Millennials have been swarming to this trend faster than they use Snapchat to share a selfie.
This new trend meets at the crossroads of many similar forces in the restaurant industry. The restaurant industry has seen eight consecutive months of decreased sales. The turnover rate in the restaurant industry is on the rise. As reported by Nation’s Restaurant News, it hit 72% in 2015. Along with labor shortage, there have been multiple headwinds facing the restaurant industry across the country, from rising of rent to minimum wages. When all of these forces converge, the industry as a whole has changed completely.
But this small plates trend didn’t just pop up overnight. It was born as an attempt to negate all of these forces and keep restaurants alive and relevant.
Who are millennials?
I know you’re sick of reading about who this generation is, and what they prefer, but I’m writing this article as a true matrix of just how and why this trend has gained traction. Pew Research Center reported that in April 2016, this group of people made up 75.4 million of people on earth, whereas the Baby Boomers made up 74.9 million. They have had a different upbringing than the boomer generation, and are known to prefer things like reading the news on their cell phones rather than from the paperboy. It is important to note that millennials crave an experience when dining out. A quick fix to filling the experience void for many restauranteurs has been updating their menus with small plates.
Oh small plates. Comedian Iliza Shlesinger has had plenty to say about this trend during her Freezing Hot Special On Netflix in 2015…
“I think it’s an absolute joke and I don’t want your tapas. I don’t like anything that comes to you on a wooden block, like you are eating your lunch at Home Depot. Some guy in the back with his bare hands balls up some ham in the corner and then throws some chards of manchego cheese and some haphazard drizzle of honey…”
It seems everyone is guilty of speaking on behalf of this small plate movement, heck, I’m guilty of it. It’s also important to react to this trend, and have the ability to analyze what it really means for the future of the industry.
Back of house talent is hard to find.
There are not enough cooks in kitchens across the country. This also has to do with Millennial work trends. Many millennials aspire to job hop more throughout their careers, rather than stay at one place and develop. The labor shortage for back of house restaurant jobs is a national problem, and the talent of this workforce has not been able to keep up with the demand. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predict that the number of kitchen jobs alone is predicted to grow by about 200,000 over the next decade.
My colleague, Lynne Morioka, spoke with Minneapolis restaurateur, Thomas Kim, owner of The Rabbit Hole on this very topic.
‘Kim’s issue was not a lack of job seekers, it was a lack of qualified applicants. “Out of 20 people, maybe one person – at most two – would be even semi-qualified for us to sit down with them. People are looking at kitchen jobs as the same as entry level retail jobs. They perceive that knowing what a knife is, means they have a skill set they could apply to this job.”’
Many restaurateurs are swapping their detailed and intricate concepts for dishes that require less skilled chefs, that peak millennial interests, just to stay open.
From an edible bug shield to Instagram famous.
This Spanish specialty was a royal accident. There are a few different legends of how it began, and a debate over which King was responsible for the idea. Basically, following a voyage along one of the longest routes in Andalusia, either King Alfonso XIII or King Fernando VII, arrived at a restaurant where he was served a glass of wine with a slice of cheese on top. The King knew that that piece of cheese was being used as a “Tapadera” or a cover to protect the glass of wine from bugs and dust. He ate it anyway, as well as his entire court.
The trend has obviously evolved, first in Spain and then around the world, to become a substitution for meals. To learn more about different tales of the tapa and how it originated, check out this site.
Bottom line: you don’t have to make your plates smaller to make your profit bigger.
This sad soliloquy of American cuisine must come to an end.
It is time to allow the entree to reintroduce itself. American’s need balance in their food. It’s unfair to just serve up gerbil sized portions of cheese and bread, what happened to the food pyramid?
In an interview with The Washington Post, chef Cedric Maupillier of Convivial said “Small plates were tired, the term ‘small plate’ was tired.”
The first restaurant he opened in D.C. featured entree sized options, figuring that Americans prefer big, balanced meals. However, he soon realized that they like options. He wanted the best of both worlds, mixing his preference for a balanced entree with a smaller serving size that could be shared still- the result? Medium plates.
He believes that this medium size is cost-effective and environmentally effective. There is no need for fluff, like garnishes and sauces, as well as streamlining the process, (tapas requires a lot more dishes served per shift.)
When generational preferences change, it’s human nature to change. However, don’t just hop on a bandwagon at the cost of quality and for the sake of a trend.