As labor costs continue to rise, restaurant and retail foodservice operators are seeking ways to trim the work to produce a menu, but maintain a unique,
handcrafted approach that will keep customers coming back.
Three ways to accomplish both goals are relying on versatile
ingredients, leaning on speed-scratch options and adding
finishing touches with impact.
Ingredients that can do double or triple duty are lifesavers
for many restaurants and retailers. It starts with a well-
engineered menu that finds ways to maximize a smaller
inventory of basic ingredients. Items like housemade gravies,
sauces and dressings can make multiple appearances across
the right menu mix. Even more complex dishes like chili
or mac and cheese can stand on their own and be worked
into burgers, hot dogs, appetizer bites and other options. A
popular and easily prepped item like queso can boost the
flavor profile of nachos, sandwiches, Mexican-style pizza and
more. Marinara works in pizza, pasta, on sandwiches and as
a dip with breadsticks.
Relying on speed scratch goes a step further, removing
sometimes demanding and time-consuming prep work and
allowing kitchens to operate efficiently with fewer highly
skilled team members. Portion-controlled proteins—both
cooked and raw—eliminate the need for butchery skills.
Sauce, soup and gravy bases can boost the flavor of braises
and vegetables, inspire signature dips for appetizers and
fries, enhance sandwiches, bind casseroles and lasagnas and
more. Precut vegetables and fruits add a fresh element while
reducing not only labor but also waste. Specialized items like
desserts and breads are often better sourced parbaked from
specialty producers than handled in-house; baking them on
the premises reinforces the handcrafted image.
The sensory impact of flourishes added to meals, either on
the plate or in takeout containers, arguably have the most
impact on the handcrafted perception. The possibilities are
• Burgers and sandwich or wrap halves stacked creatively using
craft bamboo picks or signature wooden picks.
• Displays and vessels that add height and drama to fries and
• A shower of fresh herbs or fleur de sel over appetizers or
• Seasonal or holiday-themed touches: dessert portions dusted
with pumpkin spice in the fall, holiday-shaped cookies at
Christmas, heart-themed garnishes for Valentine’s Day.
• A pop of color—fruit and vegetable garnishes, fresh herbs—to
reinforce the fresh, made-here message.
• An unexpected touch: fried multicolored tortilla strips on the
salad that provide crunch and visual appeal, fresh-made
croutons atop or alongside soups, cheese grated over the pasta
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