2010 Menu Development survey: In menus, diversity rules

Chefs and operators are becoming more adventurous with their menus but there are still limits to what they can achieve.

The results of the 2010 Menu Development Study, conducted annually by Foodservice Director, are in, and the survey says Asian is “in,” Mediterranean has staying power, and Thai, Caribbean and Cuban will be making their way onto more non-commercial menus in the months to come.

The results are summarized in a sidebar below, and in four charts scattered throughout the article. But raw data doesn’t often tell us the why—or why not. So, we asked 30 chefs and operators to tell us what’s popular in their operations and why, as well as what is holding them back from expanding their menus even further.

The most frequent response to the open-ended question, “what is the most popular ethnic cuisine?” is Asian and that is true in most segments.

“I think the reason why students like it so much,” suggests Craig Mombert, executive chef at Davidson College in North Carolina, “is because most people are familiar with Chinese food. It is not a stretch for many to give other types of cuisine, such as Thai or Korean, a shot. And they get to experience flavors that are not found traditionally in European and other Western cuisines.”

Another reason, says Shawn Hoch, executive chef at Washington State University, is that a large number of customers are Asian.

2010 Menu Development Survey Types of Chart“Our largest minority population on campus is Asian,” Hoch says. “Chinese is most popular, but we also follow Japanese and Thai, and recently added Vietnamese pho to the menu, which has been well received. We also have been adding to our sushi concept and added dim sum to the menu.”

Vaughn Vargus, executive chef at the University of California at San Diego, says, “At the top of the list would be our sushi/soba menu items. Thai, Vietnamese and Chinese are all very popular.” Then, travel across the country to upstate New York, and Steven Miller, executive chef at Cornell University, will tell you: “Thai food is a very hot concept. Low food cost and big flavors help get this concept rolling.” Miller worked with Chef Chai Siriyarn to open a Thai concept last fall, and he also brought in Indian chef and restaurateur Suvir Saran to bring Indian flavors to American foods such as macaroni and cheese, fried chicken and meatloaf.

Even universities in the “meat-and-potatoes” stronghold of America’s Heartland see Asian items as popular. Few, however, have gotten as exotic as the University of Kansas in Lawrence.

“We recently served some Nepali dishes with positive feedback,” says Executive Chef Janna Traver. “I believe this is due to the use of curries that provide a known ingredient. This allows us to incorporate some exotic flavors such as fenugreek, Szechuan peppercorns and cardamom.”

But it is not only in higher education that the survey found that Asian is popular. In the Hillsborough County (Fla.) School District, Foodservice Director Mary Kate Harrison says it tops her menus “by far.”

“Our Asian bowls with orange chicken or teriyaki beef are very popular, not only with students but also adults as well,” she explains. “We have added sushi as an à la carte item, and it sells well in higher-income schools. Veg­etarian and chicken egg rolls as main line entrées are very popular but not as wildly as the Asian bowls.”

2010 Menu Develpment Survey Chart cooking methodsDebbie Mobley, foodservice director for the Clarksville Montgomery County (Md.) Schools, says orange chicken and rice is a particular favorite among her customers. “I think because it reminds them of chicken nuggets that are sauced.”

Pages

More From FoodService Director

Industry News & Opinion

The menu served at Ottawa General Hospital in Ottawa, Ontario, is headed for an overhaul after its CEO and management team ate a strict hospital food diet for a week and were unhappy with their options. The foodservice department has been fielding patient complaints for years, but decided to take action after facing the issue head on.

“Getting food managers to eat three meals of hospital food a day for a week brought the point home that much of the food being served was bland, institutional and not what people would normally eat,” Director of Food Services Kevin Peters told Ottawa...

Industry News & Opinion

With overtime pay likely to become a reality for some salaried foodservice employees after Dec. 1, operators are rethinking what they expect managers to do off-site as part of their responsibilities. Answering email or scheduling shifts at home didn’t matter when the employees were exempted from overtime if they earned more than $23,660 per year. But with that threshold more than doubling on Dec. 1 to $47,476, a half hour spent here and there on administrative tasks could push a salaried manager over the 40-hours-per-week threshold and entitle him or her to overtime. And how does the...

Menu Development
frozen raspberries

“As a chef, I pretty much have grown up through the business thinking that fresh was always better—produce, fish and meats, especially,” says Ryan Conklin, executive chef for UNC Rex Healthcare’s culinary and nutrition services. “But the more ‘re-educated’ I get, the more I’m learning that some frozen options may be more appropriate for me to be using on my menus.”

Right now, the perception of frozen foods doesn’t match the reality, especially for high-volume foodservice operators, says Conklin. Often, chefs and operators picture not-great product that’s been sitting in a block of...

Sponsored Content
Roasted Beet Salad Pickled Blueberries
From Blueberry Council.

What’s trending in the culinary world? The basics! According to the NRA, diners today are craving authenticity, simplicity and freshness on menus. But basic ingredients don’t have to lead to boring menu options.

It’s easy to fall into the latest craze to capture consumer attention and drive sales. But we’ve learned it’s not always about novelty. Instilling a feeling of nostalgia and familiarity by using well-known and well-loved ingredients in new, experimental dishes can lead to an increase in adventurous dining decisions, while staying in your customers’...

FSD Resources