Fast Casual to Fast Food Are All in on the Bowl

Fast casual eateries like Dig Inn and CAVA have been popping up all over major cities, bringing bowl foods with them. Whether it’s superfood-filled smoothie bowls or McDonald’s Breakfast Bowls, bowls are everywhere—but is it a trend or a movement? For many cultures, using a bowl instead of a plate is standard. Here in the US, using a bowl to serve has generally reserved for soup maybe pasta, but not anymore. For a quick primer on the bowl food craze, read on.

What Are ‘Bowl Foods’?

Most fast-casual bowls consist of some mixture of grains, protein, veggies and a sauce. What’s distinctive about bowl architecture from other serving options: flexibility and customer perception.

Bowls allow kitchens to prepare simple, individual dishes that can quickly be added into meals to deliver a wide range of choices to customers. If you’re looking to draw in diners on vegan, paleo, and Whole30 diets, bowls are an easy way to do so without requiring complex recipes. Also, the innate structure of a bowl creates the illusion that more food is being served.

The Illusion of Plenty

On a plate, food is spread further apart, giving the same portion of food less prominence by comparison. But in a bowl, customers experience the feeling that they’ve received a heaping serving. This visual perception tends to elicit a positive response of value from customers; they feel that they got their money’s worth.

Charles Spence, an Oxford University taste psychologist who has studied the effects of dishware on perceptions of fullness, agrees. In a study of individuals eating the same portion of food from dishware of different sizes, Spence found that individuals believed that meals served on larger dishware were smaller.

According to Spence, a bowl’s weight can also affect the perception of the portion size. He claims that customers holding the bowls while they eat will experience more “fullness” through a subconscious expectation of a hearty meal.

In short, bowls can provide the health benefits of portion control in a way that is less noticeable. As part of a larger trend toward healthier eating, many customers are searching for ways to make eating more nutritious while still being enjoyable. For this reason, being able to provide customers with healthy options without giving off the idea that something is being sacrificed is especially valuable.

Seeing is Bowl-ieving

Beyond portion control, the aesthetic appeal of heaping bowls of colorful food is hard to ignore. From buddha bowls to poké bowls, Instagram and Facebook feeds are filled with the ubiquitous dishes. The limitless possibilities of different ingredients coupled with the proximity of colorful contrast make bowls undeniably pleasing to the eye.

This beauty of a bowl’s presentation can also serve as a valuable marketing tool for restaurants. When customers post photos of their food, restaurants are able to reach new prospective customers at no extra cost and with no added effort.

In With the Bowl, Out with the Plate

As the fast-casual sector continues to grow, the bowl has seemingly overtaken the plate. Customers have shifted their preferences toward limited service restaurants as they look for healthier and more convenient dining options. Nutritious, portable, and portion-controlled, bowl foods are here to stay.