Fast Foods

In the past year, restaurants have begun to aggressively chase consumers’ ever-increasing fondness for quick and portable foods. Chefs are hoping that small portions, big flavors and low prices will lure in hungry “snackers.” Across dining segments, many restaurants are aggressively competing to create the fastest and most filling snack foods.

The use of the word “snack” has increased significantly on restaurant menus over the last few years, according to Mintel Menu Insights. It grew 42% between 1Q 2005 and 3Q 2008.

As may be expected, quick-service restaurants hold the lion’s share of snacks on the menu (64%). Checkers offers Homestyle Chicken Strips that are available as a three-piece meal or a two-piece snack. McDonald’s continues to gain success with its Snack Wraps, and El Pollo Loco recently created a snack on its menu with Loco Nachos made with a generous helping of tortilla chips, delicious Jack cheese and poblano queso sauce...for only a buck!

Bringing American Back

With more Americans traveling the globe, ethnic cuisines first experienced abroad have become more popular at home. Many Americans have diversified their palates and become more intrigued with global cuisine, resulting in the emergence of authentic ingredients and cooking techniques in the U.S.

However, alongside this global movement, authentic American cooking has come into the light. The American restaurant menu is no stranger to “traditional American” menu items like cheeseburgers and meatloaf. Different flavors within the U.S. are being explored on the menu, as chefs expand their diners’ experience of homegrown, authentically American foods.

According to Mintel Menu Insights, regional American claims, such as Texas, Southern, California, New England, and simply American, can be found on menus from quick service to fine dining. They also appear on both food and beverage menus, as people increasingly crave their familiar favorites.

Union Oyster House serves American bouillabaisse made with lobster, steamers, mussels, shrimp, fish, littlenecks and scallops poached in a seasoned broth, served with garlic bread. The Peninsula Grill offers a Tea-Tini shaken with Stoli Ohranj with a splash of Southern Sweet Tea and presented with a sugared rim for extra sweetness. 

California is a leading locale for American food trends, but California cuisine has moved past the avocado. Oyster’s pays homage to the golden state by highlighting its trio of California Artisanal Cheeses, including Fiscalini two-year aged Cheddar with roasted marcona almonds and orange flower honey, Shaft’s bleu cheese with fresh grapes and Humbolt Fog with strawberry-basil salsa.

Must-have Salads

Entrée salads are a must-have on today’s menu. They appeal to consumers who like to eat their veggies and also to those who want something a bit lighter.

There are certain salads that the menu simply cannot do without. For example, no matter where one dines, a Caesar salad is likely to be on the menu. According to Mintel Menu Insights, Caesar salad is the number one salad, appearing on 53% of restaurant menus. Chicken, garden, Greek and Cobb round out the list for top five most-menued salads.

But, the salad menu does not stop at the top five salads. The salad bowl holds infinite innovation possibilities. Today’s newest salads mimic popular sandwiches. According to Mintel Menu Insights, club and BLT sandwiches are making their way onto the menu in salad form.

Carino’s Italian Grill makes its Chopped Club Salad from fresh greens tossed with gorgonzola vinaigrette and topped with sliced grilled chicken, applewood smoked bacon, spicy pepperoni, gorgonzola cheese, Asiago cheese and Roma tomatoes. It is served with garlic toast. Magnolia’s Restaurant also takes a cue from the sandwich menu with its Salmon BLT Salad. This salad combines grilled Atlantic salmon served on a goat cheese-crusted, toasted baguette with beefsteak tomatoes, apple-smoked bacon, arugula and a lemon-caper vinaigrette.

Mintel Menu Insights, a part of Mintel International Group, is a key resource for analyzing trends in the U.S. restaurant industry. The database tracks menu trends and innovations from the 350 largest chain restaurants and 150 independent restaurants, also featuring the nation’s top 50 chefs. Trends are reported quarterly, offering insight into pricing, menu items, ingredients, preparations and entirely new menus. For more information, visit or contact Mintel International at 312-932-0600.