Sometimes it’s good to remember that not everyone dines at trendy restaurants. Whether for financial considerations or because a person finds modern food trends unpalatable, eating at a restaurant that’s convenient and affordable may have more appeal than dropping big money at some flavor of the month.
Ikea understands. The global furniture giant has redesigned the restaurants in its stores nationwide to feature more organic produce and sustainable proteins. Seeing as the restaurant is, according to marketing manager Kae Bruney, “a comfort offering for our customers” rather than a profit center, it can offer food at prices that allow a family of four to eat fairly healthy food for about $25. The store will celebrate this relaunch all weekend with a series of promotions, including gift cards for the first 100 people through the door Friday after 5 pm and a $9.99, all-you-can-eat brunch on Sunday
In addition to changing the food, Ikea has redesigned the layout of the restaurant — fully furnished with items that are available for purchase from the store, natch — into different areas that suit different needs. The "rest and recharge" area features couches and wireless charging stations. A cafe area of high-top tables aims for diners who just want something quick like a cup of coffee or dessert. Full restaurant style seating, complete with a few tables for large families, allows people to have a full meal, and Bruney says some people are taking them up on it.
“We have a lot of people come in the morning for work meetings,” Bruney says. “We have a lot of parents that come. You’re driving home, you pick up the kids from school. It’s later in the evening. It’s a really convenient place to stop, and our kid’s menu isn’t just chicken fingers and pizza.”
Ikea will always been known for Swedish meatballs, gravlax, and Swedish pancakes, but a recent menu refresh has brought some new additions like a spinach salad with strawberries and pecans. Even those signature meatballs now come in both chicken and vegan form in addition to the traditional mix of beef and pork.
Whether it’s part of an attempt to be authentically Swedish or simply a way to appeal to as many people around the world as possible, the flavors, as presented during a media tasting, are pretty bland, especially compared to the usual amount of garlic, black pepper, and salt that punches up most restaurant dishes. Perhaps bring some hot sauce in your bag to perk it up.
Cooking techniques are similarly designed for efficiency over flavor. The vegetables that come with a salmon filet are limp. Any illusions of scratch cooking go out the window when one sees almost every item available for sale (and mostly frozen) in the downstairs Swedish market.
Still, the entrees are under $10, and two kids per adult eat free every Tuesday. Beyond the novelty value of the meatballs, Ikea will never be a food destination, but it’s solidly healthier than almost anything that comes from a drive-thru at a fast food spot while still being competitive in terms of price. That counts for something. Maybe even more than a cynical food writer wants to give it credit for.