How Restaurants Can Add More Meat to the Appetizer Menu


Did you know that a restaurant that offers a healthy assortment of meat and fresh vegetable entrees that are low in carbohydrates and high in protein and nutritional value, are the top choice for consumers? From the proliferation of eating trends like the keto diet, to individuals who follow low-carbohydrate meal plans for food health (such as the Whole 30 or Atkin’s Diet), consumers have never been more aware of the value of protein rich meals.

And the restaurant industry, needs to listen carefully and respond to that trend and growing demand for low carbohydrate meals.  While many menus are carefully balanced to provide flavors and assortment that appeal both to customers and to profitability margins for the business, the pressure to increase high protein content menu items is not without concern for restaurant owners and investors.

How do you appease the growing demand for protein on food service menus, while avoiding increased cost per meal inflation due to rising costs of natural proteins like chicken, beef, pork and turkey? By innovating new recipes on your appetizer or bar menu.

Changing the Appetizer Menu to Appeal to a Broader Range of Customers

Appetizers have not always been a healthy start to a fun and nutritious dining experience for restaurant goers.  In fact, if you evaluate the menus of many fast-casual and family dining establishments, they tend to be snack food oriented.  A few healthy salads, but other carbohydrate laden offerings including hot bread sticks, loaded potato skins, deep fried mushrooms, tortilla chips, queso and salsa, mini-flatbread pizza’s, wraps, spring rolls and similar offerings.

The limitation of appetizer variety is a missed opportunity and revenue for restaurants.  Individuals with dietary restrictions including diabetes, Celiac disease, and gluten intolerance typically have one choice; the salad.  And one of the most traditional protein friendly appetizers (the chicken wing) is a less profitable choice for restaurants, as the cost of the speciality meat has continued to increase for wholesale customers.

What if we could change the options provided on an appetizer menu, to offer more nutritionally balanced options that focus on hearty beef, turkey or pork meat instead? In terms of economy of scale and pricing strategy, appetizers can be profit centers if the customer sees additional nutritional value worth paying a ‘little extra for”. It sounds like a win/win for both the diner and the food service establishment.

Finding the Right Carnivorous Appetizers for Your Establishment

Using principles of economies of scale, it makes sense for restaurants to offer appetizers which share most (or all) of the same ingredients used to prepare lunch and dinner entrees.  This helps reduce food spoilage and increase volume discount purchasing for the restaurant.

The next step is to identify creative appetizers that fit the culture and theme of your restaurant.  If you operate a scratch kitchen where ‘anything goes’ as far as the Chef’s selection of food fusion, you have more flexibility than a specialty restaurant, with a narrower focus.

What kind of appetizers are restaurant diners talking about?   Here are three protein rich (and low-carb) recipes and ideas you may want to consider:

  1. Asian Turkey Meatballs

With a sweet and savory Asian inspired sauce, these red-meat alternative meatballs can become a hearty and satisfying appetizer for any restaurant.  Garnish with fresh green onion and sesame seeds, with a little extra sauce on the side for dipping.  Get the recipe.

Source Web 2018:

  1. Low Carb Steak Fajita Roll-Ups

Flank steak surrounds delicious fresh peppers and sweet red onions to eliminate the extra carbs of a tortilla roll.  Try this recipe for a savory beef appetizer, that is elegant and unconventional with all the great Mexican flavors your customers crave.

Source Web 2018:

  1. Chorizo and Cheddar Stuffed Jalapeño Poppers

When you eliminate the cream cheese filling and the battered exterior of the classic popper, you create a new appetizer that is friendlier to low-carb and gluten restricted diets.  The robust flavor of Chorizo makes this popper a great appetizer or bar menu item, and it is really satisfying.

Source Web 2018:


Remember, appetizers are not only a preview to the main menu.  Increasingly individuals are quick-dining and ordering appetizers for lunch, or as part of bar service later in the evening.  Coordinate your appetizers with alcoholic and non-alcoholic complimenting beverage suggestions, to increase your per-customer transaction value.

Marketing New Low Carb Menu Appetizers: Get Social with Your Apps!

When you look food service menus, the ‘healthy eating’ suggestion section is usually quite small.  It’s good to see those heart healthy and lower fat or calorie menu suggestions as a courtesy to patrons.  But where the intention falls short, is that the meals are with few exceptions, not as palatable or appealing as the less healthy entrees and appetizers.

Stepping into the decision-making process of the restaurant customer, who would really like to order a carbohydrate rich entrée, such as a pasta or personal pizza, wouldn’t it make sense to balance the nutritional value of the meal by offering a healthy protein appetizer?  And that is one way to market a new menu that promotes high-protein meals and starters.

After you have decided on the new protein appetizers you plan to offer, there are a few ways that restaurant owners can encourage customers to try them out.  First, in the waiting or reception area, use signage or POP advertising to announce the new appetizers.   Some studies have demonstrated that displaying pictures of appetizers before the guest is seated, strongly influences the purchase decision to order an appetizer (rather than skip to the main entrée).

Another method of soft promotion for appetizers is through the wait staff.  Not only should they announce the specials, but they should encourage guests to try out the new appetizers.  If you are marketing based on a healthy eating theme, it’s important for wait staff to be able to quickly answer questions about calories, carbohydrates and protein content per serving.  That information should also be provided on the menu for customers.

Some restaurants launch a test menu of new appetizers, adding 1-3 different varieties to the menu at the same time, while asking for patrons to vote on their favorite one.   This is a great way to ensure that the new appetizers create a fan like following, and helps to boost sales volume, if your customers were involved in the approval process.  It feels good to be asked for an opinion, by your favorite restaurant, and to be part of deciding what to keep and what to remove from the menu.

Host a promotion incentive to get your patrons sharing your new appetizers on Instagram!   Customers can be your biggest advocates and word of mouth (WOM) advertisers.  Make it fun, or make it competitive with tangible rewards, like gift certificates for a complimentary appetizer.  Run an advertising campaign that encourages customer feedback and participation, in exchange for a coupon code to discount their next meal in your establishment.

What does your restaurant or establishment serve for appetizers on your menu?  Leave us a comment on our blog or visit our Facebook page to share with us.  We’d enjoy hearing your suggestions.