, with 68% of long-term care operators and 65% of school foodservice directors saying their menus are fairly basic.

B&I and college operators are, on average, the most adventurous. Among B&I operators, 55% offer Thai and Caribbean foods, 49% offer Nuevo Latino and Indian, 46% offer Middle Eastern, 42% offer Cuban, 39% offer Jamaican and 30% offer Vietnamese.

Among college foodservice, 56% offer Thai, 49% offer Caribbean and Indian, 46% offer Middle Eastern and Cuban, 39% offer Nuevo Latino, 33% offer Jamaican and 26% offer Vietnamese.

Thai is definitely “hot,” with 21% of operators overall labeling it the hottest ethnic. Every market sector except B&I listed Thai as No. 1.  B&I operators see Indian as the hottest ethnic, with 27% of operators calling it No. 1.

But some operators have told us that they are open to just about anything their customers ask for.

“Actually, we have had requests for soul food in particular,” says Stephanie Tanner, director of guests services for Gerald Champion Regional Medical Center, Alamogordo, N.M. “We ended up coming up with a menu and a weekly ‘platter special’ that recognizes traditional soul food.” Of course, Tanner says that, with Alamogordo’s location, Mexican still is tops.

“We are actually one of the number one spots in town to eat for price conscious Mexican food consumers,” she notes, adding that one day each week is designated Mexican Day. “Sales often run $300 higher on Mexican Day.”

At Villanova University in Philadelphia, Dining Services Director Tim Dietzler says his customers are eager to try anything.

“We’ve done a series of events recently that featured more full-flavored cuisines,” he explains. “We’ve had Moroccan, South African and West Indies. We did a Taste of Rwanda where we brought in goat, and it was well received. One of our chefs developed a dish called Chef Joel’s African Chicken, which has flavorful African spices, and that is popular. We have a growing international population on campus, so Indian cuisine has become more popular. We take requests and make adjustments.”

But ethnic cuisines are not the only concerns influencing menu development in the noncommercial sector. The demand for vegetarian and vegan items, interest in healthier food overall and a push for environmentally conscious purchasing decisions such as local and organic foods also are having an impact.

More From FoodService Director

Menu Development
sam kass peter romeo

We’ve heard it time and again—millennials are extremely conscious about what they eat. They want to know what is in their food, where it is from, how it was made and more. And, as we’re learning, Gen Zers are even more aware and information-demanding about the food they eat than their older counterparts.

Hitting those higher-quality food standards is no easy feat. But it’s becoming a must, said chef Sam Kass—known for being the White House chef for the Obamas, a senior White House policy advisor on nutrition policy while he cooked, and currently the senior food analyst for NBC News...

Sponsored Content
chicken veggies recipes

From Tyson Food Service.

With operators becoming increasingly strapped for time and labor, it’s a strain to prepare every aspect of a menu item back-of-house or keep the menu populated with a variety of options. While it doesn’t mean they have to cut corners when developing new items, operators can use more versatile items that are simple enough to apply across the menu to save on labor and cost as well as be more efficient.

With versatile proteins, operators can increase menu opportunities without kitchen complexity, and drive new customer traffic or increase the number...

Industry News & Opinion

An audit into Kennesaw State University’s dining services revealed the university accrued roughly $2 million from off-campus students paying for meal plans as part of their semester fees, according to a report by Fox 5 Atlanta .

Meal plans at the Kennesaw, Ga., university are automatically assessed to students whether they live on campus or not. The university does not refund unused meals, draining the pockets of commuter students each semester.

“I think it’s ridiculous that we pay all this tuition and then we’re here paying another big fee,” commuter student Emmanuel...

Industry News & Opinion

As part of a 10-year contract to run Eastern Michigan University’s foodservice, Chartwells will invest $5 million in the Ypsilanti, Mich., university, as well as provide it with $18 million in capital improvements, according to a report by the Detroit Free Press .

The university’s board of regents approved the contract on Tuesday, citing the new revenue as an opportunity to expand and improve campus foodservice. EMU’s website indicates the partnership will allow for more student input as well as the introduction of food trucks and improved technology.

“The primary reason...

FSD Resources