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The best new customization stations

Fast casual has created a monster. In a  2015 Technomic survey, 72 percent of respondents said they now expect restaurants to allow meal customization. That desire is spilling over to noncommercial, too. Here’s how operators are getting creative to meet the new demand for these often portable dishes: quinoa spinach salad

  • Spice station (Amy Beckstrom, University of Colorado, Boulder)
  • Stir-fry night (Patti Klos, Tufts University)
  • Made-to-order deli sandwiches and wraps (Linda Eichenberger, Oak Hills Local School District)
  • Chipotle-style Mexican, Asian and Italian offerings (Joanne Kinsey, Chesapeake Public Schools)
  • Noodle bowls (Maureen Metz, Metz Culinary Management)

The best all-purpose menu item

Atrendy ancient grain, quinoa is a power player on menus from K-12 to longterm care to B&I to colleges, says Ryan McNulty, director of culinary development for Metz Culinary Management. “When it’s cooked properly, it has a beautiful texture and a little bit goes a long way,” he says. “When you add a small amount to something else, it fills you up.”

To assuage diners who may balk at a potentially unfamiliar grain, McNulty recommends making it a sub-ingredient of a bigger dish rather than throwing out “quinoa” as the first word on the menu board. “A lot of times we’ll try to pair quinoa with mainstream flavor profiles,” he says. Here are some ways his operations are incorporating the trendy ingredient:

  • Quinoa and kale salad
  • Mexican quinoa salad
  • Vegetable quinoa soup
  • Quinoa black-bean burgers
  • Mini fritatas with quinoa and fresh veggies
  • Breakfast parfaits
  • Quinoa and egg whites
  • Mixed into a refried bean blend as a sauce on a quesadilla or burrito

Best idea borrowed from a restaurant

“Grab-and-go  lunches in attractive  containers.”
—Joanne Kinsey, Chesapeake Public Schools, Chesapeake, Va.

Best use of local cuisine

“Cincinnati-style chili—served as a Three-Way (spaghetti, chili and cheddar cheese) and Cheese Coney (bun, small weiner, chili topped with cheddar cheese). Some customers prefer no hot dog, and then we call it a chili-cheese sandwich. Chilito (a six-inch tortilla, chili and cheddar cheese all wrapped together) also is served.”
—Linda Eichenberger, Oak Hills Local School District, Cincinnati

Best spin on a classic menu item

“A healthier version of chicken-fried steak.”
—Terry Baker, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, Okla.

Best item that’s caused a long line

“Stuffed barramundi, an Australian sea bass.”
—David Saba, Sterling Spoon Culinary Management, Atlanta

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