Smaller meal options take center stage

Granada Hotel & Bistro in San Luis Obispo, Calif., serves small plates daily from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. (cake stand with meat, cheese and bread on it)

Travelers on the go—for business or leisure—don’t always have the time or the inclination for a full meal, leading to the growing popularity of grab-and-go outlets at hotels. But grab-and-go isn’t the only option for these hungry guests.

Starters, small plates and sides are well-positioned to gain share of stomach as eating habits shift to include more snacking and sharing, according to Technomic’s recently released “2017 Starters, Small Plates & Sides Consumer Trend Report.” Small plates, in particular, continue to proliferate on menus and are helping to change meal dynamics, according to the company.

“Preference is growing for meals that include several smaller-portioned or shareable dishes instead of those focused on a single entree,” Kelly Weikel, director of consumer insights at Technomic, said in a statement. “Small plate and appetizer bundles, samplers and more innovative side dishes are trending as consumers increasingly opt for meals that feature a variety of flavors.”

Key takeaways from the report include:

  • Thirty-eight percent of consumers who order appetizers strongly agree that they sometimes visit a certain restaurant because they are craving a specific appetizer
  • Forty-three percent of consumers would like more full-service restaurants to offer small plates
  • Sixty-two percent of consumers say it’s important that they can choose the side that comes with their entrée

The smaller-can-be-better trend resonates with meetings and events, as well. Peter Schreurs, director of food and beverage, Royal Sonesta Houston, told HOTEL Management that in Houston, the current value-focused approach works well with the small-plate trend. The downturn in the oil industry has created a need for value with catered events in the market, according to Schreurs. “Those that still provide all meals to attendees, there is desire to add value to those meals and we can do that in a lot of different ways.”

Small plates are on the menu at the AC Hotel Phoenix Tempe/Downtown.

“We’ve steered away from big bowls of food and we’ll do individualized services for 400 to 500 people,” he said. “We can try different things on the buffet and it presents it in an upscale way. It helps to broaden the selection of foods—with the trends on dietary restrictions for attendees, the small plate helps us and it adds value to the traditional buffet meal.”

This isn’t a trend that has popped up overnight—in fact, Technomic predicted hotel dining taking this direction back in 2014, when its 2015 forecast report included the following item: Small is in: Diners demand petite plates and flexible portions. And a quick Google search shows small-plates menus being offered at a variety of hotels, from major brands to independent boutiques.

Technomic compiled findings from more than 1,500 consumers, as well as Technomic’s MenuMonitor and Digital Resource Library, the “2017 Starters, Small Plates & Sides Consumer Trend Report” serves as a guide for foodservice operators and suppliers to understand consumer consumption of and attitudes toward the left side of the menu and to identify key areas of opportunity.