As a growing population of snackers changes their eating-out behavior, consumers are doing a lot more mix-and-match dining. These days, an appetizer can be a snack, and a trio of small plates can make up a meal.

Foodservice consumers are looking for chances to customize the menu and often use small bites to supplement or replace a meal. All of these factors are pointing to growth opportunities for starters, small plates and sides. Their flexibility and downsized portions appeal more broadly to consumers and can fit a wider variety of dining occasions.

To help foodservice executives understand consumers’ related behaviors, preferences and attitudes, Technomic has published its new Starters, Small Plates & Sides Consumer Trend Report. Interesting findings include:

  • Most of the appetizers consumers order (59 percent) are eaten as starters. Meanwhile, consumers indicate that small plates are equally likely to be eaten as starters (34 percent) or as meals (33 percent), demonstrating the flexibility of these items.
  • Forty-six percent of consumers say they are less likely to order an entrée if it comes with a side they do not enjoy, and 36 percent often choose entrées based on the accompanying sides.
  • Two-fifths of consumers report that unique or ethnic flavors play a strong role in their appetizer (38 percent) and small-plate (39 percent) purchasing decisions. When it comes to sides, consumers are more reserved: 45 percent of consumers prefer a familiar side item over an unfamiliar one.

Technomic’s Starters, Small Plates & Sides Consumer Trend Report provides comprehensive research on the latest menu and consumer trends for these offerings.