The main course forms the core for food & beverage, or F&B, businesses. It may vary from a food dish or a hot selling beverages. Main course offerings are seen to play a key role in establishing a strong recall value with the F&B operator’s target group and in facilitating footfall increase and brand loyalty, thus boosting revenues.
Accordingly, the main course has always enjoyed the focus of foodservice operators as a core product offering that not only needs to be maintained and safeguarded in terms of quality, consistency, and signature taste but also needs to be improvised over time in order to incorporate changing taste preferences, if required. Thus so far, chefs and product innovation teams have focused more on the main dish as compared to side offerings.
However, in recent years, with increasing competition, foodservice operators and especially restaurant operators have realised that sales growth is triggered by consumers’ impulse purchase behaviour, and that side dishes or add-ons fit well into this category and help initiate such purchase.
Having said that, finding the right product which complements the main course is a prerequisite, as is recruiting well-trained frontline staff that can not only sell and deliver the same through a pragmatic and customised approach. A carefully crafted side dish can widen the product offering and also help the player diversify its menu without changing its core product.
The need to rev up sales despite ever increasing competition, and side offers becoming upselling products has encouraged food service operators to give equal, if not more, importance to getting a right mix of side offerings which matches their core product and suits their target group’s palate.
There are multiple key drivers for the growth of the side dish. The variety-seeking consumer who chooses to complement the main course, say, a burger, with such offerings as fries, and, in addition, the greater demand for non-potato-based sides is forcing players to develop different side offerings. Again, sides create room for product innovations which may not be possible with the core proposition, especially in the case of single product offerings like burgers and pizzas.
Restaurants understand that, for a price- or value driven offering, they can only charge a certain amount for the main product; however, they do have the opportunity of offering choices at a premium to the discerning consumer who is willing to spend more on the experience and variety.
Side dishes and even desserts can become a good differentiator and add to the core proposition. Big Chill Café, for instance, has carved a special niche for itself thanks to the vast popularity of its desserts. Sides offer a great upselling tool and increase the average price per consumer (APC) and revenues while generating business from non-peak hours.
The burgeoning beverage consumption is another reason for the increasing demand for side dishes by the consumer.
The recent focus on side dishes by prominent brands, including McDonald’s, Domino’s Pizza, etc. which have strong core offerings that have been widely recognised and accepted globally, confirms the growing importance of side dishes for sustaining growth of business revenues.
International giants like McDonald’s are developing and promoting side dishes like Veggie and Chicken pops, Veg Pizza McPuff, etc. to attract more footfalls and boost revenues.
Internationally, McDonald’s has been trying extensively to come up with innovations in side dishes and has sold chicken wings and mozzarella sticks. in few parts of the world.
On the other hand, in India, Domino’s Pizza has been developing and marketing their side order menu that offers over fifteen products, apart from dips and desserts, e.g. Breads, Pastas, Desserts, Dips, Italian Tacos, Chicken Wings, Chicken Kickers, etc.
Among casual dine (CDR) and and fine dine (FDR) operators, chefs have been more innovative in using health as a demand driver and are offering perceptibly healthy and innovative sides, with the
emergence of a greater variety of vegetables, rice,etc. on menus.
In the recent past, the desserts space, including ice-creams, within the menu mix has gained momentum as brands bid to capitaliSe
on the full meal experience by extending their menus. While QSRs have been adding puddings, soft serves, brownies, etc., CDRs and FDRs have indulged customers with everything from exotic, even alcoholic, kulfi flavours to gourmet ice creams and fusion desserts which have a western base with an Indian twist or vice-versa.
The importance of side dishes has gradually increased because of the added advantages they can provide, if tapped into correctly. The benefits include higher revenues through additional sales, especially in the hotels and restaurants segment, and the effectiveness across formats, be it a-l-a carte table service or a counter-service QSR restaurant.
This is coupled with an increase in menu offerings for consumers seeking appetizers or snacks and the fact that appetizers can be served as a standalone dish for customers who do not wish to have a full meal.
Side dishes also create additional touch points by widening the customer base as it encourages the economical customer, e.g. students and youth, to experience the brand more often. The underlying benefits offered by side dishes have encouraged brands to concentrate product development efforts and resources in this direction; the years to come will see still greater focus of side dishes and desserts as drivers of product differentiation and demand.