What if you could take advantage of the latest social media food obsession without spending a ton of time planning or investing in new inventory? The culinary team behind Atlanta-based Morrison Healthcare has figured out how to make social media viral trends work in its favor. Beginning in January 2024, they will introduce 12 easy-to-coordinate “Social Media Disruption” LTOs to their collection of more than 800 hospital cafés, giving Morrison the opportunity to showcase food trends lighting up Instagram and TikTok. Over the past year, Morrison, a division of Compass Group, ran a successful pilot program in Kansas City, Mo., where 12 cafés served items such as birria tacos and Vietnamese pho to excited guests.
TREND VS. DISRUPTION
The initial seed was planted a couple of years ago after chefs Jeffrey Quasha, senior director of culinary innovation, and Jay Ziobrowski, corporate R&D chef, ate sandwiches made the “Ocky Way” by a TikTok-famous bodega manager in Brooklyn, N.Y. The two Morrison chefs recently presented social media-inspired dishes at a future-of-foodservice event in Miami.
“We didn’t think about it at the time, but that experience in Brooklyn made us start thinking about the difference between a trend and a disruption,” Quasha says. With traditional LTOs, Quasha makes the point that menu developers are chasing trends, trying to land somewhere in the middle. “Disruptions are completely different; social media disruptions are flying across our screens on TikTok and Instagram every day.” Typical LTOs are planned up to a year in advance, but in the age of social media, brands must move fast if they expect to capture guest interaction and revenue.
“We looked at social disruptions such as the birria taco and identified key ingredients that we wanted to feature on our Miami menu,” Quasha says. At the event, they took the viral tomahawk steak challenge and prepared a Wagyu tomahawk topped with peppercorn Béarnaise sauce, based on a viral menu item at New York’s STK. Hitting on both the butter board and sweet heat trends, Quasha and Ziobrowski presented individual butter board paddles topped with Korean chile crisp or garlic crisp served with herbed focaccia.
The 12 Social Media Disruption LTOs running in 2024 will be finalized 30 days before they go live. If an LTO is launching on May 1, for example, the Social Media Disruption dish will be chosen on April 1, and regional chefs will be notified on April 15 via calls and emails. “This is going after a different clientele versus our regular guest,” says Quasha. “We might bring in new guests who haven’t dined in our cafés.”
To minimize the cost and time spent, each café will receive print-on-demand marketing materials that will be backed by Morrison’s internal social media promotions. For operators thinking of trying similar quick-turnaround LTOs, Quasha and Ziobrowski point out that systems are already in place for operational success in the form of weekly and daily specials. Indeed, for some viral food trends, such as Hasselback potatoes and cacio e pepe, Ziobrowski says most operators likely have the ingredients on hand—it’s simply about presenting them in a fresh way. For something like the birria noodle challenge, which is a spinoff of the birria taco, Quasha says it can be translated into something as simple as a bowl of ramen noodles topped with birria protein and broth, onions and a fresh lime wedge.
For now, Quasha and Ziobrowski are excited about turning traditional LTOs on their head and seeing just how many trends they can catch before they get away.