This article first appeared in the 1 November 2007 issue of Restaurants & Institutions (R&I).
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Bite-size burgers rank only No. 32 in appearances on appetizer menus, but they come in at No. 8 among appetizers that operators say are increasing in sales and No. 1 among appetizers operators are thinking of adding to their menus. Crab cakes, too, are riding a wave of popularity-62.4% of fine-dining restaurants offer them, and they are No. 2 on the list of appetizers operators are considering adding. Additionally, they place fourth, behind only chicken wings, chicken strips and calamari, on the list of appetizers operators consider to be among their top three best sellers.
Chicken is king at both commercial and noncommercial operations: 38.8% of commercial operations and 31.3% of noncommercial operations menu chicken strips. At casual-dining restaurants, chicken wings are menued slightly more often than chicken strips-wings show up on 50.2% of menus; strips appear on 45.7% of menus.
Additionally, across restaurant styles, mixed platters are gaining ground. They rank second to chicken wings among appetizers that operators report are increasing in sales.
Also of note from R&I's 2007 Menu Census data:
International inspiration: Appetizers that incorporate flavors from abroad abound on the list of thinking-of-adding items. Bruschetta, Spanish-style tapas, Asian lettuce wraps, pot stickers and hummus all find spots among the top 10 items being considered for addition to menus.
Seafood sensation: The top four appetizers increasing in sales at fine-dining restaurants? Calamari (20.7%), crab cakes (19.5%), seared tuna (18.3%) and oysters/raw bar (15.9%).
Fiesta time: Beyond chicken, combo platters and calamari, nachos and quesadillas lead the sales-growth list at casual-dining restaurants.
Calamari: The eminently poppable rings rank fourth on the increasing-in-sales list. Among establishments that serve appetizers, just under 21% of fine-dining operators and 16.8% of hotel operators report seeing rising calamari sales-making calamari No. 1 on the list for fine-dining restaurants and No. 2 for hotels.
Mozzarella sticks: College students love their fried cheese. Mozzarella sticks are No. 3 on the top-sellers list for colleges and universities, behind chicken strips and chicken wings.
Chicken tenders: More than four in 10 family-dining operators (41.7%) place chicken strips/fingers/tenders on their top-sellers list. Tenders lead by a large margin over wings and mozzarella sticks, which tie for No. 2 at 28.3%. -C.L.