Aaron Allen, one of the world's most cited and recognized industry experts, points to the importance of an affectation-free menu description in post-pandemic times. On his blog, aaronallen.com, he advises restaurateurs to ensure that all menu items are easily pronounced and easy for the guests to order. He also recommends checking how the new menu will behave when packed to go, delivered, picked up, and transported in a car.
His advice is backed by the National Restaurant Association's industry report, featuring 6,000 restaurateurs and 1,000 clients, which confirmed that nowadays a clear and simplified menu reigns supreme in gastronomy.
Comfort food, seasonality, tradition
Interviewed by Realsimple.com, Marc Marrone, chef at SkinnyFATS in Las Vegas, pointed out that instead of crude, large menu cards changed once or twice a year, restaurants (including his own) will see more seasonal daily menus. This global trend results from the need to adapt to price fluctuations and the availability of products.
Elizabeth Blau, owner of Honey Salt in Las Vegas, shares this opinion: "Instead of competing to find an exciting new ingredient, in 2021, chefs and restaurateurs will focus on regaining a sense of balance. Most of all, people want to spend time together and feel safe," explains Blau. "Instead of tripping over themselves, chasing some new, rare superseeds, restaurants will rise to the occasion, ensuring their guests' well-being and providing genuine hospitality to provide them with a sense of comfort and coziness in these extraordinary times."
Another important change in the menu is the trend towards comfort food, i.e., traditional national dishes with a hint of nostalgia, bringing back fond memories. Its return to the menu is directly related to our insecurity during many months of isolation. Ever since the world has gone topsy-turvy, we have been looking for flavors associated with home.
In an interview with realsimple.com, Anthony Sobotik, co-owner of Lick Honest Ice Creams in Austin, Texas, commented: "People want everything that connects them to life as it was before the lockdown. We can see it in the flavors our customers choose: adored dessert with vanilla and red food coloring - Red Velvet and traditionally fragile cake served during Halloween and Thanksgiving in both the US and Canada, baked in a deeper ovenproof dish - Hazel's Pumpkin Pie, are more popular than last year, reflecting the sense of comfort and nostalgia brought on by the iconic childhood flavors."
No menu on Facebook, no game
Every restaurateur who has survived the pandemic knows that posting a menu on social media is a must. It is mainly thanks to social media that gastronomy has managed to hold the attention of regular customers and build relationships with new ones.
Marketing on Facebook and Instagram should start before introducing new dishes to the menu to peak the interest of future guests. Posts with attractive "behind the scenes" photos of the dishes explaining how they are made, what was the source of inspiration, work very well. It is important to add a specific hashtag to posts with new dishes in the menu and use it in all subsequent posts announcing changes to the menu, e.g., #somethingnewiscoming. Broadcasting any promotions and discounts is also great.
As for the menu posted on Facebook, the most important thing is that it should be written in a readable font and concise. Apart from the name, it should contain basic information such as ingredients, price, allergen information, the "vege" stamp, and possibly the number of calories.
QR code and digital menu instead of a waiter
According to the French industry portal neorestauration.com, over 73 percent of the French believe that Covid changed their eating habits. French chefs are already adapting the menu to new requirements, inevitably moving towards digitization. This is, of course, to limit contact between people who crave closeness, but not at the expense of health.
TheFork survey was conducted across France among 1,140 users and 791 restaurants. It shows that digitization is one of the strongest trends in gastronomy in 2021. 64 percent of the surveyed restaurateurs believe that digital tools helped them during the crisis, and as much as 87 percent declare that they will continue to use them even after the crisis is over. The online menu is a significant change for 46 percent of restaurateurs. Apart from online booking and payments, restaurateurs consider the digital menu to be the most effective tool to attract the post-pandemic customer.
In France, the needs of restaurateurs were met, e.g., by Lyra Group and its Reservation Online platform. The application allows browsing the menu, placing the order, and paying online by scanning a QR code placed on a restaurant table. TheFork also introduced the application for ordering and paying directly at the table without contacting the waiter.
According to a 2021 report by the National Restaurant Association, the digital menu has been the choice of 54% casual dining, e.g., street food or tapas pubs, 50% fine dining restaurants, and 48 percent family restaurants based in the US.
Companies such as Bbot, Toast, and Presto integrate in-house restaurant order management systems with customer services. Guests can sit at the table, scan the menu's QR code, place an order, and pay for it without talking to the waiter. However, the experience remains bound to the restaurant interior and its atmosphere.
The digital menu has another advantage: unlike the paper version, it is easy to update. This can be very useful when you frequently modify your seasonal selections, sometimes created on a daily basis, according to the zero-waste philosophy. When restaurants cannot afford to waste any more, chefs decide what can be cooked from the unused products and create the next day's menu on that basis.
QR codes have already replaced printed menus in many restaurants, including the Compass Distillers bar in Halifax, Nova Scotia. For Graham Collins, president of the craft distillery, the decision was obvious and the customers welcomed it. However, the owner believes that this change is not a permanent one, and that the printed menus will return to favor one day.
Another good example of using digital menus and technology to attract customers is the Magical Taste of China Restaurant in downtown Toronto. The menu includes Uyghur or Chinese halal dishes. The owners, Christi Fang and Jiang Zhu, started using WeChat, the Chinese version of WhatsApp, to communicate with customers. Currently, their channel in which they update the menu and take orders has 1000 members. In addition, the owners of Magical Taste of China decided to make two versions of the menu: in-house and takeaway, to adapt to the current needs of guests.
Plants knock meat off its pedestal
Another global novelty on the menu of re-emerging restaurants is the absence of meat. There are two reasons: first, meat has gone up during the pandemic, and second, we have become more health- and planet-conscious. Not everyone is ready or willing to switch to an entirely plant-based diet, which is why the flexitarianism trend (eating high-quality meat once in a while) is growing in parallel with vegetarianism.
According to the International Food Information Council's study "COVID-19 Pandemic Transforms the Way We Shop, Eat, and Think About Food, According to IFIC's 2020 Food & Health Survey", 28 percent consumers worldwide were eating more plant-based protein during the pandemic.
In France, meat consumption is declining for the second consecutive year. According to the TheFork study, which has highlighted new ingredient trends, we will see more chickpeas and animal protein alternatives in the French menu. In regard to the health food trend, we can expect more alternatives to simple carbohydrates, more cocktails, and nonalcoholic drinks (such as cocktail with lemon and Alk Seltzer pills for hangover - Alka-Seltzer or Kombucha) and a wider selection of organic dishes.
A similar phenomenon can be observed in Poland. For several years, Warsaw has been in the forefront of vegan and vegetarian cities, and the trend is growing due to the pandemic. Gaweł Czajka, owner of the Cały Gaweł restaurant in Sopot, explains: "Previously, 80 percent of my menu included meat, as expected by the customers. Nowadays, I create a dish that is vegetarian by default and add the fish or meat option. I will not give up burgers and fresh fish altogether, but "the veg" is definitely on the rise.
In addition to veg cuisine, the post-pandemic menus will include more healthy food and drinks. Miriam Aniel, Tastewise Director of Content and Research: "In 2021, we expect consumers to crave "hand-picked", nutritious meals. Already in late 2020, we saw that the clients' interest in immunizing food and drinks by 23% compared to the previous year, and in vitamin- and prebiotic-rich food and drinks - by 7%." explains Aniel in an interview with realsimple.com.
Five tips to improve your menu in the post-covid reality:
1. Keep it simple. Forget fancy descriptions on the menu. What counts is straightforward and efficient communication with the guest.
2. Opt for comfort food - traditional regional dishes associated with childhood and family home. Choose local products.
3. The menu should be short and seasonal. You need to adapt to the changing prices and the availability of products after the second wave of the pandemic.
4. In a pandemic, we attach greater importance to healthy eating and move away from meat. The menu should include more healthy vegan and vegetarian dishes as well as nonalcoholic drinks.
5. The digital menu is now a must. Consider updating your restaurant's ordering system to reduce contact between restaurant staff and guests. Make sure that your menu is posted on Facebook and is easily readable. Ensure your menu looks good on Instagram.