Cooking it old school - add a little retro to your restaurant menu - Brand Points Plus Canada

Cooking it old school – add a little retro to your restaurant menu

Taking customers back to a simpler time through bites on your menu can bring very up-to-date new dollars to your bottom line. Whether it is fallout from dealing with COVID for way too long, or Canadians generally longing for the times in our lives that felt easier and safer, a quick trip down memory lane is, increasingly, through our tastebuds. But rest assured, you don’t need to completely revamp your menu to add some retro flavour.

For some, it just takes a phrase – cruising the strip on Friday night. For others, just a word – fondue. A few music notes might be all it takes. Or it might even just be an ingredient – maraschino cherries. All evoke memories of simpler, less COVID times.

Give your customers a moment in time, their time. The demographic of your guests will determine which decade or decades your menu (and bar) additions could play in. 

Add a little retro to your restaurant menu

When it comes to food, retro is not necessarily about the flavour or taste. Retro is about the feeling that menu item or ingredient or style of presentation evokes.  

No need to fully commit. It doesn’t have to be the whole menu or even an entire meal.  

Sprinkle some memories all over the menu – a devilled egg here, a jellied salad there, Tequila Sunrise at the bar, Black Forest Cake for dessert. It doesn’t take much to add retro chic to the vibe.


Sprinkle some memories all over the menu – a devilled egg here, a jellied salad there, Tequila Sunrise at the bar, Black Forest Cake for dessert. It doesn’t take much to add retro chic to the vibe.


If you can’t decide or have a smorgasbord of ideas you want to try out, retro options lend perfectly to LTOs. They are time offers, after all. So, take a spin through the decades until something clicks – with you and your diners.  

“Make mine retro” is an approach that might appeal to guests who love customizing their meals. They still get to order their favourite dishes from your menu but can give them a retro spin with a selection of add-ons – devilled eggs, scalloped potatoes, layered jelly, vegetable croquette.

Share the memories

Sharables bring people together. Adding some menu items that start conversations about the good ole days will fill your customers’ cravings for delicious comradery.

Retro night – change the music, adjust the lighting, make a few menu additions and you are ready to go. Pick a decade and jump all in or cycle through the decades each week. 

Involve your guests – costume contest, trivia, vote for favourites (song/music artist, movie, tv show, fashion). Everyone is yearning for events, involvement and new experiences.

Take the 1950s, a very evocative decade. Change your music selection to Elvis, Frankie, Dean, maybe even a little Johnny Cash.  Brighten the lighting and give your waitstaff a bandana (hair, neck or back pocket). 

1950’s Menu Ideas

  • Cocktail Hour – Manhattans and Sidecars, Stuffed Celery and Shrimp Cocktail
  • Salad – Jellied Salad and Three Bean Salad
  • Main – Chicken a la King in Puff Pastry
  • Dessert – Chiffon Cake or Pineapple Upside Down Cake

How about shareable options? Platters or even retro flights. Pick a decade or offer a selection of items spanning decades. A retro flight could be used to travel the decades one bite at a time – bar selections, appetizers and desserts are a great fit for a trip back in time.

Try retro-fitted upgrades in your restaurant menu

Bringing a recipe back from the past to meet current trends while pleasing the nostalgic palate is a smart approach.

Do you remember hoping your mom would order French onion soup when you were a kid? That drool-worthy soup would arrive at the table, with broiled cheese melting generously over the side of the ovenproof crock. Remember impatiently waiting for it to cool enough to get that first extra cheesy bite, even suffering through a piece of onion? 

You likely aren’t the only person with fond memories of this starter.

Sure, you can keep it classic, if that suits your brand. But consider giving it an upgrade to make it yours – stand out from the crowd.  It doesn’t take much.

How to adapt your restaurant menu:

Current TrendsHow to Adapt
VegetarianSwap beef broth with vegetable broth, swap traditional gruyere with a smoked cheddar for a deeper flavour profile
Plant-BasedSwap out beef broth, use a plant-based fat to caramelize onions, add mushrooms to increase the umami flavours
Gluten-FreeSwap out bread for gluten-free options – bread or buns, first toasted before adding to the soup will keep their shape
Dairy-FreeSwap out cheese for non-dairy cheese product that has good melting properties
HealthyCut the amount of fat used to caramelize the onions, add more vegetables, shredded carrots, and cabbage, even some crushed tomatoes; slice bread thinner and use shredded cheese to get more spread, using less product
CustomizableOffer customers a choice of cheese (old cheddar, gouda, swiss, gruyere or a blend), serving size, extra onions, double the croûte
LocalAll the ingredients for this simple yet rich soup are available in Canada
Simplified PrepHeat ready-to-use onion soup, toast bread slices, top with pre-shredded cheese broil and it’s ready 

Whether you call it retro or nostalgic, it all comes down to comfort and remembering a time when things felt happy and right… When we were all younger and lives seemed simpler, easier and safer. All it takes is one bite to bring back the flavour, fun and fondness. It might be so popular that old school becomes new school.

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