When Modern Market Eatery started offering its new sous vide, garlic-rosemary, grass-fed steak sandwich, the menu simply called it a Steak Sandwich. The simple description wasn’t to save on word count, but to put guests at ease. Throughout the pandemic, consumers were hardly in a position to gravitate toward the unknown, and preferred to retreat from travel—both at home and on the plate.
This move from Modern Market was hardly an isolated instance of adjusting to new menu demands during the pandemic and pivoting to comfort over adventure. But as the pandemic winds down, restaurants are increasingly considering the future of flavor and what consumers might demand as normalcy gradually returns.
Nate Weir, vice president of culinary at Modern Restaurant Concepts, oversees menu development for fast casuals Modern Market and Lemonade. Before COVID-19, Weir was looking to implement more exploratory foods and offerings for the health-forward concepts, but the pandemic brought a resurgence in classics rather than palate-expanding flavors.
“What we found is that our core items have continued to do pretty well,” Weir says. “The narrative, I think, is that people were looking for some comfort and some familiarity, and were maybe being a little less adventurous overall. That seemed to continue throughout the rest of last year.”
At both Lemonade and Modern Market, consumers also gravitated toward some indulgence. As such, Weir says the group has made an effort to incorporate more luxurious options to its menus, like a Nutella & Maldon rice crispy treat and a Strawberry Nutella Liege Waffle.
Gen Z and millennial research group YPulse backs Weir’s observation about the move toward more comforting foods. It found in a 2020 survey that 69 percent of respondents believed indulgent food was their salvation in an anxious year. However, the study also found that 83 percent of respondents were eager to return to healthier eating. Weir noticed this health trend within his concepts as well, and says fulfilling the needs of these two seemingly opposite demands post-pandemic requires a delicate balance.
Nutritious foods will play a pivotal role in Modern Restaurant Concepts’ post-pandemic offerings. But instead of explicitly calling out certain dishes as “healthy,” the restaurants will give consumers the option to modify indulgent items, such as substituting cauliflower rice into Modern Market’s Mediterranean steak bowl…