There would seem no way possible 2012 could be as withering a year in commodity prices as 2011, and the New Year kicked off with positive news: Congress allowed its 30-year-old subsidies for corn-based ethanol to expire. Ethanol will still be produced, but commodity forecasters expect that in the long run, corn-based fuel production will take up less and less of the corn crop, meaning less competition and better prices for food uses.
More than beer is being drafted these days at restaurants and bars. Sparkling wine, liquor, cocktails, cider and kombucha are all flowing from taps. The tactic is both a point of differentiation and a margin booster.
The rib eye is one of the most popular steakhouse cuts and most fans like it served up simple—well seasoned and broiled or grilled. At the nine-location Smith & Wollensky, the menu offers a prime, dry-aged 28-oz. rib eye steak just that way. But executive chef Matt King wanted to do something more for customers looking for a bit of adventure and variety.
The deconstruction process
A rib eye has two clearly defined muscles. King starts out by removing the outer cap muscle and the bone, leaving the well-marbled 9-ounce eye.
Remember when dinner at a restaurant always meant sitting down to a multi-course meal of appetizer, entrée and dessert? Not any longer. More and more Americans are patronizing restaurants differently these days, opting to make a meal of shareable appetizers, small plates, inventive bar food or coffee and a snack. According to Chicago-based market research company Technomic, only 5 percent of consumers are now eating three square meals a day.
The shift can be attributed to several trends:
The Northborough, Massachusetts-based Bertucci’s, founded in 1981, is currently celebrating its 30th birthday with a limited-time menu that revisits comfort food classics. “We polled our most passionate guests in an email survey and 22,000 responded,” says vice president/executive chef, Jeff Tenner. “They generated the idea of commemorating our birthday by bringing back some of our classics.”
Come December, many a pastry chef crafts desserts around the fresh apples, pears, and citrus fruits in abundance. But Stephen Collucci, executive pastry chef at Colicchio & Sons in New York City, likes to go off the beaten track a bit. While he doesn’t ignore these more common seasonal fruits, he also turns to vegetables for dessert inspiration.
As we head into the new year, the mega-trends driving menu and product development fall into three major buckets: health and wellness, big flavors and breakfast. Sound familiar? While there are many cutting-edge mini-trends emerging, those feeding the mainstream are sticking to what customers want right now. But both operators and manufacturers are offering unique twists to differentiate themselves within these buckets.
During these difficult economic times more restaurants and bars are turning to the tried-and-true happy hour to get customers in the door. But to cater not just to the value minded, but also to the customer who wants something different, or memorable, today’s happy hour has to be innovative. Here’s a sampling of happy hour strategies that go beyond the usual.
Although consumption of carbonated soft drinks fell last year and CSDs lost market share, the category is still effervescent.
Sugary soft drinks are frequently maligned by watchdog groups, who blame them for a number of ailments. At the same time, the category has been slowly losing share to “better-for-you” beverages such as RTD teas, bottled water, sports and energy drinks and functional beverages.
Now that local produce is done for the season or in storage in many parts of the country, there are still tasty late fall and winter selections that can excite a chef and add color, flavor and creativity to the menu. Consider grapes, for instance.
Juicy red, green and black table grapes from California and other domestic sources are available through January. In the thick of winter, grapes from Chile and other points south are abundant. While it’s natural to snip a cluster to garnish a plate or add to a salad, grapes can go beyond those applications.