10 Ways Menus Have Changed During COVID-19
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Many restaurants don’t have the resources and labor to offer their usual menus. They’re cutting back to focus on items that are popular and affordable to source.

Menus might not look the same as they did before March, but chefs haven’t let the virus get in the way of serving delicious meals.
 
In these unprecedented times, restaurants have made strategic menu changes to meet consumer needs, maximize efficiency, and increase savings. We compiled a list of 10 of these changes to give restaurants and operators some menu inspiration. 
 
1. Limited Menus

 

As restaurants reopen, many don’t have the resources and labor to offer their usual menus. They’re cutting back to focus on items that are popular and affordable to source. Even McDonald’s scaled down their menu, helping them shorten drive-thru wait times
 
But there is a downside to cutting back menus. Though most diners are patient about menu changes, a Datassential study shows that 39 percent of consumers experience difficulty finding out what restaurants are serving and 22 percent consider reduced menu options an inconvenience. 
 
To continue satisfying consumers, restaurants should communicate menu changes as early as possible. They should also explain why the changes are being made and how they improve their consumers’ experience by improving efficiency. 
 
2. Simplified Prep

 

While several restaurants are reducing menus, 61 percent intend to offer the same number of items now that restrictions have softened. However, they still have to cope with staff cuts. The best way to do this is through sourcing speed-scratch and heat-and-serve ingredients. These items allow workers with limited experience to quickly plate meals with minimal prep. 
 
3. Value Meals
 
According to 66 percent of diners, value is a key factor when deciding where to eat. With so many people experiencing economic hardship during this pandemic, value and combo meals are more sought after than ever. Restaurants have taken these offerings to a new level with family combo meals, providing large portions at a great price. 

 

4. Travel-Friendly Offerings

 

With delivery and curbside services still going strong, restaurants must ensure their offerings are fit for travel. For some places, that might mean creating a different menu for off-premises orders.

 

Comfort foods are the best bet for takeout and delivery. Pizza, BBQ, and pasta hold up well in car rides. Unlike other fried foods, fried chicken is still crispy and juicy once it gets to consumers’ homes. 

Containers and packaging play a critical role in making food and drinks travel-ready. Noodle dishes are among the most popular carryout orders, but the broth must be packaged separately. Sauces and dressings should also be in their own containers. Check out more off-premises packaging tips here.

 

5. Rethinking Meat
 
Summer BBQs might look a little different this year. As meat plants succumb to COVID-19 outbreaks, meat has become less available and prices have surged dramatically. Standard beef cuts, for example, went up 87 percent according to Buyers Edge. To reduce costs, restaurants are rethinking their meat offerings. 
 
Some restaurants have opted to serve smaller portions of high-quality meat with more sides. Others are finding interesting ways to use less familiar cuts like shoulders, legs, and shanks. Plant-based meat substitutes have been added to menus as well. While meat shortages have created obstacles, they’ve also opened the door to innovation. 
 
6. Innovation 

 

Menu innovation isn’t just a by-product of meat challenges. After the 2008 recession, restaurants found ways to shorten their menus while also experimenting with new flavors. We’re likely to see restaurants do this again as they reopen, using innovative items to drive traffic and excitement. According to Datassential, operators are still staying up on trends and starting to investigate new products. 
 
7. Kids Meals—And Activities 

 

With many kids stuck at home this summer, parents are looking to not only feed their children but also give them something to do. Several restaurants are trying to check both boxes by offering activities for families to take home with their meals. These activities range from build-your-own donuts from Dunkin’ to a Jumanji Movie Bundle from Fresh Brothers
 
8. Daypart Traffic

 

The coronavirus has not only impacted what consumers eat but also when they eat. Breakfast traffic has been hit hard during the pandemic. Dinner has also surpassed lunch as the busiest daypart. 
 
Despite these developments, Datassential found that 79 percent of restaurants don’t plan to make any changes in dayparts. However, taking a couple of items off the breakfast menu, optimizing the dinner menu, and making other small changes could help restaurants. 
 
9. Meals For a Cause 

 

Restaurants offer more than food. They give communities places to come together. While restaurants can’t return to being gathering spots just yet, they can still serve as community cornerstones by supporting important causes.
 
Some restaurants and chains have offered a donation or free food to healthcare workers for every meal sold. Others have contributed the profits from specific merchandise and menu items to restaurant relief funds. Many have given consumers the option to donate to a nonprofit when they order online. Restaurants that modify their menus to support charities will win over the hearts of diners. 
 
10. Digital and Disposable Menus

 

It’s not just what’s on the menu that’s changed—it’s the menus themselves. Many restaurants are adhering to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recommendation to use disposable or digital menus. 
 
Establishments that already have a website can simply direct diners to view their menu online. Some have even implemented QR codes, which diners can scan at their tables to order from their phones. 
 
Though digital menus are a more sustainable and eco-friendly solution, having a disposable menu is still useful to have as an option for guests who left their phone at home or simply prefer the familiar experience of a physical menu. 
 
Your Sourcing Solution 

 

This year has certainly tested the agility of chefs and operators. Those who can adapt to new challenges and even transform challenges into opportunities will gain a stronger standing with consumers that carries them through this pandemic. 
 
Dot Foods has a large range of products to support new menu offerings. From affordable meat to speed-scratch items, our COVID-19 Food & Packaging Essentials is the right place to find all the ready-to-ship products that are in high demand. 
 
Visit our site to explore our featured products and order them through the Dot Expressway.