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.