Flavor Trends, Strategies and Solutions for Menu Development

The Innovation Game Keeping up with flavor trends while staying true to your brand is key to stability and growth

Twin Peaks’ Buffalo Chicken Salad stars Buffalo tenders that are also featured on a sampler app, and the blue cheese also appears in another salad’s dressing.
PHOTO CREDIT: Front Burner Restaurants

Innovation in Action

The idea of managing SKUs is certainly not new, but clever strategies for maximizing high-impact ingredients across the menu are important to stay in step with today’s accelerated trends cycle. “Don’t overextend your kitchen, and be smart about the products you bring in,” says Carawan. “Make them work hard for you while capitalizing on flavor trends.” For instance, instead of sourcing line-ready goods, like biscuits, switch over to biscuit dough, he suggests. “It’s more versatile, so you can use it for more than one menu item,” he says. That biscuit dough can, of course, take the shape of biscuits, but it can also top a savory pie, or turn into a mini biscuit for a bar-bite application. “We also changed our fresh patties to fresh ground beef. We roll them into balls and smash them on the flattop,” says Carawan. “Our burgers don’t look perfect anymore, which, when you think about craft food, is what you want. It also lets us use the meat for other menu items, like chili or happy-hour sliders.”

A unique jalapeño butter sauce helps make Twin Peaks’ wings a top seller. Jalapeño marmalade, used elsewhere on the menu, is the hero in this sauce.Front Burner Restaurant

A unique jalapeño butter sauce helps make Twin Peaks’ wings a top seller. Jalapeño marmalade, used elsewhere on the menu, is the hero in this sauce.

One of the new wing sauces at Twin Peaks is a jalapeño butter sauce— jalapeño marmalade, butter, lime juice, fresh jalapeño and green Tabasco sauce. To maximize use of the marmalade, he also includes it on a cheese board. “It’s a good investment when you can bring in a trending flavor and use it in creative ways. Our wings are now our No. 1 seller,” says Carawan. “Our guests can tell that a lot of love has been put in there.”

Unforked’s Corliss follows a menu strategy of relying on an ingredient’s equity. “Look to those flavor platforms that have maintained relevance and can be used elsewhere,” he says. He leveraged the popularity of the Hail the Kale Salad, a consistent top-six seller. “We took that love and staying power and turned it into a kale pesto for a mushroom taco,” he says. “We made a connection point to the taco because of the kale salad.” It’s not about recycling ingredients. It’s about maximizing SKUs in smart, trend-forward applications.

Like Village Tavern’s Viado, Corliss also addresses the pain point of bringing along your core customer as you try to introduce new flavors and forms. As with many restaurant concepts, Unforked has been tracking the modern seafood trend and strategizing on how to tap into it. “We started with shrimp tacos,” says Corliss. “Then we added the shrimp to our summer gazpacho, testing the pain tolerance with menu prices. Next, we menued seared ahi tuna tacos. Instead of our regular $4, they were $8. There was no pushback.” The strategy here was about anticipating expectations and comfort levels, then adjusting the menu as successes mounted. “We then launched our version of an ahi poke bowl, but we couldn’t have started there,” he says. “We went from shrimp to seared to raw. We’re now looking at lobster, brought in cooked. We haven’t perfected it, so we haven’t done it yet, but it’s on our radar.”

Viado tracked the skillet trend, wanting to find the right fit on Village Tavern’s menu. She recently rolled out the Braised Meatball Skillet with housemade meatballs, Tuscan tomato sauce, burrata and organic stone-ground grits. “We had to bring in Italian seasoning and burrata for this item, but we thought it was worth it,” she says. “The skillet hits all of the things we want to hit today.” To make way for it, she removed other items that were “labor and ingredient intensive,” like Cubano sliders and St. Louis ribs. The skillet dish is only in the Charlotte, N.C., location now, but is selling incredibly well—and helping to position the brand in a trend-forward posture.

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About The Author

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Katie Ayoub is managing editor of Flavor & The Menu. She has been working in foodservice publishing for more than 16 years and on the Flavor team since 2006. She won a 2015 Folio award for her Flavor & The Menu article, Heritage Matters. In 2006, she won “Best Culinary Article” from the Cordon D’Or for an article on offal.