Flavor Trends, Strategies and Solutions for Menu Development

By Flavor & The Menu
April 24, 2023

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From patios and beer gardens to roof decks and slices of sidewalk, there is a special pleasure in outdoor dining, especially on a beautiful evening where the setting, the company and flavor-forward dishes all come together in an immensely satisfying experience. By early May, the temperatures in most parts of the country have hit the sweet spot ideal for eating al fresco, making it an unofficial kickoff to a months-long “patio season.”

While outdoor dining came into its own during the pandemic, of course, customers have remained fans as COVID-19 concerns fade. According to 2021 research from the National Restaurant Association, some 40 percent of consumers say they are more likely to choose a restaurant with outdoor seating, and 84 percent supported the permanent conversion of pandemic-era “streeteries” and restaurant takeovers of sidewalks and parking areas.

There’s a real opportunity here to capitalize on diner interest in eating outside, marketing to groups of family and friends primed to enjoy a summer evening with your menu at the center. Consider the example presented by Cinco de Mayo, a high-spirited celebratory occasion that prompts guests to gather as a group and dig into craveable shareables. Mindful that for Cinco de Mayo, many of those compulsively addictive dishes are cheese-centric, you now have the final element of a winning outdoor dining strategy to replicate and build upon all season long.

Advantage Queso

Queso is an easy and effective way to attract customers to your patio with iconic favorites, as well as signature dishes that highlight your brand and seasonal limited-time offerings (LTOs). “Queso is a dish that represents an affordable indulgence for guests who don’t want to hold back on the sensory pleasures of a dine-out experience, but don’t want to break the budget, either,” says Chef Billy Kalil, Commercial Foodservice Product Specialist, Land O’Lakes Culinary Center, adding, “It can be served as an affordable appetizer or side, but one that also can be dressed up and customized.”

To maximize the business advantages of queso, lean on the versatility of Land O Lakes Extra Melt® Cheese and Queso Bravo® Cheese Dip from the company’s Performance Dairy portfolio. Both products provide a delicious base to add seasonings and inclusions, while Queso Bravo® also serves as a prep-and-go sauce that can be used as-is in numerous applications. Both are available in yellow and white varieties, and both deliver premium flavor, superior hot-hold capability and the melt properties that diners crave.

Simple, Yet Sophisticated

Effective, buzz-worthy signatures don’t have to involve a big undertaking to be successful. The key, says Kalil, is to stay true to your brand identity. “If it’s going to be a signature dish, it should have your signature, speaking to the identity of your restaurant,” he says. “If you are a barbecue place, you might have a brisket or sauce that you add to a dish that also features queso. Luckily, our cheese sauces go with everything, so it’s pretty easy to tie them into your menu.”

Simple inclusions can transform a conventional queso dip into a signature showcase for on-trend flavors. For example, as customers don sweaters for the last cool, crisp days of patio season in early fall, consider spiking Land O Lakes® Extra Melt® White Cheese Sauce with pumpkin puree, pumpkin pie spice and other ingredients for your contribution to the uber popular pumpkin spice canon: Pumpkin Spice Queso. Swap out tortilla chips in favor of potato chips for a sweet-salty crunch.

Or give your queso dip greater flavor depth and textural complexity with a nod to another hot trend. Pair Land O Lakes® Queso Bravo® White Cheese Dip with roasted corn, jalapeños, Cotija, Tajin and fresh cilantro for an Elote Dip.

Extend your shareables menu beyond dips by using queso in innovative sauce applications. Korean-Inspired Pub Fries elevates the loaded fries concept by mixing a savory beef sauce with a gochujang-based cheese sauce featuring Extra Melt® White Cheese Sauce. Chorizo Flatbread can give your menu a new spin on this popular appetizer, applying Extra Melt® White Cheese Sauce and Extra Melt® Shredded American Cheese as both a base sauce and a drizzle finish.

Meet the Imperative

Whether serving up queso’s traditional dip format or using it to enhance other dishes in unconventional applications, a focus on queso riffs is a smart strategy for operations looking to stand out from the competition during patio season—and doing so without taxing the prep staff. Hand in hand with menu versatility, the Land O Lakes® Performance Dairy line offers irresistible back-of-house advantages.

“These products are very simple to use,” says Kalil. “You can heat them right in the bag using steam or boiling water, or throw them into a pan in the oven. However you choose to heat them, you can be sure that they will perform exactly how you want every time. No breaking, oiling off or scorching.” Chefs can count on consistent results dish to dish, regardless of who’s doing the prep.

“When you start with Queso Bravo® or Extra Melt® Cheese Sauces, you can go pretty much anywhere your culinary creativity can take you,” says Kalil. Great menu signatures lead to great advantages in attracting guests.

Learn more at Land O’Lakes Foodservice.



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