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What do restaurant menu trends look like post-pandemic? Omelettes, nachos hold clues

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A Datassential analysis of restaurant menu trends reveals the industry is on the way to normality.

Posted: November 14, 2022

(Image credit: Unsplash)

The restaurant industry has overcome one major hurdle in the past few years and has encountered three more since then.

As COVID-related restrictions eased, the triple threat of labor shortages, inflation and supply chain issues took over to slow its recovery. Despite these new challenges and rapidly changing consumer dynamics, a essential data analysis of restaurant menu trends reveals that the industry is on the way to normality.

Overall, the average menu size is the same as last year, according to Datassential’s “Menu statusreport. But menu expansion wasn’t even in the industry. were the only ones to expand the menus. And the growth wasn’t even spread across the menus either. Main courses were the part of the menu that grew the most, while most of the others declined.

So far this year, just over half of food, beverages and ingredients have gone up on restaurant menus, and just under half have gone down. This shows that normal patterns are beginning to appear on menus: last year, when the full impact of COVID restrictions and consumer withdrawals was seen, more than four out of five foods, beverages and ingredients declined on menus.

On the sharing side of the menu, side dishes, bread, flavours/sauces/spices and cheese have taken up more space on the menus this year. These categories, while seemingly disparate, can provide variability for entrees that consumers can customize, whether it’s dining in or ordering for delivery.

When it comes to specific menu items, however, there’s no better example of contrasting menu designs than omelets and nachos. During the pandemic, omelets have drastically dropped off menus as the breakfast business has suffered, and nachos have plummeted and operators have reduced their menus. But today, nachos — a versatile dish that can be served as a side dish, appetizer or appetizer — keep their place on menus while omelets continue to drop as breakfast business dwindles.

So when operators are paring down menus, it’s important to analyze each item for its own future potential – not just reduce the complexity of cooking or add because it fills a perceived gap. Learning what consumers will want in the future and what they will continue to want is an essential science that will need to be constantly adjusted to changing times.

And it’s clear that while restaurants have made progress in introducing new items and limited-time offers at about the same pace as before COVID, consumers still want more. Uniqueness scores – a measure of how common or rare a menu item is compared to similar items from other operators – have started to drop in recent months as consumer expectations for interesting and unmatched prices are not necessarily met, as operators are forced to focus attention on issues such as ingredient shortages and inflation.

But operators pushing and experimenting with new items despite a host of challenges point to how global influences, versatility and safe experimentation can bring great rewards.

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Samantha Des Jardins is a writer at Datassential.

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