With mandatory nutritional data on menus moving toward reality, full-service appetizer menus may soon be in need of a tune-up. Right now, casual dining in particular relies primarily on deep-fried items for most appetizer sales. This segment's operators might soon be looking for options that can be just as popular and profitable while having a better nutritional profile.
Like what? New research from Datassential Menu Trends Direct shows there are several good choices that full-service operators have already begun to adopt. While deep-fried stalwarts wings (40 percent of all restaurants serve them), chicken strips (25 percent) and cheese sticks (23 percent) are still far and away the volume leaders, seafood-based appetizers are a new area of growth.
Which ones? Between 2007 and 2009 the rate of crab cake use on menus rose 11.5 percent, calamari rose 10 percent and mussels increased 6 percent.
The biggest changes on the down side involved a pair of fried items: potato skins (off 7.6 percent) and fried mushrooms (minus 8.5 percent).
It's not too late to add healthful seafood appetizers to your menu. While wings and cheese sticks are ubiquitous and calamari already appears on 23 percent of all menus, crab cakes and mussels are still emerging. Crab cakes are found on only 10.7 percent of menus right now, mussels on 10.8 percent. You might not be ahead of the trend if you add some seafood apps, but you'll definitely be on top of it.