I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that we live in a culture with a limited attention span. Our conversations consist of text messages punctuated by emojis and acronyms—BM&Y, FWIW, LMK, BRB! We tweet in 140 characters or less, Instagram in fewer than 20, and update our Facebook status every four to 10 minutes. So it should come as no surprise that we want to eat in a way that’s just as brief and exciting—enter the small plate phenomenon.
In early January, for instance, just days after the New Year, Marco Canora re-opened Hearth restaurant 10 years into its run. He freshened the room, renovated the space, and, most significantly, reimagined the menu with an emphasis on eating closer to the land and a new format—no more apps and entrées. Instead, it was filled with small- and medium-sized plates in categories such as fish, vegetables, meat, broth, grains, and offal.
“I didn’t want to change what we do stylistically,” he said. “Hearth is still deeply rooted in Italian cuisine, but the app and entrée format was not really working anymore. When I go out to eat, I don’t have an interest in an entrée-sized dish. I don’t want to eat 12 bites of the same thing, I like to order three apps, so I constructed the menu the way I want to eat, and I think, the way other people want to eat.”
Marco is not an outlier. According to Technomic’s MenuMonitor, the number of full-sized appetizer and entrée offerings decreased 8% last year, while small plates and shareables were an area of expansion, growing 10% over the last year. “These versatile offerings are helping operators showcase new flavors in a low-risk format, in addition to fulfilling consumers’ evolving need states, such as fewer fixed meals throughout the day,” said Bri Borchardt, Technomic’s Senior Product Manager.