2009 Menu Development survey

Thai is “hot,” Mediterranean is popular and local sourcing is the way to go, say the respondents of FSD's 2009 Menu Development Survery.

Even though talking with chefs and foodservice directors in non-commercial operations would suggest that customers are clamoring for Indian cuisine, Thai food remains at the top of the list of “hot” cuisines, according to the results of the 2009 Menu Development survey compiled by FoodService Director.

Twenty-four percent of survey respondents listed Thai as the hottest ethnic cuisine, outside of well-established cuisines such as Mexican, Italian and Chinese. (In last year’s survey, 21% of respondents chose Thai as their hot choice.) Another 14% listed Mediterranean/Greek as the hottest, followed by Indian, with 8%. Other responses included Middle Eastern (6%) and Cuban and Nuevo Latino (4% each).

However, when it comes to which cuisines operators will be adding to their menus, Latino moves to the top of the list. When asked “Which ethnic cuisines do you plan to add in the next 12 months?”, operators indicated their customers were clamoring for cuisines of the Caribbean. Nearly 11% of operators said they would be adding Cuban, Jamaican or Nuevo Latino items to their menus. Ten percent said they would be adding Mediterranean/Greek, and 10% said they would be adding Thai or Pacific Rim items.

Among current menu offerings, Mediterranean/Greek remains most popular, with 46% of operators saying they offer items from this region on their menus compared with 47% last year. Twenty-nine percent said they offer Thai, the same percentage as last year. But Indian cuisine made its way onto more menus, with 29% saying they offer Indian foods, compared with only 23% last year. Other popular ethnic items include Caribbean (28%)  Middle Eastern (23%) and Pacific Rim (22%).

Chefs on board

When it comes to menu development, 48% of survey respondents see the value—and have the budget—to have professionally trained culinarians on staff, with 40% of operators saying they employ an executive chef. Respondents are, however, increasingly hiring chefs with different skill sets. For example, 11% of operators surveyed said they employ a pastry chef, up from 6% last year, 15% said they have a culinary director, up 4 percentage points from last year and 8% said they have a chef de cuisine on staff, compared with 6% last year. More operations have sous chefs as well, with 25% employing the position, an increase from last year’s 22%.

Whether they have professional chefs or not, most operators continue to realize the value of culinary and other menu-related training, and 91% of operators reported providing staff culinary training in one form or another. Perhaps reflective of current economic conditions, however, there has been a shift in where and how training takes place, with more operators choosing  stay-at-home approaches. For example, the percentage of operators sending culinarians to conferences and trade shows dropped 4 percentage points, from 80% to 76%, although the use of off-site institutes and schools increased from 31% to 35%. But by and large, more operators are bringing the training to the staff, in the form of in-house seminars and workshops (72% versus 66% last year), online training (up from 25% to 36%), and visits by culinary professionals (30% this year compared with 25% last year). Chef competitions grew in popularity, with 21% of operators sending chefs to such events, versus 19% last year.

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