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Seafood challenges to tackle this spring

Operators reveal how they’re hooking their diners with fish.

With the warmer months approaching, operators are likely planning some lighter menu offerings—and seafood is on the radar. However, fewer consumers now (65%) than in 2014 (69%) say they are eating seafood at least once every 90 days, shows Technomic’s 2017 Seafood & Vegetarian Consumer Trend Report.

Price is also an issue for commercial diners. About a fifth of consumers who don’t eat seafood on an occasional basis cite the price as too expensive at both retail and restaurant locations. But is this downward trend something noncommercial operators are feeling too?

The seafood dishes working well…

“The price of fish sometimes dictates what we can offer,” says John Reid, director of dining and former executive chef at Valparaiso University in Indiana. Students there are gravitating to fried preparations, such as fish and popcorn shrimp, because of its cook time and portability, he says.

At The Garlands of Barrington, a continuing care retirement community in Illinois, Executive Chef Nicola Torres says seafood is the No. 1 seller, something he associates with a generational preference. “The seafood that sells the most is catered toward Midwest tastes,” Torres says. “I sell a lot of lake trout, pike and whitefish.”

…and the ones swimming downstream

That regional preference may also be affecting the success or failure of trendy dishes. “We’ve tried selling sushi here in a variety of ways and it hasn’t really taken well, because of this particular area,” says Eric Macharia, associate director of operations at Valparaiso. “We weren’t able to procure the items in a manner that made sense, and there were a lot of inconsistencies with the product, so we decided not to sell sushi.”

Macharia’s advice: Be careful about the price of the seafood you’re bringing in, and start with fewer portions if you’re not sure diners will be interested. It’s a lesson Executive Chef Carrie Anderson learned when adding one local fish, smelt, at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

“Smelt are very small, so it’s the whole fish sitting there looking at you—for some people, that’s a bit of a turnoff,” Anderson says. “We were trying to introduce a local fish, but it may have been something we adults were more familiar with than the population that we served.”

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