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Restaurant Insights: What’s on the Menu this Summer?

 A person holding an Impossible™ Burger and plant-based chicken sandwich with toppings outside in a park with a shake
Image Courtesy of Malibu's Burgers(opens in a new tab)

Summer Menu Ideas: What To Put On Their Plates

Warmer temperatures and longer days signal that summer is right around the corner, and with it, hungry customers. After almost a year of COVID-19, dining restrictions are finally being lifted and customers are ready to go back to on-premise dining. Restaurant owners all over the country are getting ready to receive this massive influx of customers by refreshing their summer menus to provide the most delicious and craveable offerings. But that begs the question: 

What do customers want to see on the menu this summer? 

To help answer this question, we researched the hottest food trends, seeking guidance from research firms to national food industry organizations. While seasonal trends and insights into summer menus can be difficult to predict, one this is certain: consumers have turned to food as a means of comfort, health and well-being, and cultural exploration. 

From star ingredients to creative delivery options and diverse cooking styles, here is what the restaurant industry will be focusing on this summer.

What’s on the menu for summer 2021

Datassential(opens in a new tab), a leading market research firm for the food industry, polled 4,800 restaurants around the country to find out what they’re launching on their menus this summer. Here are the top 10 dishes: 

  1. Salad 

  2. Burger 

  3. BBQ 

  4. Chicken (Strip or Sandwich)

  5. Burrito

  6. Pulled Pork

  7. Wrap

  8. Sub

  9. Caesar

  10. Quesadilla

From healthy choices to cookout favorites, diners are seeking fresh and familiar ingredients to welcome the long summer days. And with Impossible™ meat made from plants, you don’t have to force your customers to choose between taste or sustainability -- now they can have both! Impossible™ Burger is a 1:1 substitute for ground beef, but with 35% less total fat and 7 times more calcium than 80/20 ground beef*. Impossible Burger also uses 87% less water and 96% less land than meat from cows(opens in a new tab), so the possibilities to build out your summer menu with both planet AND palate-pleasing menu items are endless. 

According to Mintel’s insights**, Taco Salads saw a 4% boost in menu mentions between Q1 2017 and Q1 2020. Try putting an Impossible™ Taco Salad(opens in a new tab) on the menu like Mendocino Farms, with local, in-season flavors for customers who crave a fresher option for summer. Add in hearty grains, bright colorful herbs or incorporate Impossible Burger to give it a satisfying chew.

Image Source: Mendocino Farms Website(opens in a new tab)

Or create a drool worthy, spicy Impossible™ Quesadilla(opens in a new tab) like Wing Zone in Singapore, for diners who seek decadent entrees associated with warmer climates.

 Image Source: Sethlui.com(opens in a new tab)

If you want more ideas to build out your summer menu, check out our recipes page(opens in a new tab) featuring dishes from chefs like Traci des Jardins and J. Michael Melton.

Other 2021 restaurant dining trends to pay attention to:

While menu creation is top of mind, there are still other food and dining trends restaurant owners should keep in mind as we all get ready to serve customers this summer.

1. Plant-based foods are on the rise

The message is clear: plant-based foods are here to stay. From Burger King citing the Impossible™ Whopper® as ‘one of their most successful launches in history(opens in a new tab)’ to DoorDash reporting a 433% annual increase(opens in a new tab) in plant-based burger orders and GrubHub revealing that plant-based burgers were their second-most-ordered item in 2020(opens in a new tab), it’s safe to say the plant-based options are a must for every menu. 

Flexitarian diets are also trending, with 59% of consumers saying they eat meatless meals at least once a week, while an additional 33% are actively trying to reduce their meat consumption.

Source: Restaurant.org(opens in a new tab)

This is great news for operators who want to add exciting new items to their menu because Impossible meat made from plants is a 1:1 substitute for ground beef, meaning there is no compromising on quality or flavor. Impossible™ dishes on the menu can also attract new consumers while providing brand loyalists options they’ll love and can cater to many dietary preferences — including gluten-free, dairy-free, peanut-free, vegan, kosher, or halal.

Tip: Plant-based lunch and dinner items like burgers and pizza are wildly popular, but don’t forget about breakfast! Impossible™ Sausage Made From Plants can be used to make delicious breakfast burritos, croissants and sandwiches, like Jamba Juice’s recent launch.(opens in a new tab)

Impossible™ Handwich, courtesy of Jamba Juice (opens in a new tab)

2. Comfort food remains a fan favorite

Comfort food classics like burgers, barbeque, pizza, steak and pasta continue to remain on menus around the nation(opens in a new tab) because diners are craving familiar, feel good meals that provide a return to simplicity and familiarity during COVID - 19. 

‘From haute to homey, a third of fine dining operators surveyed are adding more comfort items—think burgers, pot pies, lasagna, soups, curries, sandwiches, pizza and noodle dishes.’ - National Restaurant Association

Tip: Mix up your comfort classics with Impossible Burger or Impossible Sausage to add a fresh new twist to a classic menu item. Check out this Impossible™ Cheesesteak recipe(opens in a new tab) for inspiration.

Source: Impossible Foods

3. Cultural influences dominate the plate

Chefs are starting to be more creative and express heritage through food. Diners are also excited for this trend and love being exposed to new traditions, especially Millennials and Gen Z who are more ethnically diverse than any other generation, and as such are more adventurous in their eating choices. They also account for 25 percent of all restaurant foot traffic,(opens in a new tab) so it’s a good idea for restaurant owners to keep their eating preferences in mind as they build seasonal menus.

Omar Tate, chef and founder of Honeysuckle Projects in Philadelphia states(opens in a new tab):

“...folks are taking more interest in the African diaspora and specifically what African-American foodways are in the scope of the American culinary market. I think we'll see a more focused conversation around ingredients like sweet potatoes and various greens or biscuits as they relate to Black folks and more specifically how they come from our agricultural and more agrarian roots.”  

Tip: Don’t be afraid to add a bit of spice to the menu. Increasing ethnic diversity and general openness to new cuisines means that “American” food is changing, and chefs that infuse their personality and creativity into new dishes are sure to win over a crowd. 

4. Meal Kits & At-Home Restaurant Experiences aren’t going anywhere

One of the biggest trends this year in the food industry was the introduction of meal kits and creative take-away options. That trend doesn’t show signs of stopping, with 75% of Millennials and Gen Z adults surveyed citing(opens in a new tab) they’d likely purchase a meal kit if it was offered by one of their favorite restaurants. According to Mintel**, summer is a key moment for diners to come together, socialize and relax, which offers businesses opportunities to expand their meal kit offerings to further encompass these important life events, from a holiday spread to a romantic proposal dinner. This means that restaurant owners should focus as much on their at-home experience as on-premise dining. 

Tip: Restaurant style meals packaged for the family in interactive ways will be attractive to diners, as will including fun branded elements like stickers, to go materials and fun informational brochures about what’s inside their kit, all available at our Foodservice store.(opens in a new tab)


Sources:

* Nutrition Facts Panels (Impossible Burger, 80/20 ground beef)

** Mintel, Future of Summer Food and Drink, October 2020

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