Food service

Offering high street options on your menu

The way we eat and drink is changing all the time, particularly following the COVID-19 pandemic. The challenge that we all face is how we respond to this movement. Maria Bracken looks into what’s trending on the high street and how contract caterers are tapping into these to get the best our of their menu concepts.

Reading time 5 minutes

From sushi to burritos, to artisan salads, to Indian street food, the high street has always led the way in delivering quirky, trendy and exciting food and drink offerings to its customers. Similarly, contract caterers are seeking new ways to adapt their menus in response to key trends shaping the wider industry. For education, healthcare and workplace operators, it’s about introducing these options while also keeping costs down. Menu items need to be diverse, vibrant and above all, on trend, to keep customers interested and on site. We've gathered some key industry trends to watch out for.


Technology at its best

As a result of COVID-19, contactless payments have now become the ‘new normal’ for high street chains and operators are heavily adopting them as part of their strategies. Schools, it seems, are catching onto this trend, with these systems offering a safer, more efficient way of ordering and paying for meals at lunchtimes. They also guarantee a reduction in queues, offer the ability for parents to monitor children’s eating habits and it is a more efficient system for collecting data on the number and types of meals served.

One of the many cashless education software providers to tap into this trend is Ami Education, who has just introduced a brand new pre-order app called The Infinity + Order, allowing pupils to order their school meals in advance ready for them to pick up at mealtimes. This is just one of many systems out there introducing new and creative ways to help feed customers in a fun and COVID-secure manner.

"When considering contactless payment systems, think about the advantages it could bring to the overall dining experience."


Go Local

Interest in local sourcing, traceability and provenance isn’t a new trend, but is one that has most definitely soared over the past year. The consumer, whether that be on the high street, a student at a school, a visitor at a hospital or an employee at a workplace, wants to see more local produce on menus. Partnering with initiatives such as British Food Fortnight is one way of engaging the customer with the provenance of local food.

"Think carefully about how local sourcing can be managed in your catering operation. Introducing meat from a local farm, for example, could result in increasing uptake. ‘Going local’ and making the best use of seasonal British produce could may well be your unique selling point."

Interest in vegan and Mexican continues to rise

According to The NPD Group’s latest consumer data, more than £1bn of consumer spending is now linked to offering vegetarian and vegan menu options. This represented almost 4% of total foodservice spending in the year to February 2021, up from around 2% pre-COVID. With this in mind, we should expect to see vegan and vegetarian dishes much more prominently on our menus.

Mexican cuisine, a popular vegan cuisine for 2021, is also in huge demand with good old classics including burritos and tacos still featured heavily on menus. Why not reimagine them and have a bit of fun by using key Mexican flavours and authentic, vegan friendly ingredients to mix up your offering?

"With eating habits evolving fast, stay ahead of the curve when it comes to emerging trends and changing consumer demand."


Plant-based is here to stay

The demand for plant-based innovation is forever growing on the high street and is showing no signs of slowing down. We have seen a real shift in consumer behaviour, particularly over the last year as consumers focus more on their health and wellbeing. Contract caterers are also identifying this as a key trend, with many operators responding. Workplace caterer Eurest is a prime example with its nutritionist recently developing six plant-based meals to support the immunity of its employees, with meals ranging from Tinga tacos, Moroccan fillet tagine to fragrant karee fillet curry. HIT Training is another organisation to meet this growing consumer demand for a plant-based diet by introducing a new diploma course, specifically designed for plant-based catering.

"A bottom line bonus is, adding some plant-based options to your menu could cost you less. A burger is a good example. Take a meaty plant-substitute like a lentil and bean patty, for instance. This will often cost you less to source or produce than a meat equivalent."

Go Global

With consumers becoming ever more adventurous in their tastes, it is important that caterers offer versatile menu solutions to meet this demand. Global flavours such as West African, Indian Street Food and Middle Eastern cuisine are not only shaping the out of home sector, but the public sector too. So, make sure you are always thinking of new and exciting ways to make these popular fusions available on your menus.

"When expanding your menu with new cuisines, ensure that the product is convenient, versatile and the best quality it can be."


Budget tips

Faced with ever tightening budgets, the public sector is always on the lookout for new ways to improve its food and drink offering. Here are some useful tips to help caterers consider different menu options, while keeping costs down.

  1. Buy in season
    Make sure you take advantage of seasonally available produce as this will help to reduce costs. Buying in season also gives your menu variety and keeps it relevant.
  2. Organisation is key
    Be organised and always look ahead. Leftovers, for example, can be planned and used in the next day’s meal. This not only helps to keep costs down, but also allows you to think of different recipe ideas, keeping your menu fresh and exciting for pupils, patients, residents, visitors and employees alike.
  3. Fresh is best
    Where you can, trying to prepare meals from scratch. Homemade foods can be less expensive and more importantly, far more nutritious. This also gives you the flexibility to experiment more with new concepts.
  4. Streamline menus
    Streamlining your menu can help to reduce food waste and can save money on the cost of supplies. Having said that, always try to innovate and keep your menu varied. Keep your finger on that pulse where trends are concerned. Consider different spices and flavours to give your menu that edge.

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