Get more out of your kitchen with incredible side dishes

Aug 3, 2022

Independent restaurants are known for their exceptional food, and a lot of effort typically goes into the centre of the plate. However, the most successful establishments know that to really set yourself apart from the competition, every bite on the plate has to be phenomenal—including your sides, sauces and even your garnishes. Fortunately, there are ways to do this in a timely, cost effective manner.

Here are some easy but incredibly effective tips for getting more out of your kitchen—and it all starts with side dishes.

Good food isn’t filler

An amazing protein or other centre of the plate is a must, but that doesn’t mean the rest of the meal should be filler—that’s a huge missed opportunity. Your side dishes may constitute as much as two thirds of the plate, and they need to be as appealing as the main item. When your side dishes are lackluster, it takes away from the overall customer experience and lowers the perceived quality of your establishment. You can do better, and it may be easier than you’d think.

Give them options

Instead of offering basic mixed vegetables and fries, mashed potatoes or rice, create a well thought out menu of delicious, interesting side dishes that complement your core offering. This may include a house-made potato salad, a pasta salad, fresh local vegetables, salads made with high quality ingredients and house-made vinaigrettes, a quinoa-based grain salad, roasted root vegetables and more. Be known for your incredible Greek salad, summer panzanella and crispy Brussels sprouts, or have featured side dishes along with your featured mains. The possibilities are endless—think about glazing carrots instead of steaming them, using seasoning blends to develop mouthwatering flavour profiles, and adding texture with nuts, seeds and other elements. Garnish with sauces, specialty condiments or fresh herbs and suddenly you’ve got some unforgettable sides—if your mains weren’t so good, they’d be the star of the show!

To do this in a cost effective way, look at the ingredients you’re using and think of new ways to utilize them as side dishes. For example, if you’re ordering a large quantity of potatoes to make some creamy garlic mashed potatoes, consider making a fantastic potato salad and some roast potatoes as well. Or, turn leftover mashed potatoes into fritters! Mix things up with a variety of flavours and textures, and be sure your servers are trained to make excellent recommendations (for example, a mustard-forward potato salad with that herby salmon dish). They should know how to pair things intentionally based on guidance from the chef, and how to pass these recommendations on to the customer. This is how you create memorable, appealing dishes while separating yourself from chain restaurants and the competition. A few more tips:

  • Offer your side dishes a la carte so they can be selected based on preference, added on to meals or shared family-style. Your sides should be an upsell!
  • Consider offering a potato and/or vegetable of the day (braised root vegetables and twice-baked potatoes with fresh herbs, for example).
  • Incorporate healthy options like green salads made with fresh, local ingredients, some sauteed greens or a hearty grain salad.
  • Consider vegan and vegetarian options as well as items seasoned with crispy bacon bits or local cheese.
  • Utilize ingredients you’re already buying (especially if you see them going to waste) like potatoes, seasonal vegetables or even bread.
  • Make good use of off-cuts and any pieces of produce that may otherwise go to waste (for example, celery leaves or beet greens).
  • Experiment with pickling and other exciting vegetable preparations to add an acidic punch to salads and sides.
  • Incorporate plenty of low cost items with a high profit margin. The labour (and time) involved should be minimized, too.
  • Change your menu with the seasons to focus on local foods that are both inexpensive and at peak quality. You should be doing this with your mains as well!

The bottom line: your side dishes should never be an afterthought. After all, who is going to want to order steamed carrots when they could get roasted heirloom carrots with a honey lemon yogurt drizzle? There’s no comparison, and we know which restaurant you want to be (and which one customers are telling their friends about and going back to).

Morton is here to help

The Morton Food Service team is available to help you develop outstanding side dishes that are simple to prepare, cost effective and designed to show off the seasons. We can also support your independent restaurant from a systems and process perspective, offering comprehensive advice honed from years of industry experience. Please contact us to learn more and initiate a discussion with our team of foodservice experts. Remember, we’re a part of your extended team, and we’re here to help you thrive and grow.