September 2007 Edition
Satisfying Fall Cravings with Innovative Cafeteria Menus

Satisfying Fall Cravings with Innovative Cafeteria Menus


By Michelle Ponto


With autumn approaching, students and employees are slipping out of vacation-mode and falling back into their regular routines.  Just because daily life is back to the regular grind, it doesn’t mean your cafeteria’s food has to follow the same pattern.  In fact, this is the perfect time to move from boring to innovative.


Start the Day off with a Bang

The foodservice industry is constantly evolving and over the last couple of years, quick-service restaurants have had to make drastic menu adjustments to keep up with new eating patterns.  The first of these adjustments is convenience breakfasts. 


Research shows that students who eat breakfast score better on tests and workers find it easier to concentrate on their morning work if they’ve had something to eat beforehand.  With 16 percent of Canadians eating fast-food breakfasts, it’s no wonder that this segment has one of the largest growth rates in the foodservice industry.  Recent statistics show that it accounts for over 18 percent of total daily restaurant traffic with the majority of consumers ranging between the ages of 18-34.


But not all breakfasts are the same.  Patrons who are eating their morning meal out-of-home can be price conscious, want speedy service and in many cases, are taking it to eat elsewhere – either in their work place or in the classroom.  They also are looking for more than just a muffin and coffee; they are looking for balanced meals that include eggs and other breakfast proteins such as bacon, ham and smoked salmon. 


To satisfy their needs, try offering breakfast sandwiches such as breakfast burritos, breakfast wraps and eggs on English muffins or bagels. Other creative offerings include frittatas, yogurt and granola, and protein shakes. 


There has also been a noticeable shift away from high carb breakfasts such as doughnuts and muffins, and fast-food venues across the country have been quick to respond to the demand. Franchises such as Tim Hortons, Starbucks and Burger King have transformed their usual offerings by introducing breakfast-style sandwiches on their menu.  Others have added pancakes, hash browns and more traditional breakfast foods. 


Whether you offer a breakfast sandwich or bacon and eggs, having items that are easy to take on-the-go will keep you competitive and keep your customers coming back.


Cashing in on Afternoon Pick-me-ups


Many cafeterias close down in the early afternoon, but with more and more people skipping lunch and grabbing a late day snack, it may be viable to stay open a little longer. The afternoon snacker has become a $1.5 billion business for the quick-service industry in Canada, and in order to meet the demand, chains have introduced snack-size sandwiches and wraps. Rather than offering a full-service hot meal section this late in the afternoon, you can cut back on labour costs by offering pre-made wraps, salads and gourmet treats such as brownies and cookies.


If you happen to be located in a University or school, you may want to experiment with energy drinks and protein bars for students who have sports practices after class. Whether it’s staying open a little longer or just ensuring your vending machine carries these specialty drinks, these customers are looking for a little energy boost to keep them going for the rest of the day.


Personalizing the Experience


Over the last few years, there has been a shift from assembly-line style dining to custom ordered food stations.  Consumers want choice and they want to feel in control of what they are eating. To help personalize the experience, cafeterias are offering everything from deli-style sandwich bars where the customer has their sandwiches made to order, to soup and salad bars.  Some have even included pasta bars and omelette stations.


While personalization is great, keep in mind not all your customers will have time for this option.  Make it easy for those who want to skip the “sandwich bar” line, by offering pre-packaged salads and sandwiches close-by.


The Changing of the Seasons

Just like the transition of summer to fall, cafeteria dining also changes.  The cooler weather makes it less enticing to go out to eat, bringing more customers to your establishment.  Offering them a variety of healthy meals such as low-fat pasta dishes, steamed vegetables with salmon, and other entrées, along with made-to-order counters, will keep them coming back – even when the weather is good – making your third quarter sales as bountiful as fall harvest.