Seafood should play a crucial role in your strategy as you gear up for the holiday season, a time when consumers are craving refined, distinctive options beyond the standard center-of-the plate entrées. According to Datassential, nearly two-thirds of consumers surveyed say they eat seafood regularly, and 43% say that seafood comes to mind as a first choice for special occasions. While an increased demand for seafood is expected during the holidays, consider how your operation can master the basics of seafood preparations, choosing simpler applications that put the focus on the high-quality product. From dips and spreads to memorable small plates, serve a variety of modest, yet creative seafood items showcasing high-profit products.
Back to Basics
With expectations that seafood hors d’oeuvres will be huge profit drivers in the coming months, prepare yourself by understanding the ins and outs of your products. Building a strong relationship with your seafood supplier is a significant step in becoming knowledgeable about your product offerings. The better ties you have with your supplier, the more accurate information you can relay about the fish to your customers. Our partners at Indian Ridge, Samuels & Son Seafood, and Pierport are masterful seafood buyers. If fresh seafood isn’t the best solution for your restaurant, high-quality IQF products from Hidden Bay and Pierport, such as IQF shellfish, squid, shrimp, finfish, and octopus, lend themselves perfectly to appetizer and small plate applications.
Once you’re fully acquainted with your product offerings, experiment with techniques that best showcase the items by considering the thickness, fat content, and natural flavor of the fish. Dry cooking methods such as grilling and baking are generally better for thicker cuts while techniques such as poaching, broiling, steaming, and sous vide are ideal options for thin fillets. For shellfish, steaming, roasting, simmering, sautéing, grilling, broiling, and poaching are all ideal cooking methods. When you’re confident with seafood fundamentals, you give yourself more flexibility to creatively bring out the best flavors of the fish and flawlessly execute the dishes that make the seafood shine.
Make a Splash with Seafood Apps
According to Statista, seacuterie (a combination of seafood and charcuterie) is a leading appetizer trend on menus. Seacuterie presents opportunity for chefs to take less than perfect cuts of seafood and showcase them in a unique, cost-effective way. Just like traditional charcuterie, you can highlight seafood using various techniques such as smoking, curing, grinding, and pickling. From salmon “pastrami” and pickled shrimp to scallop mortadella and tuna ‘nduja, promote a seasonal offering that redefines the traditional charcuterie plate with succulent seafood.
Diners are willing to take more chances with appetizers because they represent a smaller commitment than main entrées, especially when they’re promoted as shareable. With poké continuing to be on-trend, entice customers with a shareable guacamole poké bowl served with chips. Or, pair familiar flavors with less familiar fish varieties by serving buffalo-style octopus. It’s also smart to showcase your restaurant’s support of sustainability by making use of distinct fish parts on your appetizer menu. Serve fish collars, skin, and cheeks with familiar sauces to deliver unique, rich tastes that help diners expand their palates and promote sustainability.
Seafood Done Simply
Pristine seafood doesn’t necessarily require a sauce or additional components. Consider sauces and garnishes only when they accentuate and/or showcase the natural fish flavors. Raw bars are an excellent option for highlighting the natural tastes of seafood. Amen Street located in Charleston, SC, has an upscale, yet accessible raw bar that includes mussels with candied garlic vinaigrette and oysters and clams with assorted sauces. They also serve shrimp ceviche and tuna carpaccio topped with capers, shallots, and fresh herb oil. From oysters, shrimp, caviar, and clams to ahi tuna poké, ceviche, and tuna tartare, consider implementing a raw bar onto your menu with select items that showcase your culinary craftsmanship and enrich your brand.
Oysters are the most common raw bar offering, making it crucial for your restaurant to differentiate your oysters from the competition. Consider incorporating ethnic flavors to separate your oysters from the pack by offering Mediterranean oysters topped with herbs, garlic, feta, capers, and red pepper. You can also make your raw bar stand out by displaying your sustainability efforts. Cull & Pistol Oyster Bar in New York, NY, notes next to its oyster items that $1 of proceeds will be donated to the Billion Oyster Project, an effort to restore one billion oysters to New York Harbor by 2030. Seafood sustainability has been a wide reaching trend of 2018 and supporting a sustainable-forward cause can make a bold statement, boosting your restaurant’s reputation and driving sales.
While raw bars feature seafood in its most natural state, other simple preparations can improve the fish’s innate taste as well. According to Statista, the top favored seafood preparation methods include grilled (47%), fried (35%), baked (31%), and fresh (29%). Menu a variety of preparations such as sous vide scallops, pan-seared shrimp and lobster cakes with almond cream, or grilled polenta with salt cod mousse and tomato olive jam. Previous Maines Food Show special guest, Marc Forgionne, features simply prepared calamari and tuna on his menu paired with fresh ingredients. He serves Calamari Panzanella with peppers, eggplant caponata, and balsamic onions and Tuna Tartare with crème fraiche, shiso, tahini, and black pepper papadum. Utilize simple components such as seasonal produce and fresh herbs to enhance seafood without overwhelming its natural essence.
Capture Customers’ Attention with a Prix Fixe Menu
According to Datassential, seafood limited-time offers present long-term benefits by identifying breakout LTOs that would perform well on the permanent menu.
A strategic approach for menuing limited-time seafood items is implementing a seasonal prix fixe (“fixed price”) menu. These menus are often associated with upscale, expensive restaurants; however, a prix fixe menu will perform well during the holiday season at any restaurant, whether casual or high-end. The significant demand for dining out during the holidays drives customers to purchase reservations for ticketed events, such as a prix fixe dinner, presenting the perfect platform for showcasing seafood items. Prix fixe menus make high-profit seafood varieties more accessible to customers and increase the likeliness of them ordering these items off your menu throughout the year. Promote your menu with a theme such as “ocean to table” or “tastes from the sea” to attract more guests. Be sure to announce your event on your website and social media platforms to generate buzz and urge more customers to reserve their spots in advance. This allows you to get a clear head count or price per person for the night, allowing the focus to completely shift to producing a superior seafood menu.
When building your prix fixe seafood menu, consider flavors, textures, and aesthetics. Whether it’s experimenting with a trending concept or showing off fresh ingredients, chefs can showcase their creativity and make a statement throughout these courses. Highlight the edible flower trend by incorporating herbaceous tastes into a hibiscus cured salmon offering. Intrigue diners with unfamiliar seafood selections such as baccala (salted cod) paired with more familiar varieties, such as in a baccala and smoked trout fritter with olive aioli. To speak to the essence of the celebratory season, try poaching fresh catches such as shrimp in rosé to increase the charm and elegance of seafood. According to Datassential, 2 out of 5 operators say positioning seafood as a healthy, better-for-you choice is the most effective way to market seafood. Capture the attention of health-conscious customers by transforming the average chips and dip starter into a healthful offering with rutabaga chips and a spicy crab and lobster dip. No matter what seafood items you feature, focus on keeping things sophisticated, yet simple, highlighting high-profit items, and showing off your restaurant’s potential to gain repeat customers.
Incorporating too many components into seafood items can engulf their freshness and decrease their charm. As diners come flooding through your doors during the festive season, be ready to serve them an array of succulent seafood starters presented in simple, distinct ways that will help customers celebrate the season, improve your restaurant, and increase profits.