You know small plate offerings are hot when big steakhouse chains add them to their menus. They aren’t a natural fit, so let’s look at how and why Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar made the transition.
Initially, restaurant operators saw small plates as a way to encourage customers to try more adventurous flavors and dishes, particularly ethnic cuisines. This approach worked so well that small plates took on a life of their own. Customers began to make meals out of a few smaller dishes instead of ordering a larger portion of just one menu item, especially if they wanted to share with others at their table. That’s why it’s so common for restaurants to divide their menus between small plate and large plate offerings today.
Small plates were not a logical addition to steakhouse menus—steakhouses being places where customers traditionally go to eat a really large portion of a single item, not sample a few dishes served in smaller sizes. Yet it turns out there’s an audience for small plates even at upscale steakhouses like 64-unit Fleming’s. Last week, the company debuted a seven-item small plates menu designed to capture this business.
What’s their thinking? “Small plates let our guests customize their meal and their dining experience,” says Fleming’s executive chef Russell Skall. “They are a direct response to requests we’ve received for more choice in portion size, light options and items to share.”
So what kind of small plates items make sense in a steakhouse context? Skall came up with the following:
• Sliced Filet Mignon on shiitake risotto, with chili oil, drizzled with porcini butter.
• Jumbo Shrimp Scampi Skewers with chimichurri dipping sauce and avocado citrus salad.
• New Zealand Petite Lamb Chops with pistachio-mint pesto, “F-17” sauce and polenta fries.
• Ahi Tuna Skewers with wasabi aioli, sweet tomato vinaigrette and homemade wonton chips.
• New Bedford Scallops with Meyer lemon-honey glaze, baby carrots, green beans, asparagus.
• Filet Mignon Skewers with gorgonzola-bacon fondue, mozzarella and sweet tomato salad.
• Fleming’s Lobster Tempura with soy-ginger dipping sauce, arugula, jicama and apple salad.
Price points may seem high—items on Fleming’s small plate menu range between $15.50-$22.95. But given the menu’s overall pricing scheme, they’re appropriate.
Coming up with these seven items wasn’t a snap decision. Skall tried nearly 100 potential dishes before narrowing his list down to the final seven. Here’s his thought process on the Lobster Tempura: “We took a guest favorite that was an indulgent, high-calorie appetizer and recreated it,” he says. “You still have the succulent lobster and dipping sauce, only now it’s paired with a salad and has only half the calories.”
If you’ve thought about adding a small plates section to your menu but haven’t made your move, feel free to go to school on how Fleming’s handled the process. It demonstrates how much a small plate menu can add to an already strong concept.