The Cheesecake Factory: Small Plates & Snacks with dishes such as: Stuffed Mushrooms, Beets with Goat Cheese and Shrimp Scampi Crostini
Claim Jumpers: Small Bites, Big Taste with dishes such as: Halibut Fish Tacos and Fire Roasted Artichokes
T.G.I. Friday’s: Right Portion, Right Price menu with dishes such as: Shrimp Key West and Dragonfire Chicken
Healthful, wholesome recipes find a good home in the small-plates trend.
Portion sizes are big news these days. Diners seek more freedom of choice than traditional menu parts allow. Operators are responding with savvy menu engineering—dividing their menus into micro sections, from small bites and shareable appetizers and salads to half and full entrée portions, shareable main dishes and mini desserts.
Small plates in particular are a logical fit with Healthy Living recipe development. The culinary themes of small plates and health & nutrition continue to rank high in the National Restaurant Association’s annual Restaurant Industry Forecast, which surveys member chefs from the American Culinary Federation. As diners look for greater choice in both portion sizes and healthful options1 , the challenge, then, is to still deliver fantastic flavor and satisfaction, but on a smaller, more wholesome plate.
Deconstructing a Small Plate
This Mini Crabcake Salad Sandwich is a great menu solution, answering more than one trend. Our senior corporate chef Aliza Katz developed this recipe, which works as a small plate, shareable appetizer or entrée. “The trick is offering a good balance of texture and flavor, so diners don’t feel like they’re eating something bland,” she says. This is how she did it:
Kristine Subido, executive chef at Wave in the W Lakeshore Hotel, Chicago, is known for her light touch with fresh ingredients. The menu features Mediterranean cuisine with a large focus on small plates. Two factors move Chef Subido: She serves a demographic that can best be described as a hip twenties-thirties-forties crowd and her preferred cooking method leans toward bright, simple flavors. “I don’t like to use a lot of fat in my cooking. It masks flavor,” she says. “I like clean flavors, where my diners can recognize all of the ingredients I use.”
So, her small plate of Seared Cherry Red Ahi Tuna, for instance, gets its flavor depth from the smoke of the grill and a garam-masala crust. She then pairs it with a chickpea purée, shaved fennel and preserved lemon. “I don’t add tahini or olive oil to the chickpea purée, only roasted garlic” says Chef Subido. “I get depth of flavor and wonderful creaminess in that dish—without adding extraneous ingredients. We don’t market our menu as healthier, but I think our diners understand when they read the menu where we’re coming from, and that’s important.”
Business Take Away
Small plates require good service. Teach your servers to take the full order when possible, then ask the table how they’d like the small plates spaced out. Instruct servers not to fire all small plates at once, or the conviviality and leisureliness of a small-plates meal is lost.
1. National Restaurant Association’s consumer research tell us that three in four adults say they are trying to eat healthier now at restaurants than they did two years ago.