Restaurants are appealing to nostalgic consumers by bringing childhood comforts to their menus. One of those comforts is pajama food, which refers to snacks that many adults munched on as kids while watching TV in their sleepwear. From potato chips to cereal and popcorn, this childhood grub is inspiring chefs to turn throwbacks into contemporary, innovative dishes. Doing so gives diners personalized experiences with concoctions that remind them of carefree times.
Here are some ways to bring pajama foods to the menu:
- Revamp sandwiches. Chips may be a traditional couch snack or side item, but adding them on top of sandwiches adds a crunchy texture and can complement bold tastes. In Indianapolis, the upscale diner Milktooth features a sloppy joe topped with pickles and potato chips. Once diners try the elevated, saucy sandwich, there’s no going back.
- Make them unique. Ethnic foods are everywhere, so why not add something different to globally inspired fare? Stand out by incorporating a classic American twist into cuisines influenced by other countries. At Mission Chinese Food in New York City and San Francisco, guests can order a fried rice dish made with potato chips, sawtooth herb and red onion. Adding popular and recognizable ingredients from guests’ childhoods can also make international delicacies more familiar and fun.
- Be creative. Milk Bar, a bakery with locations in the U.S. and Canada, is famous for drawing inspiration from what’s left in the bowl after you eat all the cereal. The chefs sweeten milk with this method and offer it in menu items such as the Cereal Milk Latte and Cornflake Marshmallow Cookies.
- Think savory. Cereal can enhance savory meals, from mac and cheese to turkey and other meats. The chefs at Vintage in New Market, Maryland, top their mac and cheese with Rice Krispies for a touch of confection, and the back-of-house staff at Graze outside of Charleston is mixing savory and sweet by cooking a variety of proteins in a cornflake batter.
- Don’t forget dessert. Treats often have strong connections to family celebrations and remind guests of special experiences. Ice cream is a nostalgic goodie that can feature even more childhood sweets, including brownies and cookies. By drawing on holiday memories and flavors, chefs can whip up new variations of the dessert, such as ice cream with pieces of apple pie or red velvet cake.
- Add a garnish. Some chefs sprinkle popcorn over meals as a finishing touch. At Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, popcorn tops the beer cheese and bacon soup. Farther north, guests can snack on roasted cauliflower hummus adorned with popcorn and roasted pepitas at New York City and Chicago’s The Little Beet Table.
Pajama food not only attracts adult customers but also adds kid-friendly elements that can draw families with young children. By featuring familiar ingredients in new ways, restaurant operators can provide patrons with unique options that rekindle fond memories.
Kruse, Nancy. Pajama party: Chips, cereal and popcorn bring whimsy to menus, Restaurant Hospitality, January 2019.
Flavor trends: Novelty vs. nostalgia, Restaurant Business, April 2018.