As summer winds down, fall sports season starts back up—and in its wake comes a rush of diners gathering to cheer on their favorite teams over a plate of nachos or a platter of wings.
For operators, there’s a great opportunity for incremental traffic and sales on game days, which makes fall an ideal time to capitalize on consumers’ desire for indulgent appetizers and shareable, loaded dishes.
According to Technomic’s 2016 Future of FSR Consumer Trend Report, powered by Ignite, sports bars are driving casual-dining growth, having grown 8% year over year. This means that consumers have plenty of options to choose from when they want to watch a game, so to capture a fair share of the business, operators can drive traffic by offering unique LTOs or buzzworthy shareable items.
According to Technomic’s 2017 Starters, Small Plates & Sides Consumer Trend Report, the small plates/appetizers that consumers say they’d be mostly likely to order are:
- Mozzarella sticks/fried cheese (55%).
- French fries (52%).
- Onion rings (49%).
- Potato skins (46%).
- Loaded fries (43%).
Whether celebrating a home team win with the guys or consoling the kids after a youth football loss, gathering around a big plate of craveable bites is what keeps people coming back for more, making these types of dishes an area of opportunity.
One of the fastest-growing small plates is loaded fries, according to Technomic’s Small Plates Q1-17 Grab-and-Go Report. But beyond this classic, other “loaded” apps are making appearances on menus, including breadsticks, guacamole, queso dip, potato skins and even wings. According to MenuMonitor, instances of loaded fries have grown about 10% year over year, and other dishes are slowly working their way into the hearts (and stomachs) of the masses.
The rise of shareable plates
Other menu items that are growing significantly are shareable foods. According to MenuMonitor, shareable plates have grown about 37% year over year. Shareable apps are perfect for consumers who want something to eat but aren’t very hungry, or those who want to try more than one item without having a whole plate to themselves.
With shareable appetizer plates, tables can choose from larger portions of a favorite app or a sampler plate of several foods. Shareable plates occasionally expand beyond appetizers, too—some restaurants offer shareable entrees or desserts, such as the shareable turtle sundae at Denny’s.
LTOs are a great way to attract more game day diners. Craveable dishes making the rounds right now include:
- Fried Pickle Chips at The WingHouse Bar & Grill: shareable, zesty dill chips hand-breaded and made to order.
- The Smoke Stack at Buffalo Wild Wings: crispy kettle chips topped with hickory-smoked pulled pork or grilled chicken tossed in honey BBQ, red and jalapeno peppers sauteed with chipotle BBQ, queso, green onions, smoked aioli and smoked BBQ sauce.
- Loaded Street Tots, Shrooms & Rings at Johnny Rockets: a shareable platter of potato tots, onion rings and deep-fried mushrooms.