The buzz about bowls: how to capitalize on the trend

Bulgogi Beef Whole Grain Pasta Noodle Bowl
Photograph courtesy of Barilla

Even as life continues to return to business as usual, foodservice operators are continuing to seek ways to innovate, and for good reason: Keeping customers engaged and margins high is as crucial as ever.

Adding trending items to the menu that don’t add labor or costs behind the scenes can be an especially lucrative strategy. Seeking out trending formats that utilize ingredients operators already have in the kitchen, such as “bowl” meals, for example, opens up the door to endless customizations that will keep customers coming back for more.

Bowls and beyond

Bowl meals, such as burrito bowls, salad bowls and grain bowls, have become trendy menu items across categories, and they offer a great opportunity for operators to craft a variety of dishes—from classic to adventurous flavors—for a broad consumer base.

It’s no mystery why consumers—especially those looking for a quick meal on the go—keep coming back to bowls. Not only is the ultra-customizable format accommodating to a variety of dietary and taste preferences, but the portability factor makes bowls extra suitable for off-premise services, including pickup and delivery.

Many bowl meals utilize grains, such as rice, quinoa, farro and other ancient grains, as the base underneath vegetables, proteins and sauces. But for operators looking to add bowl meals to their menus, combining or replacing intact grains with pasta can be a secret weapon: Not only can pasta make a bowl offering extra approachable and craveable, it can help boost margins, too.

Incorporating pastas

Especially in the wake of the pandemic, expanding foodservice menus requires careful strategizing to keep operations simple behind the scenes. According to Technomic’s Q1 2021 Translating Trends report, operators’ No. 1 priority when adding a new item to the menu is that the dish appeals to their current customers, and their No. 2 priority is menuing dishes that use ingredients they already purchase. In that same vein, nearly one third of operators say they prefer to add offerings that require minimal or no changes to back-of-house operations and that require minimal or no staff training.

For operators looking to leverage the momentum of the grain bowl trend, utilizing pasta can be an answer to all of the above considerations: For many customers, pasta is more familiar than a number of ancient grains, therefore affording a broader appeal. In addition, operators are more likely to already have pasta in stock than certain grains, and workers are more likely to know how to cook pastas quickly and perfectly.

Even for operators looking to mix and match pastas and intact grains in their bowl offerings, pasta adds a craveability factor, and it can help stretch pricier grains to help keep margins high on these menu items, too.

Because pasta’s versatility rivals that of most grains, it makes for a seamless addition or substitution to all sorts of bowl recipes. Add orzo to a caprese-style bowl with quinoa, basil, mozzarella and tomatoes, for example. Swap out rice for linguini in a chicken and broccoli teriyaki bowl for a lo mein-inspired variation. Or try adding tri-color rotini to a Green Goddess salad bowl for a vibrant, satisfying twist.

For David Lademann, executive chef at Arbour Square senior living community, customizing pasta offerings starts with using a quality product.

“Barilla is one of the best pastas out there,” he says. “I like the durability of the pasta—hot, cold, on a buffet. It stays in the shape you cook it in. I use rotini for my pasta salads and it keeps its shape.”

Lademann says he turned to Barilla after he found other pasta brands breaking down in certain recipes. “It turns to mush. The acids in the sauce start breaking down the fibers.”

Barilla has been a different story. “It’s fantastic,” he says. “I plan on using it in my future salads for a la carte options.”

The sky’s the limit when it comes to crafting delicious, low-cost bowl meals with pasta, and high-quality pastas from Barilla can help ensure customers come back again and again. To learn more about pastas from Barilla and how to add them to more menu items, visit

This post is sponsored by Barilla

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