Summer Salads Drive Sales

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Salads have always been one of the easiest sells and highest-profit menu items in a restaurant, but once customers start to tighten the grip on their wallets, they may also be one of the first menu items to stop moving. However, with the current trends in healthy eating and buying local and fresh produce, salads are not a tough sell if properly marketed. And, with an average food cost percentage of 25 percent, there’s no reason for any restaurant to miss out on these potentially high profits.

A recent online survey by Foodsight, called Consumer Insights on Salad, showed that people are ordering salads less than they were three years ago when dining out; 43% of consumers now say they sometimes order salads, compared to 89% in 2007. Almost one-third of those surveyed said that they don’t like the salads offered at restaurants. “The biggest trend in the restaurant industry is the impact of customers not eating out as much overall,” says Eric Cronert, Chicago-based vice president of marketing and merchandising at U.S. Foodservice. “I think salads and appetizers, as well desserts, must follow that natural trend; what customers have done is skip the salad and focus on the main course. But where we do see the growth in salads is as a main course, as entrées. Salads are still being perceived as fairly healthy and as a great value option for consumers, and they’re looking at them as a replacement for some of the heavier meals out there.” How can these consumers be convinced to order salads at your restaurant? Give them something they can’t make at home, make it look appealing so they feel their money is well-spent and keep prices down so they don’t have to spend much.

 

Driving Consumption

The Foodsight survey revealed that 42% of respondents would order salads if they were less expensive. For a product that is so inexpensive to make, much of the pricing is done on a perceived value scale that, in the customer’s mind, started changing with the economy. “There is no set pricing formula—it’s the perceived value,” explains Dave Smith, owner of Pizza Palace Plus (pizzapalaceplus.com) in Emporium, Pennsylvania. “You’re going to get more money out of a better product, and nothing on the salad is really expensive. It’s all about the care you put into making it look good for the customer.”

Making your salads stand out can also be done through unique ingredients or serving choices. “You can adapt portion size, scale the salads up, or use different ingredients,” Cronert says. “You could replace some of the protein items with on-trend items such as fresh or dried fruits. Healthier salad offerings with unique alternatives in lettuce and dressings are key to driving consumption.” And, because customers realize they can make salads at home, your ingredients are of utmost importance. “The value for the operator is to differentiate—customers may not be as innovative and adventurous when they make a salad at home compared to what a restaurant operator could offer,” Cronert concludes.

Indeed, price isn’t the only factor that deters people from ordering salads. Many customers have expressed that having higher-quality ingredients or unique flavor offerings would help convince them to purchase a salad, so get creative with the ingredients already in your kitchen. For his best-selling grilled chicken salad, Smith uses the cheese, dough and veggies from his pizza, accented with French fries from his appetizer menu, to offer a flavor combination that customers can’t get anywhere else.