Latest Ichor Restaurant Group News
Nov 3, 2020
On the menu trend flavor front, searing "heat" is turning to smoke, while coffee is sliding over to make room for tea, and customers are trading in exotic flavors for more traditional favorites. Photo: iStock Restaurant menus are seeing a few changes as the year wraps up. Searing "heat" is turning to smoke, coffee is making room for tea, and customers are trading in exotic flavors for more traditional favorites. Those were among the top trends that a group of restaurant leaders identified during an hour-long forum on menu trends earlier this month at the virtual Fast Casual Executive Summit . The often-passionate and always drool-inducing conversation involved four restaurateurs, who were intimately familiar with the absolute business demand for hitting trends just before they actually blow up into full-blown food fanaticism, including: Ike's Love & Sandwiches founder Ike Shehadeh. McAlister's Deli Corporate Executive Chef William Eudy. Old Carolina Barbecue Company and Smoke The Burger Joint parent company, Ichor Restaurant Group founder and CEO Brian Bailey. Multi-brand ghost kitchen company, TiffinLabs Strategic Adviser Tim Wildin. Shown left to right: Ike Shehadeh, William Eudy, Brian Bailey and Tim Wildin. Emily Hirsch, Botrista Technology vice president of beverage menu development, moderated the discussion, beginning with a round-robin with restaurant leaders weighing in on their perssonal menu trend of the moment. At virtual restaurant parent company, TiffinLabs, Wildin emphasized the importance that his company's brands (including Publico Express Pasta Bar & Pizzeria and Potato Lab) place on getting to the trend behind the trend, as in the overall Western cultural prioritization of health as the driver for all the food fads and favorites that contribute to diner health. But additionally, he said restaurants now must offer beverages that go beyond the everyday options. "You are missing out if you don't have a beverage program that goes beyond what you can find at the grocery store," he said. "That is very important." Shehahdeh said he strives connect with food trends that "vibe" with the brand's sometimes funky persona or at least can be adapted to reflect it. While at McAlister's, leaders work to put customer needs — like the current tumultuous nation's desire for comfort food — first. And comfort was much of where it's at for Ichor Restaurant Group's two brands. "We're looking for regional flavors … like I heard someone talking about meatloaf in an earlier (summit) session today," Bailey said. "Just from that, I'm already thinking about meatloaf. … So I can get with our executive chef and in two or three weeks, we might be able to put it as an LTO on the menu." The 'smoky, comfy, trendy' truth of it all When Hirsch pressed the group to detail the flavor profiles that were specific to their futures, it was evident that the pandemic was top of mind with each leaning into comforting foods. "When it comes savory and sandwiches, what we're really into is smokiness and barbecues and … aiolis," Shehadeh said. "Like I came up with a Brussel sprout-Korean aioli slaw and … those are the types of flavors I'm playing with. … "And I love myself some LTOs — we're probably on our 16th or 17th this year … but the things that worked we saw were smoky barbecue things." McAlister's Eudy connected with that as well but added this his customers were clamoring for spice, too. "We see our guests seem to want of more spice … and additionally, post-COVID-19, we see lots of guests wanting something familiar, or familiar with twist, and even more indulgent things. "Our guests are telling us they're less likely to go on a flavor 'experience,' but that they're looking for something more 'safe,' for lack of better word." Bailey agreed, referring to many of his stores that were situated in the Buckeye State of Ohio. "In Ohio, we're seeing that with comfort food, too," he said. "We're seeing a lot of bowls … and that has opened up catering and more individually packaged meals. That's something that we're seeing a lot of demand for. … "But definitely that meatloaf, and I do have one lined up with barbecue to put our own spin on it … and we're also even trying out build-your-own tacos … where get all those components and they can have a taco bar at home for their families." Fit to a 'tea' Beverages just kept popping up throughout the discussion was tea, something that is near and dear to McAlister's heart, known for its sweet tea. Eudy said it's always among the top offerings and actually drives customers into stores. "Beverage is such a huge important thing at McAlister's and we're famous for our sweet tea that people come in particularly for that," he said. "But we will also d flavored teas and blueberry lemonade and … we try to really keep things seasonal but we'll probably never do a caramel or pumpkin tea — that's not us." Shehadeh said Ikes is also tinkering in teas by working on versions of traditional teas that he said allow the brand to "create a memory with flavors on the menu." "That's how you go from fad to trend to something that's on the menu for 20 years," he said. In fact, the group agreed that much of the movement to iced teas of all varieties was being pushed by what they said was a pretty swift drop in the number of customers drinking carbonated beverages. Ichor Group's brands, however, was the exception. "We're not really trendy when it comes to our drinks. …" Bailey said. "Like Cheerwine … is an old (soda brand) we use in our Ohio stores. … And we'll even extend using that into the food menu with cupcakes and such to get a little more creative with it in our foods. … "But I agree with you that sodas are definitely going down," Bailey told Wildin who had just brought up the subject. "In fact, I would like to take some exotic teas and fusion beverages and work them in with the brand." Click here to watch the whole session from the recent Fast Casual Executive Summit.