Sweetgreen Launches “Plates” Today. Is the Food-Bowl Trend Finally Over?

The salad-bowl magnate is going square.

Plates! Photograph courtesy of Sweetgreen.

Salad-bowl magnate Sweetgreen is experimenting with something squarer, flatter, and hotter: “plates.” The DC-born chain announced today that it will launch a new dinner-esque menu category at all 100-plus locations nationally, offering nine healthful combinations of proteins such as hot honey chicken and tofu matched—not mixed—with veggies and grains.

So, is the build-your-own bowl trend over?

Well, no: Bowl-based meals are not going away. Sweetgreen’s salads and warm grain mixes remain the backbone of the $1 billion–plus company. “Plates” were slated to roll out next year—perhaps the timely demise of the circa-2018 bowl craze—but the health crisis sped the launch along. Not to mention the obliteration of quick-grab workday lunches  and demand for warm, comforting meals. (Sweetgreen plans to donate one plate to frontline workers for every one purchased.)

It may be a signal that restaurants are finally ready to think outside the poke and açai, ancient-grain, or power bowl. 

Just look at the sandwich pop-ups that have proliferated in the Covid era. Fine-dining and drinking spots including Seven Reasons and the Columbia Room are new sandwich destinations (for Soleado and Get a Hero Be a Hero, respectively). Former Spoken English chef Matt Crowley has his own sandwich shop out of the Columbia Room; Federalist Pig is packaging barbecue between bread at Kramerbooks; and buttery breakfast sandwiches are coming to Shaw.

Bowls are a trend of abundance and convenience, neither of which strikes the right tone right now. Standing in a tight lunch line, eyeing open, brimming containers of food, murmuring, “I’ll do avocado, no onions, medium dressing.” Rushing back to the office, self-perfected bowl in hand. It all seems foreign right now.

And we have time. Bowls are healthy-ish and multitasking-friendly. Something that can be consumed—carb-free!—before spin class. Or gracefully picked at during a lunch meeting. Or at your desk, fork in hand (no knife needed) while the other types away. 

These days, it feels like we all have time for a plate. And two hands for a sandwich.

Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.