Operators rethink menu strategies to generate excitement and drive sales

Loaded Fries Provide Versatile Base for Menu Innovation

Cross-utilize ingredients to generate consumer excitement around craveable, comfort food dishes

Restaurants are operating in a challenging environment, between a tight labor market, supply-chain disruptions and a host of other cost pressures.

At the same time, menu innovation remains important to meet the demands of today’s consumers. Nearly three-fourths (74%) of consumers say they are looking forward to new food and beverage trends, and nearly a third of consumers (30%) identify as “foodies.”1

Operators can keep their menus exciting by cross-utilizing their existing ingredients to create fresh, new dishes without having to add a host of new ingredients to their inventory. Amid an environment in which efficiency is paramount, using ingredients that are already on hand can help contain costs and minimize reliance on new ingredient supply chains.

Remember that we eat with our eyes first, and you are going to see a lot of color in this dish. Your common, everyday ingredients can take it to the next level.”

– Chef Miguel Mendoza

A creative, craveable comfort food

One way to capitalize on existing inventories is to offer a fresh take on one of your most popular and profitable menu items, fries. Fries make a versatile base for new topped & loaded dishes that can include regional flavors and ingredients, and appeal to today’s foodies. Afterall, 51% of consumers want more unique and interesting fry options.2

Restaurants can consider taking some of the most popular dishes they currently have on the menu and adapt them to create loaded fries, suggests Chef Miguel Mendoza, Marketing and Innovation Corporate Chef at Lamb Weston.

“If you have, for example, a chicken Parmesan that's really popular on your menu, or a specific pizza that has special toppings that are unique to you, you can take that and put it on fries,” he says.

Mendoza says he likes to think of loaded fries as a “one, two, three” creation—with a protein, a cheese and a sauce. Operators can explore their existing inventories to find combinations of these three ingredients that work on top of French fries.

If an operator has a unique sauce created in-house, that’s all the better as it can be incorporated into a French fry dish that differentiates an operator from the competition, either as a topping for loaded fries or as a sauce for dipping. Mayonnaise can easily be modified with some seasonings to also create a great dipping sauce, similar to an aioli, Mendoza says.

Buffalo chicken wings are an example of a dish that can be transformed into a loaded fry dish with strong visual appeal and good economics. In order to maintain portion control, Mendoza suggests putting less than a full order of wings atop a plate of fries, along with sauce, ranch dressing or cheese, and thinly sliced carrots and celery that would routinely be served on the side.

“Remember that we eat with our eyes first, and you are going to see a lot of color in this dish,” he says. “Your common, everyday ingredients can take it to the next level.”

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Ramen at the next level

Another idea he suggests is to tap into culinary trends such as consumers’ interest in ramen soup. He cites Lamb Weston’s recipe for Ramen Fries, which incorporates everyday ingredients to make for an internationally influenced menu item with strong appeal for consumers seeking new culinary experiences.

The dish features a base of Lamb Weston Stealth Fries® Potato Dippers®, topped with thinly sliced pork belly, a sauce made with ketchup, soy sauce and red wine vinegar, sliced scallions, a soft-boiled egg and a toasted sesame seed blend with nori and chili flakes.

“This is our take on a traditional ramen soup, but with fries,” says Mendoza.

Similar dishes can be created by adapting other popular dishes, such as Cubano Loaded Fries, Philly Cheesesteak Loaded Fries, Loaded Tzatziki Fries and more.

Other options for creating French fry selections include creating shareable dishes that feature two different seasonings or toppings on each half of the plate, divided like a pizza that has different toppings on each half to appeal to different customers. This can work well as either a shareable appetizer or entrée, Mendoza says.

Operators should also consider offering multiple varieties of fries as a way to introduce innovation into their menu, he says.

“When you bring in a second fry offering, your customers are going to want to come back,” he says. “Who doesn't like to come in and see another fry offering that they can have?”

And, as consumer demand for takeout and delivery remains elevated, operators should also consider coated fries for the added crispness they provide.

“If you don't currently have a coated fry, this is the time to do it,” says Mendoza.

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