The composition of the modern American meal is pretty well established. The main dish/side dish/beverage/dessert formula hasn’t changed appreciably in eons, and though occasional upstarts surface to challenge this sequence from time to time (think small plates, one-pot meals, sharing menus, and tapas), the basic arrangement seems pretty stable and generally well suited to our appetites and mealtime rituals.
When I was growing up in California’s San Joaquin Valley—once commonly known as the nation’s breadbasket—local farmers grew a significant percentage of the fruits and vegetables eaten by people in the rest of the country. They still do. Today, the Vegetable Research & Information Center at the University of California, Davis, reports that the Valley produces more than 250 different crops.
When you consider that one of the world’s most perfect comfort foods—the basic French baguette—is made of nothing more than flour, yeast, salt, and water, it’s a wonder we, as human beings, ever decided to expand on this basic formula.
What would you need to do to have a truly sustainable restaurant chain? The answer depends on whom you ask.
I made my own pizza for lunch the other day, and I have to say it was pretty great. Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I admit I’m taking a little license with the language by saying I “made” this pizza. I didn’t roll out or toss the dough, though I did choose my crust from a few available varieties, as was my prerogative. I also didn’t slave over a saucepan to get the tomato sauce a little smoky, a little spicy, and distinctly tangy, the way I like it.
In its most recent Statistical Abstract of the U.S., the U.S. Census Bureau revealed that per-capita consumption of dairy products grew about 7 percent between 1990 and 2009, from roughly 568 to 607 pounds per person per year. That’s a slow and steady rise, though not the sort of eye-popping increase that typically sends menu developers scurrying to the ideation kitchen with dollar signs in their eyes. But dig a little deeper into the bureau’s findings, and some interesting trends reveal themselves.
I have an admission to make: Although I’m not an anthropologist, I have determined definitively, through informal surveys of a few good friends, that the love of aromas found in smoke is locked securely into our genes.
Sit down and relax, Mr. and Mrs. Menu Developer. You look tense. Here, have a sip of this blueberry-kale-sun-dried-tomato-açai-green-tea-flaxseed smoothie I’ve just whipped up. It’s loaded with antioxidants, vitamin B, fiber, and lycopene. I think you’ll find it both restorative and refreshing.
For decades, the value proposition in quick-serve circles was pretty easy to capture in a catchphrase: More Is Better. Give those 18–34-year-old guys bigger burgers, burritos, sandwiches, and pizzas; super-size the drinks and sides; pile the toppings high; ladle on the extras, and you had a surefire formula for success.
Menu-development professionals for fast-food chains have probably watched enviously as some of their fast-casual competitors have unveiled salads that are both too elaborate and too expensive to replicate at their concepts.