Thanks to the dominance of smart phones, technology, and busy schedules, customers in 2019 are no stranger to isolation. Perhaps that’s why they’re looking for the exact opposite in their dining experience.
According to Technomic, 69% of consumers report that dining with friends contributes to a fun, exciting restaurant experience—more than any other factor. The desire to connect is about more than sharing table space. Shareable meals are one of the leading menu trends surging today. Whether it’s small plates, communal tables, or passable appetizers, the common factor is the common connection. An operator who can help a customer leave feeling not just physically full but emotionally fed -- that's an operator who has tapped into a much deeper craving.
If you like the idea of bringing people together, but aren’t exactly sure how to go about it, try some tips that are working in restaurants across the country—
- Create a Party Atmosphere. White tablecloths and candlelight are part of a universal code that suggests quiet, romantic dinners for two. Try out a different formula to signal fun times ahead. String lights, upbeat music, paper lanterns, and theme nights will help draw in groups looking for a bonding experience.
- Let Them Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Communal tables mean that customers can enter your restaurant strangers and leave friends. While the concept was born in major cities where space is at a premium, it translates to operations of all sizes. Some restaurants designate one table as communal and seat single diners or extroverts looking to meet new people. Others host communal diners like designated Sunday Suppers where a set pre-fix comfort menu and shared tables help create connections.
- Small Plates. Big Value. Small plates were the fourth biggest restaurant trend last year, according to the National Restaurant Association. Diners feel comfortable experimenting with new flavors or unfamiliar dishes because the perceived financial output is low and the opportunity to share is high. Tapas have been popular in Spanish countries throughout history. Follow suit by offering finger foods designed for sharing while socializing.
Fun is Better Shared. There are certain menu items that just don’t work for the single diner. Not so coincidentally, they also happen to be features with the highest fun factors. Supersized layer cakes, shareable dessert samplers, buckets of beer, punch bowl cocktails, and interactive family-style platters — are all examples of items that embody the shareable trend. What dish on your existing menu delivers the most fun? And how could that dish be tweaked to offer a shared experience? Whether it’s modifying an old favorite or adding something new entirely, sharing can mean caring.