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Sneak peek: Appetizer report featuring key consumer insights, trends

4 min read

Restaurant and Foodservice

(Photo: Flickr user Dave 77459)

What comes to mind when you think of an appetizer? Is it a passed platter of mini deviled eggs, a hefty plate of loaded nachos, or perhaps something more akin to a pre-dinner snack? However defined, appetizers offer operators a check-boosting opportunity for business growth. Appetizers can be less costly to produce and can allow chefs to be more trendy and experimental in offerings. They’re also often the first items shown on a restaurant menu — which means appetizers give operators the perfect opportunity to create a resounding first impression with diners. And if there’s any doubt about how appetizers could affect a company’s bottom line, look at TGI Friday’s, whose “Endless Appetizers” deal was so popular that sales during the time the promotion was offered jumped double digits. In Datassential’s upcoming MenuTrends Keynote report, we take a look at meal starters and provide insight on how you can capitalize on and enhance appetizer offerings. The following is just a small taste of our extensive report — one that combines opinions and behaviors from consumers nationwide with appetizer purchase data from hundreds of operators; and menu and trend data from Datassential’s MenuTrends — a database with 15 million menu examples from more than 100,000 restaurant menus.

Consumers love classic appetizers

Garlic bread is one of America’s most popular appetizers, loved by 39% of consumers. As an appetizer, garlic bread is menued in a variety of ways: as a standalone, straightforward garlic bread starter; dressed up — such as a garlic bread bruschetta; or as an accompaniment to an appetizer dish of mussels or goat cheese dip. Wings, french fries and shrimp cocktail are equally loved by 35% of consumers. While 57% of restaurants have fries on the menu, most menu them as a side option. But with over one-third of consumers saying they love fries as an appetizer, moving fries to the appetizer menu or adding a fry-focused option like poutine could prove to be a potential opportunity for operators. Poutine is most often menued as an appetizer, and according to MenuTrends, the percentage of restaurants serving poutine has increased 600% over the past four years. Survey data also showed that french fries (or potato skins) and chips and salsa were the two appetizers people were most likely to have consumed most recently.

Hot, away-from-home appetizers are more popular

Although cold appetizers, such as on-trend raw protein preparations like crudo or ceviche, have grown in the past years, the majority of consumers are still choosing hot appetizers — in fact, nearly three-fourths of consumers said the last appetizer they ate was served hot. As to whether consumers are enjoying appetizers away from home or preparing them at home, we found that 65% of consumers had their last appetizer away from home. Perhaps to meet this demand of people consuming appetizers in restaurants, the size of appetizer menus are growing. According to MenuTrends, an average of 12 appetizers were found on menus in 2005, and that figure has grown to 15 on current menus. This is a clear contrast to how overall menu sizes are decreasing – which is in part also due to the trend of operators replacing traditional entrees with more small/shared plates.

The trendiest appetizer ingredients…

So, what are operators choosing to offer on their expanding appetizer menus? We looked at MenuTrends data for the fastest-growing ingredients and terms on appetizer menus over the past year, and the top three ingredients are giardiniera, quinoa, and kale. Giardiniera, an Italian mix of pickled vegetables, is traditionally used as a condiment for sandwiches or as part of an antipasto appetizer plate. At Cooper’s Hawk, an 18-unit winery/restaurant concept, giardineria is used as a topping on an Italian Sausage and Ricotta Dolce Flatbread, which also features pesto, mozzarella, and grated parmesan. Quinoa and kale, two ingredients that have seen significant growth throughout the industry, increased 112% and 106%, respectively, on appetizer menus in the past year.

And just as a good appetizer should, this is just a small sneak peek to awaken your appetite to all of the insights found in our comprehensive report, including when consumers are most likely to eat appetizers, the types of appetizers trending at certain types of operators, and much more.

Maeve Webster is the senior director of Datassential, a supplier of trends, analysis and concept testing for the food industry. For more information about ordering the MenuTrends Keynote Appetizers Report, contact Brian Darr at


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