Innovation the key for restaurants as consumers shun starters

Posted by Isobel Drake on 25th May 2009

Restaurants have to focus on innovation when creating their entrée and side dish menus, according to new research from the US.

Darren Tristano, Executive Vice-President at foodservice consultant Technomic, said that consumers were re-evaluating the need for starters as they looked to save money when dining out.

“Consumers are trying to cut their dining budgets, in many cases by eliminating starters,” he advised. “To justify spending on items from the left side of the menu, they want more value-dishes with unique flavours they can’t make at home, or are large enough to share or eat as an entrée.”

“To drive cravings and create interest in appetizers, salads and soups, operators must innovate with exciting dressings and dips, unusual ingredients, and preparation techniques that can’t easily be duplicated at home. These encourage consumers to feel the experience is worth the extra cost.”

The findings, from three new reports in Technomic’s Left Side of the Menu series, suggested that the number of heavy consumers of soup, salads and appetizers were down by about a third compared to 2007 figures.

Size was discovered to be a key when purchasing starters, with four out of five (82 per cent) consumers believing that appetizers should be shared, and 61 per cent adding that portions should be large enough to do so. Three quarters would consider ordering a combination platter.

Restaurateurs also need to ensure that they have an innovative but healthy salad option as health drive the decision to order a salad for two out of every three people.