Food trends come and go, but fries remain a culinary constant

The enduring popularity of the potato is fueled by its versatility and pairing ability as a perfect side dish. From quick-service restaurants to the finest steak houses, the french fry is there. French fries are a must-have, and customers love them. But how can noncommercial operators make them a bit different from the same old offerings? Learn more about the continued love affair consumers have with the french fry and get some ideas for new takes on a favorite menu item.

A trusted menu option

Fries remain the top choice as a side for lunch and dinner. According to Technomic’s recent Starters, Small Plates & Sides Consumer Trend Report, 64% of consumers said they would order fries as a lunch side and 58% would choose them as a side dish for dinner. And a majority of consumers—52%—say that if french fries were offered as an appetizer or small plate, they’d be likely to order them. Long story short: People want their fries.

All of this makes french fries and potato-based side dishes a trusted option, particularly for noncommercial facilities that want to menu items that most people like and prefer. It helps that fries are simple to prepare and can be frozen and stored, too, so it’s not surprising then that 86% of college and universities and 77% of healthcare facilities offer fries on their menus, according to Technomic’s MenuMonitor.

What kind of fries are best?

When it comes to fries, people want the real deal.

The focus now is on natural ingredients. Words such as “real” and “authentic” carry a healthier connotation for many consumers, according to Technomic’s 2018 Healthy Eating Consumer Trend Report. And many french fries do not have much in the way of added ingredients. Simply Gold fries from Simplot, in fact, are made of just oil and potatoes.

Giving diners something new

Technomic’s Starters, Small Plates & Sides Consumer Trend Report found that 38% of consumers would order fries as a snack if they had the option. The report also found that fewer consumers are demanding new and unique sides than in the past, suggesting that diners want some level of familiarity with sides in general. So, how to take all of this information and give the consumer something new and fresh?

Serve them up in unexpected ways, for one.

Taco Bell, for instance, didn’t offer french fries on its menu until recently. The chain didn’t add the popular side until last year, but its Nacho Fries—a riff on traditional fries featuring a cheesy nacho topping—made an immediate impression on diners. In fact, the CEO of Taco Bell’s parent company, Yum! Brands, said it was the most successful product in Taco Bell history. The chain followed up that blockbuster with another entree-style variation, Rattlesnake Fries. That dish featured seasoned fries topped with the nacho cheese and a jalapeno sauce, along with pieces of steak.

Wendy’s has added loaded, modern versions of fries as standalone menu items like Baconator fries and chili cheese fries, while Carl’s Jr. is on board with bacon truffle fries and Hardee’s offers natural-cut Budweiser Beer cheese fries. This also allows some menu flexibility where fries can be a side or essentially a standalone appetizer. Noncommercial operators can draw inspiration from these successes and add loaded fries to their menus, experiment with new cheese sauces and more.

People love fries. They’re a staple on menus, whether at a hospital cafeteria, a fast-food restaurant, a college campus cafe or a fine dining steakhouse. For noncommercial operators, using a fry that has bake or fry versatility and clean label ingredients (i.e. “free from…”) means great opportunity. From indulgent toppings to showcasing labels that highlight quality, offering french fries is a win in foodservice locations.

This post is sponsored by Simplot