2011 Menu Development Survey: State of the plate

Thai is still “hot” but other cuisines like African and Malaysian are gaining recognition in our annual menu survey.

When it comes to “hot” cuisines, Thai is still “the one,” according to respondents in our 2011 Menu Survey. But Thai’s got competition from two other cultures, and some interesting cuisines were mentioned by operators.

In our survey of more than 300 operators, Thai was named as the one “hot” ethnic cuisine, excluding established favorites such as Mexican, Italian and Chinese, by 12% of respondents. Thai cuisine was followed closely by Mediterranean/Greek and Indian, which were named by 9% of operators each. Last year, Thai was tapped by 20% of respondents, which was followed by Indian (10%) and Mediterranean/Greek (7%).

What they serve
But the increasingly eclectic nature of our readers’ customer bases are reflected in this year’s survey. A wide variety of cuisines were suggested by at least one respondent as being “hot.” These included African, Malaysian, Brazilian, Peruvian and Navajo.

The ethnic cuisines operators are offering their customers on a regular basis remains diverse. The most common international cuisine offered continues to be Chinese/Japanese, with 66% of respondents saying they offer these popular types of Asian cuisine. But that number is down from 73% last year, while the other 11 cuisines on our list either remained steady or rose, suggesting that more operators are making their menus more diverse.

State of the Plate, Hot Cuisines

Following Chinese/Japanese were Mediterranean/Greek (44%), Caribbean (25%), Nuevo Latino (24%), Indian (24%), Cuban (23%), Middle Eastern (22%) and Thai (22%). Among the other notable cuisines, Korean cuisine rose to 14% of respondents, from 10% last year, and Vietnamese went from 8% in 2010 to 11% this year. In addition, at least 10% of operators said they would add one or more of these cuisines to their repertoire: Indian, Middle Eastern, Vietnamese, Cuban, Korean, Thai, Jamaican and Nuevo Latino. This year 27% did not serve any of these cuisines, compared to 23% last year.

State of the Plate, The Language of Food

To plan and prepare items for these diverse menus, 45% of operators said they employ some type of culinary professional in their departments. Executive chefs are on the staff of 35% of respondents, followed by sous chefs (20%), culinary directors (12%), pastry chefs (9%) and chefs de cuisine (7%).

How they cook
These professionals use a variety of preparation methods in their operations: 92% do at least some scratch cooking, while 36% said they use cook-chill and 31% said they employ cook-freeze technology. When it comes to using outside sources for menu items, 55% said prepared entrées fill part of their menus, and 54% said they make use of prepared ingredients and meal components in building some menu items.

Display cookery remains a popular option for preparing meals and showing off the skills of operators’ culinary teams. Overall, 43% of respondents said they offer display cooking at least once a week, and 47% of them said they expect to increase the frequency of this method in the coming year. Display cooking is most often found in colleges and universities (84%) and B&I locations (70%), and is least likely to be used by school foodservice programs (15%).

State of the Plate, Demonstrating Skills

Training of the people responsible for food preparation and service takes many forms, according to our respondents. Overall, 86% of respondents said they use at least one of six common training tools for their staffs: 65% send staff to conferences and trade shows; 64% conduct in-house seminars and workshops; 34% use online training; 28% send staff to institutes, schools and academies; 25% bring culinary trainers into their operations; and 15% use chef competitions as training devices.

Local and organic
Local sourcing of products took a dip in the past year, according to our survey respondents, as 79% said they source at least some items locally, compared with 86% who sourced locally last year. Of those who said they source items locally , 59% source produce locally, 54% source dairy, 45% source baked goods and 35% source meats/seafood.

State of the Plate: Training

When it comes to organic foods, operators have yet to embrace the concept; 61% of operators said they do not purchase any organic items for their units. Of those who do, produce is the category most often purchased (21%) followed by snacks (13%), dairy (11%) and meats/seafood (9%).

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