Think fish tacos only work at beachfront shacks, Mexican QSR chains or food trucks? Not so. New research shows it’s now more common to find fish tacos menued at casual dining operations or midscale restaurants than at their traditional haunts. The biggest opportunity: lunch.
It’s no wonder fish tacos have made so much headway in segments other then QSR. They’re no-brainers to make, consist mostly of fresh and healthful ingredients and are the rare seafood item that operators can sell at a modest price point. But you know fish tacos have found their place in the mainstream when big research outfits start to track their popularity.
Last year, Technomic reported that the incidence of fish tacos on restaurant menus in 2010 was up 22.5 percent over 2009. Now a research report issued by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI) is reporting 2011 data compiled by menu trend tracker firm Datassential showing that fish tacos have become an even-bigger force.
Consider these ASMI/Datassential findings:
• More than half, or 56 percent, of restaurants offering any sort of taco menu seafood tacos.
• Seafood tacos are most prevalent in casual dining, where their penetration tops 60 percent among those restaurants serving a taco.
• Seafood tacos account for nearly one-fifth of all tacos menued.
• Seafood tacos have achieved greater penetration on midscale restaurant menus (48.2 percent) than on QSR menus (43.6).
ASMI/Datassential also offers plenty of information about how fish tacos are described on casual/midscale menus. The basic dish consists of chunks of fish, cabbage shreds, pico de gallo and a Mexican-flavored white sauce, all of it combined in corn or flour tortillas, sometimes double-wrapped. Operators put their individual spins on some or all of these individual elements, but the key is that customers aren’t expecting to be served any particular species of fish. As long as the fish component of their taco is white and flaky, they’re good.
One takeaway for operators is that the further fish tacos stray from their origins on the beaches of Mexico, the less specific menu descriptions of them seem to get. Authenticity, or lack thereof, doesn’t seem to matter as much when fish tacos are added to broad menus at casual or midscale restaurants. As long as you serve customers tasty fish tacos, they will keep ordering them from you.
Even though the ASMI/Datassential research tells operators fish tacos have strong penetration on full-service menus, there is still plenty of room for growth. Keep this in mind when you plan your next round of menu additions or weekly specials.
Why? Consider this final data point from ASMI. Sixty-four percent of casual restaurant customers surveyed say that if they were offered more grilled fish/seafood sandwiches, they’d eat at casual restaurants more frequently at lunch. But only 36 percent of restaurants tracked by Datassential describe the fish in their fish taco as “grilled.” You seldom see a particular menu opportunity spelled out in such clear detail by research. Why not make the most of this one?