After nine long months of what began as a mere blip on the screen of contenders for major disruptors, COVID-19 has changed the face of the world. For many of us, the sudden and now seemingly never-ending upheaval has driven us in search of comfort and connectedness. Whereas once we dined on the exotic and unusual flavors of the Middle East, we now long for grandmother’s homemade chicken noodle soup.
According to Statista, the sale of certain comfort foods have grown anywhere from 6 percent to over 20 percent, when compared to the same time last year. Companies like Kellogg’s have seen demand for their all-time favorites, such as Fruit Loops, Frosted Flakes, and Pringles, skyrocket. What can restaurants take from this current comfort food trend? Keep their signature dishes that brand-loyal customers have come to expect, and then give their guests what they are crying out for, even if on a subconscious level…comfort.
Restaurants Delivering on Comfort
Operators have heeded the call, with over 20 percent expanding their comfort food selections since the pandemic struck.
A common theme is one reported by Eater SF, when quoting their food editor, Luke Tsai, “I’ve loved the pivot to restaurants offering easily reheatable comfort foods for takeout—trays of take-and-bake lasagna or jollof rice or big tubs of Japanese curry. These are stressful times, so when I sit down at the dinner table or plop down in front of the TV for a late-night snack, I’m usually just craving something that’s going to make me feel warm and safe.”
Consumers are looking to seasonal comfort foods as a reminder that some things, although very few, never change. Starbucks has made a name for themselves, in part, by bringing on the specials that their devoted customers look to during seasonal transitions. We know fall is about to arrive when Pumpkin Spice Latte hits their stores. Gingerbread Latte is a solid reminder that the leaves of fall are soon to be a thing of the past.
For those restaurants looking to incorporate seasonal offerings that provide comfort during this time of stress, here’s a look at a few of the menu items making the grade.
Fall Comfort Foods
The comfort foods that we associate with fall are tied to the memories of the season. The changing leaves and cool crisp air that have us pulling out our light sweaters also have us reaching for a warm bowl of soup, an apple strudel, a cup of hot apple cider that warms are body, and soothes our soul.
Here are a few traditional (and not so traditional) menu items that emerge with the coming of fall:
- Maple syrup, apples, pumpkin, and nuts are a few of the staples of fall. Corner Bakery Cafe has opted to highlight several of these foods throughout the years. Last year saw Maple Pecan Pumpkin Baby Bundt Cake and Hazelnut Latte, while the year before welcomed the bounty of apples with Apple Walnut Pancakes and Oatmeal topped with caramelized apples, cinnamon crunch streusel, and toasted walnuts. Very comforting.
- Roasted Autumn Root Vegetables—Turnips, rutabaga, parsnips, sweet potatoes, and carrots combined and drizzled with a little maple syrup and butter are a fall classic. San Francisco’s Commons Club came up with a root vegetable a little bit off the beaten track and put it in a soup. Their Sunchoke Soup combines sunchokes with chicories, black garlic, and jamón lbérico.
- Chicken Pot Pie with Seasonal Vegetables—Lazy Dog Restaurant & Bar, a popular casual brand with over 30 locations in 7 states, raised the creativity bar when they added TV Dinners to their menu. One of their offerings is a hearty Chicken Pot Pie that their guests simply pick up and place in the oven.
- Octoberfest-inspired Schnitzels—The foods of Germany make their mark in many a restaurant in celebration of Oktoberfest—the holiday known for sauerkraut and large quantities of beer. Bar Louie, a gastropub with 90 locations, usually breaks out their Steins and Pork Schnitzels in celebration, though the current pandemic may be putting a damper on the celebration.
- Soups—Fall would not be complete without a creamy butternut squash or roasted pumpkin soup. Panera Bread’s fall offerings have included a blend of butternut squash, pumpkin, apple juice, honey, cinnamon, and curry, topped with roasted pumpkin seeds and sweet cream.
- Squash – The vast varieties in this iconic fall produce make it easy to incorporate into a seasonal offering. The 29-unit California-based Fast Casual Lemonade offered New Mexican Chili Roasted Butternut Squash with corn, lime corn nuts, and scallion ranch dressing. Their additional fall menu included Honey Roasted Carrots with rosemary and pistachio vinaigrette, and red quinoa and fuji apples with arugula.
And, of course, let’s not forget the comfort drinks of fall such as Maple Bacon Old Fashioned and Pomegranate Punch. Spiced cider begins making its way across cities and states as September turns to October. Last year, Gadabout in Chicago put together “Thor’s Lullaby”—a blend of apple cider, star anise, coriander, cinnamon, and spiced rum topped with hazelnut apple whipped cream and a drizzle of agave-date nectar.
Providing comfort foods that change with the seasons gives your guests something to look forward to every three months. It is also shown to be beneficial to a restaurant’s bottom line. Restaurants with seasonal menu items saw about 26 percent more orders and a 23 percent increase in the average ticket size when compared to other restaurants.
After adding a few seasonal items to the menu, don’t forget to tweet, post, and snap about it to your customers.