Over the past few years, a new format has started popping up all over restaurant menus, starting in the fast casual space and making its way to upscale and fine dining restaurants: It’s bowls-as-meals. Grain bowls, noodle bowls, poke bowls—a bowl by any name has just as many advantages, and that’s why we’re taking a look at what the concept entails and how to nail it at your restaurant.

What are bowls-as-meals?

That might sound like a simple question, but when it comes to this trend there are a few important factors to consider. First, most bowls begin with some sort of base, such as a grain like quinoa, farro, or rice. From there, chefs are only limited by their own creativity to come up with toppings and garnishes that bring together taste and texture in a pleasing way. There’s usually a protein, such as grilled chicken, ahi tuna, or marinated tofu, plus legumes, cheese, nuts and seeds, veggies and a sauce or dressing to pull the whole thing together as one cohesive dish. Bowls are all about balance. Typically a base, a protein and 4-6 garnishes, plus a sauce or dressing are all you need to make a complete, satisfying menu item.

Why do people love bowls so much?

The bowl concept feels light and fresh but also filling. There’s an impression of healthfulness and the ability to customize easily based on the guest’s preferences and dietary needs. Places like Chipotle familiarized diners with the concept of creating these types of dishes on a national scale, and now smaller chains and independently owned restaurants are seeing why—good profit margin and high customer satisfaction is a win-win!

How do you make bowls a stand-out on your menu?

Look at your menu as a whole and identify ingredients that people already love—maybe it’s a housemade sauce or some kind of chutney or pickle that folks just adore. Brainstorm complimentary flavors that would make that ingredient shine and begin to build a bowl around it, looking for the key elements—base, protein, garnishes, and sauce. Consider variations that allow the guests to make each bowl their own. From there, it’s all about presentation. One of the reasons bowls have surged in popularity lately is that they’re a hit on Instagram. People love to not only eat this way, but they also love to share it when they do; that’s a marketing win for restaurants, and thus an attractive presentation is key. Think of ways that you can best present your bowls-as-meals—maybe with exciting dishes or to-go containers that represent your brand in a clever and memorable way.

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