Restaurateurs don’t need to open a dedicated tapas restaurant to take advantage of the popular trend. People are eating smaller plates of food and greater varieties of dishes and cuisines. The tapas trend isn’t just about food but includes greater social sharing of food and beverages, often while discussing culinary topics.

Benefits for restaurants of the tapas trend and diner preferences for smaller food plates include lower food costs, better turnover of staple restaurant ingredients and higher prices for aggregate meals. Tapas nights are an attractive option for attracting new diners and energizing regular customers. Tasting events encourage a stronger sense of community and loyalty among restaurant patrons who enjoy sharing highly seasoned foods and sparkling conversation in casual atmospheres.

Tapas Overview, History and Trends

Tapas entertainment has been popular in Spain for centuries. Finger foods designed for nibbling while socializing, tapas meals were usually served between 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. and often accompanied by wine or other spirits. Of course, restaurants today aren’t limited by cuisine, ingredients, hours or access to the ocean. Modern tapas menus include such diverse offerings as:

  • Scotch eggs
  • Sea urchin with squid-ink pudding
  • Eggs prepared sous vide
  • Blackened redfish kabobs
  • Mexican and Asian dishes
  • Regional American specialties like Boston baked beans, fritters, barbecue and shrimp and grits

The Rise of Shrinking Portions

Nutritional labeling guidelines and rising prices have helped to generate a change in dining habits. Restaurants are cutting calories, fats and sugar while serving smaller portions in every area of the country. New York’s strict menu labeling guidelines and ban on trans fats have survived court challenges to become the standard for local municipalities that are considering menu-labeling regulations. For restaurants, the healthier food and smaller portion trends deliver the following benefits:

  • Shrinkflation allows restaurants to charge the same amount or more for smaller portions.
  • Tasting menus and tapas presentations make paying more for smaller portions more palatable to consumers.
  • Bans on larger sized sugary beverages and voluntary cutbacks of supersized combos make tasting menus and tapas meals more attractive options for diners.
  • Restaurant can establish reputations for providing healthier foods while making more money.
  • Social media interaction and greater interest in ethnic cuisines and sustainable foods make the sampling approach ideal for Millennials, environmentalists and advocates of sustainable and ethical food sourcing.
  • Healthier customers live longer and remain loyal for decades.

Typical Tapas Dishes and Revolutionary Fusions

Tapas foods consist of hot, cold and marinated dishes that are often spicy and flavored with cumin, chili peppers, paprika, garlic, saffron and best quality olive oil. Typical tapas dishes include chorizo, gazpacho, appetizers, meatballs, battered squid rings, stuffed peppers, Spanish omelets, frittatas, marinated olives, Serrano ham, stuffed shellfish, crab, oysters and mussels, toasted breads with various toppings, and miniature servings of the grandest tapas food—paella, the saffron-flavored seafood, sausage and rice dish.

Modern fusions of tapas and other culinary styles create a culture where anything goes. Tapas can be served at breakfast, lunch or brunch and options for tapas-style meals include healthy foods and special diets such as vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free foods.

Sharing small plates of food while unwinding after a hectic day and talking with friends and associates over drinks or a glass of wine have tremendous social appeal. The small plate trend can be called tapas, tasting menus, finger foods, combination plates or appetizers as entrées, but the terminology is less important than the convivial atmosphere of bar or restaurant patrons conversing with friends and sampling exciting culinary flavors.

Restaurateurs can use the tapas trend to start a dialog about sustainable farming, promote new menu items or give customers an option to order smaller, healthier portions of any regular-sized entrée. Introducing tapas-style dining keeps diners returning to enjoy creative tapas fusion foods, complementary wines and other beverages and stimulating conversations.