Keeping menus fresh is one of the most exciting, and most challenging aspects of a chef’s job. Not only do they need to plan around what’s fresh, in-season and available to them, they also need to fit these choices into the greater context of diner preferences. Dining, like any human pursuit, is often driven by trends and expectations. To craft effective menus, chefs need to stay current with trends in the industry and check in with their customers frequently to learn what’s working what isn’t.
In my position as Chief Customer Officer and Executive Vice President at Sid Wainer & Son, I get the opportunity to speak with many of our customers. We’re a company of chefs, and so we feel a strong kinship with the chefs that buy from us. We encourage them to use our warehouse as their walk-in and we always invite our chefs to visit and use our test kitchen to do menu development. Through these frequent interactions with chefs all around the world, we’ve built up an exhaustive knowledge of dining trends and practices across
every sort of dining experience.
Today we’re talking about menu crafting within the country club space. I thought I’d take this opportunity to share with you some of the things I’ve learned about what’s trending currently, and ways that you can use these insights to create interesting, dynamic menus that will surprise your diners and keep customers intrigued and coming back for more.
In recent years we’ve seen a huge shift away from the standard three-course, protein-centered meal. Instead, patrons are enjoying small plates and other dining formats that promote sharing.
And they’re looking for clean eating opportunities where meats and carbs are becoming side players, with hearty, seasonal vegetable combinations taking center stage. When you’re planning menus for this sort of patron, keep the social aspect of food in mind, and create dynamic experiences that the whole table can share.
Clubs are frequently opening their dining rooms to the outside, creating indoor and outdoor eating spaces. This is a great opportunity for chefs and their staff to create unique dining experiences that take advantage of each location.
Outdoor dining can be less formal and more relaxed. You could have fun with a bloody mary bar, some interesting salads, and small plates. Focus on high-volume items that are fresh and unique.
Indoor dining can be a little bit more of an elevated experience, but you can still keep things interesting. Consider a caviar service or different themed dinners that create narratives that pull interest and get people excited to return.
Poolside eating should be light and airy. People aren’t looking for heavy or messy when they’re sitting out in the hot sun. Look for no-frills dishes that are self-contained, easy to eat, and don’t weigh patrons down. Deconstructed salads and other light finger foods can win over members.
19th hole diners, on the other hand, are looking to have a beer or two after a round, and are more accepting of flavor-heavy dishes. Think of elevated pub fare. Salty and flavor-forward are appreciated by this crowd. Small plates and new takes on classic snack foods can work very well in this context. You might try a new take on classic calamari, or a punched up tuna salad that incorporates unique flavor profiles.
One trend that’s no longer a trend in my opinion, but instead an expectation, is the inclusion of choice for those with special dietary restrictions. Whether you’re talking Keto, Paleo, or gluten-free, club patrons no longer hope for options that fit their dietary choices but instead expect that something will be available to them.
It’s important for menus to be as inclusive as possible. But this doesn’t have to be a hobbling situation. Instead, it represents an opportunity for your menus to depart from the mainstream and take risks. It allows you to feature foods that might not normally get a leading role. It forces us all to get out of our comfort zone and create interesting foods that cater to a wide array of dining requirements.
In the end, that’s what we do as chefs. We create dining experiences, and our menus should reflect that. We should be constantly pushing ourselves to reinvent what we consider fine dining or casual fare.
Chefs today have more, high-quality ingredients available to them than ever before. I encourage you all to take advantage of this opportunity to elevate your skills and your menus. Your patrons will certainly thank you for it and they’ll reward your diligence with frequent visits.