Unleashing Bold Flavors: 10 Tips for Building a Small Plate Menu

Unleashing Bold Flavors: 10 Tips for Building a Small Plate Menu

Unleashing Bold Flavors: 10 Tips for Building a Small Plate Menu banner

One of the most popular trends in restaurants today is the explosion of small plate menus. It’s easy to see why this trend is so popular. Small plates are affordable. They don’t require guests to commit to a $30 entree to try unfamiliar food. They allow both chefs and guests to try a variety of foods. And, most of all, they are fun.

What Is a Small Plate Menu?

A small plate menu comes from the traditional Spanish tapas menus that feature a broad selection of small, appetizer-size food items. The premise is that a table can enjoy a variety of the chef’s creations without spending a lot of money or overeating. For restauranteurs, it allows you to showcase a variety of your food items and helps keep the price down both for you and the guest. Small plate menus tend to appeal to food enthusiasts, so it’s also a good way to try out unusual ingredients without the guest committing to an entire entree.

Rise in Popularity

Small plate menus are a growing trend in the United States. According to a recent Technomics consumer trend report, nearly one in five frequent diners (19 percent) order a small plate at least once a week. Not surprisingly, they are especially popular with solo diners, with 59 percent of the survey’s respondents saying they have ordered a small plate while dining alone.

As we mentioned above, small plates are kind to the guest’s budget. In addition, they make a good accompaniment to after-work drinks or as something to tide a person over until their next meal.

What to Consider When Creating a Small Plate Menu

If you’re thinking about creating a small plate menu, either for a new or existing restaurant, below are a few things to consider so you’re set up for success.

1. Offer Variety

The beauty of small plates is the ability for a guest to sample many different types of food in the same meal. Make that easy for them by offering a variety of menu items. Balance modern dishes with more traditional ones and foods using exotic ingredients with those that are more conventional.

2. Be Price Conscious

It’s also a good idea to offer at least some plates that are affordable for those on a tighter budget. This allows you to market your menu to a broader cross-section of the community. According to Restaurant Business Online, 38 percent of consumers perceive small plates as good value. Chefs need to be careful with pricing small plates. Offering too many selections could mean that your restaurant is left with perishable food items going bad. It’s best to start with a limited offering of small plates until you get a handle on what your customers like.

3. Keep It Simple

Simplicity helps guests understand what their food will look (and taste) like when it arrives at the table. Creations worthy of the popular television show “Chops” may be interesting, but they are less likely to appeal to average guests. Restaurant Business Online advises chefs to make the main ingredient of the dish the star attraction. They add, ‘Each item should also be visually appealing.”

4. Don’t Forget Balance

Balance ensures you have a small plate that will appeal to almost every guest. Many eateries also feature small plates that work as different courses, such as salads, main dishes, and desserts. You can also use your small plate menu to offer a balance of exotic and traditional dishes so that both adventurous and picky diners alike will have something that appeals to them.

5. Unleash Your Creativity

A small plate menu is a great place to unleash your creativity. Since guests are more likely to sample an unfamiliar food or food combination at a small plate’s price point, this is an ideal opportunity to introduce them to some of your favorite (but uncommon) ingredients. Small plates also give chefs a chance to showcase their signature dishes to a new audience. A scaled-down version of an expensive signature entree (or dessert) may appeal to diners that wouldn’t consider ordering the full-size version.

6. Be Mindful of Dietary Restrictions

One of the best things you can do for your customers is to create dishes that cater to popular dietary restrictions, such as a gluten-free diet or a diabetic-friendly diet. Small plates can introduce them to foods they can enjoy on these diets without feeling like they are missing out on tasty foods.

7. Think About Seasonal Ingredients

Seasonal ingredients are also ideal for a small plate menu. This is a great place to showcase the latest produce or seasonal fish. If you’ve been thinking of becoming more ‘farm to table,” introducing a small plate menu is a great way to get started while supporting your local food purveyors and farmers.

8. Consider the Order of the Dishes

Small plates can tell a food story. You can offer a series of small plates that act like a multi-course tasting menu, each building on the flavors of the previous plate. You can offer pairings with wines, beers, or cocktails. Your ‘foodie’ customers will love it.

9. Have Fun with Presentation

Presentation is almost as important as taste, as all good chefs know. Small plates can be a great place to experiment with presentation. One caution, however – small plates can take just as long for your line cooks to plate as entree plates. The only difference is that guests order multiple small plates and only one entree. Make sure that your kitchen is staffed accordingly.

10. Gather Customer Input and Feedback

As with any new addition to your menu, it’s important to ask guests how they are enjoying the new small plate menu. Ask for their feedback and make changes accordingly when you can. Your guests will appreciate being asked for their opinions, especially if their suggestions are later included on your menu.

Earning your BS in Culinary Arts and Food Service Management from Johnson & Wales University

Johnson & Wales University, established in 1914, offers a variety of culinary arts degrees, including an online BS in Culinary Arts and Food Service Management. In as little as two years, you can build on the general knowledge you’ve gained by earning an associate degree. Online learning is not only less expensive, but it is generally more convenient for students with other career, family, and community obligations.

In this degree program, you’ll learn about effective communication, food service management at various levels, understanding and implementing industry operational standards, analyzing data and making decisions in the food service industry, and how to use technology and decision-making tools to help the organizational process.

Course highlights include food service management systems, human resource applications, financial and managerial accounting, food and beverage strategies and logistics, and strategic marketing in the hospitality industry. This degree program requires that you have at least an associate degree. JWU is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education and offers financial aid to qualified students.

For more information about completing your culinary arts degree online, complete the Request Info form, call 855-JWU-1881, or email [email protected].

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