Sharing Plates—a Menu Category with Growing Opportunity

Veggies, bread and dip

Call them what you want—small plates, shareables—they’re still growing in popularity. Here are 5 on-trend ways you can incorporate them into your menu.

The sharing plates category marks one of the largest macro trends in foodservice today. It continues to evolve, presenting new opportunities as both modern flavour trends and dining habits inform its creative, flavour-forward menu development. The genesis of the trend can be traced to the mid 1980s, when Spanish tapas captured the imagination of many consumers. “Diners liked the idea of a unique and social eating experience,” says Gordon Food Service Culinary Chef Michael Viloria. 

The tapas craze evolved into a meze phenomenon, showcasing Mediterranean small plates for a broader flavour adventure. Eclectic restaurants, gastropubs and taverns soon picked up on the trend, leveraging the social, fun side of sharing plates. Propelling sharing plates forward and moving them deeper into a mega trend? The younger generations. Millennials and Gen Z gravitate toward the social aspect of dining. “And they help promote restaurants that serve it because sharing plates are perfect for social media consumption,” Viloria says.

Today’s opportunity comes from interpreting modern flavour trends through sharing plates.

Adding sharing plates does not require a brand overhaul or a re-engineering of the menu. Restaurants with some of the best practices have simply renamed and expanded their appetizers into small plates.
 
Here are three ways to do it:

  1. Eliminate side dishes and weave them into shared plates instead.
  2. Limit selection of entrées and make them designed for sharing.
  3. Rename appetizers as small plates/sharing plates for a modern feel.

“Tapping into this trend is a great way to serve up craveable items that will get your customers coming back for more,” Viloria says. “It sets you apart and increases your value proposition.”

5 Ways into the trend 

Through our ongoing research, we’ve identified five fantastic menu opportunities in sharing plates.

Option 1: Crocks & Spreads: From potted meats to cheese spreads, this ultra-shareable continues to gain traction on menus, interpreting various flavour trends in its many iterations while adding a housemade, artisanal cue that is all-important today. Cheese spreads pull from both the American Southern trend, with pimento cheese, for instance, as well as the micro-brew trend, adding premium beer to the mix. Middle Eastern inspiration makes a play here, too.

Crocks & Spreads on the Menu

  • Trio of Dips: Provençal white bean dip, olive tapenade, roasted red beet dip, roasted garlic served with toasted sourdough — Twisted Fork Bistro, Vancouver, B.C.
  • Labneh: Lebanese cream cheese, served with pita bread — Saj Mahal, Montreal

Option 2: Hummus Beyond Chickpeas: Leading the wave of Eastern Mediterranean exploration is hummus. And now comes the creative innovation around this shareable spread, where chefs are leveraging the familiarity and snackability of hummus, then turning it into a signature sharing plate. Looking past the chickpea also offers a great way to cross-utilize other pulses and vegetables, Viloria says. 

Hummus Beyond Chickpeas on the Menu

  • Green Chickpea + Avocado Hummus with garlic, tahini, fresh lemon, feta, mint, fresh baked pita — Belgard Kitchen, Vancouver, B.C.
  • Lamb Dukkah: Seared lamb patties, white bean hummus, Moroccan relish, sesame and chickpea dust —Tuc Craft Kitchen, Vancouver, B.C.

Option 3: Tartars & Crudos: We’ve seen a proliferation of Hawaiian poke on fast-casual menus, signaling a readiness from diners to explore raw and marinated products. Tartars, crudos, ceviches and poke fit beautifully into a sharing-plates strategy—serving up fresh, clean flavors in a fun, social format.

Tartars & Crudos on the Menu

  • Lobster Seviche with puffed squid ink, tiger de leche, Asian pear — Copetin, Toronto
  • Yellowtail Crudo with roasted poblano, Meyer lemon, ‘Monti Iblei' olive oil — Nightingale, Vancouver, B.C.
  • Beef Carpaccio: AAA rib-eye, shaved Asiago, crispy capers, Spanish onion, red pepper aïoli — BierCraft, Vancouver, B.C.

Option 4: Crunchy-Fried Items: It’s hard to get more craveable than a perfectly crispy bite. Creativity is king today, so look to dishes that showcase your kitchen’s innovative side, while tapping into favourite flavours and forms.

Crunchy-Fried Items on the Menu

  • Fried Cauliflower with instant ramen seasoning, lime — Momofuku Noodle Bar, Toronto
  • Fried Cod Brandade with spicy mayo — Pullman, Montreal

Option 5: Clam Dishes: The modern seafood trend puts forth a casual, approachable vibe, and clams—briny, familiar and delicious—fit nicely into this space. From larger clams grilled or served raw, maybe topped, then roasted or baked, to clams served in a flavourful broth or steamed and tossed in pasta.
 
Clam Dishes on the Menu

  • Clams with refrito, chorizo, white wine, toast — Portland Variety, Toronto
  • Steamed Manila clams with lemongrass and Thai basil, served with nahm jim sauce — Maenam, Vancouver, B.C.