Sports Bars & Plant Forward Cuisine

March 2021

Depending on exactly how you classify them, there are between 25-30 sports bars in the top 200 chains. This unique sub-category of casual dining anticipate a higher check percentage towards beverage sales and are a favorite among consumers in the U.S. to gather and relax with family and friends, enjoy lunch or happy hour with coworkers, and enjoy the game. Menus are wide ranging and often need to appeal to a broad group of consumers, opening the door for innovation around plant-based and plant-forward options.

Culinary Appeal & Innovation Opportunities 

Sports bar menus are diverse and lentils can be the versatile ingredient that easily weaves into a number of key menu categories to increase interest and appeal among consumers looking for lighter, cleaner, more health-focused, or plant-forward menu items.

Burgers

Burgers are a mainstay on casual dining menus and a favorite way to introduce new trends to consumers. While there is a prevalence of branded plant-based burger options out there, sports bars can differentiate themselves by offering their own unique plant-based burger utilizing whole foods like lentils and sweet potatoes (a common and highly favored combination amongst consumers with triple digit growth in recent years) or look to blended options by combining plant and animal protein together.  For instance, combining beef and lentils in a smash burger creates a sensational caramelized crisp. Additionally, herbs and spices worked into patty mixes, or toppings and sauces can provide differentiation with new globally inspired LTO’s just by making small changes to the build. Over 40% of general consumers want to see lentils used in plant-based or blended burger applications (Datassential 2020).

Salads & Power Bowls

Sports bars and casual dining establishments under normal conditions see people gathering in groups which means you need good variety on the menu to satisfy everyone in the party, but that doesn’t mean you need to trade off taste and craveability. Trend-forward composed salads and power bowls have been seen taking over menus across segments and they are only going to continue to grow. Packed with interesting color, texture, and ingredients, power bowls are a great application to allow for safe experimentation, allow the consumer to try a new ingredient, flavor, or cuisine when it is paired with anchor items that are familiar and draw them in. Around 85% of consumers are looking to increase vegetable consumption (Datassential) and bowls are perfect vessel to do so, and also capitalize on the health halo effect of better-for-you menu items. Lentils are currently in the proliferation stage of the Menu Adoption Cycle in bowl applications, meaning they are seen as mainstream, and expected to grow 53% on menus in the next four years (Datassential 2021). Learn more about how consumers are consuming lentils in power bowl applications here.

Appetizers

Appetizers are a great avenue for culinary innovation and to increase check averages. 45% of consumers want to see lentils in appetizer menu items when dining out of home (Datassential 2020), and they align with many popular items on appetizer menus including tacos and lettuce wraps, nachos, and meatballs. There have been plenty of plant-based and plant-forward introductions across other areas of the menu, but less so in the appetizer category, so why not start innovating around smart swaps with lentil or lentil-blended crumbles in this area?

Why lentils at sports bars? We think there is fit across different menu categories and with strong appeal with a diverse mix of consumers:

  • Lean into protein – consumers are looking for ways to eat more protein and even looking perhaps for healthier, cleaner options that don’t scream health/nutrition but seem like natural choices. Use lentils to bulk up the protein in power bowls and salads. Just ½ cup cooked lentils provides 12 grams of protein and 8 grams of fiber, satisfying customers and keeping them full for longer.
  • Versatility – as was detailed above and showcased below, lentils fit in so many different applications across the entire menu and dishes. Depending on how adventurous your menu and consumer is, you can lean into global flavors and influences. 
  • Value – lentils are a great way to help with keeping food cost manageable, especially in the area of proteins.

Operational Perks

  • Easy to cook or purchase pre-cooked ready-to-eat options – lentils cook in only 15 minutes from dry if you already do scratch cooking at your restaurant, or you can purchase pre-cooked lentils and have them ready for a variety of applications.
  • Cross-utilization – Just 1 SKU can apply across a smash-burger, vegan burger, salad, power bowl, and taco crumble.
  • Prepared lentils hold nicely both warm and cold, making them a perfect base for bowls and salads in all formats.

Getting You Started

To get you started, Lentils.org has developed a number of recipes that fit perfectly into Sports-Bar Menus:

Burgers

Power Bowls & Salads

Appetizers