A new year is a good time to experiment with menu items and operational ideas. For inspiration, foodservice directors may want to take a look at a few hot trends on the restaurant side that could work in noncommercial settings.
1. Haute porridge
The continuing interest in whole grains and ancient grains has spawned a rise in porridge on menus. The trend is showing up in sweet and savory breakfast bowls, such as Organic Brown Rice Pudding at Le Pain Quotidien and Heirloom Grain Porridge with hen-of-the-woods mushrooms, pine nuts and poached eggs at Little Park in New York City.
But porridge is not being limited to the morning meal. Congee, the Asian rice porridge, is getting topped with pork belly, duck or sea scallops at progressive Asian restaurants, including Mission Chinese in New York and Kraken Congee in Seattle. Other cuisines also can adapt to savory porridge applications. Grains such as polenta, black rice, bulgur and millet can be cooked into a porridge-like consistency and topped with unexpected ingredients—an inexpensive and often gluten-free addition to a breakfast bar or vegan station.
2. Mini sandwiches for catering
Cocktail-size versions of sandwiches are a way to extend sandwich occasions beyond breakfast and lunch to parties and other social occasions. Mendocino Farms, a California-based regional chain, created a mini-sandwich menu as a way to compete with supermarket catering programs, and it has added about 5 percent to its total catering sales. Mini rolls can be baked in-house or purchased and the fillings can run from classic to inventive, with condiments and garnishes to match.
3. Meatballs keep rolling on
The humble meatball is showing up on menus in every segment and for every course. Chefs are rolling up beef, lamb, duck, chicken, pork, veal and combinations of these ground meats into meatballs ranging from olive-size to softball-size. And they are pushing them out of their traditionally comfortable spot on top of pasta to become shareable appetizers, soup ingredients, sliders and more. Meatballs essentially are peasant food, and as such, are an economical way to stretch pricey meat with breadcrumbs, eggs and liquid to create a satisfying and boldly flavored menu item.