Did you know that 59 percent of consumers say they’re more likely to purchase an item on a restaurant menu if it’s described as “seasonal”? In fact, according to research and consulting firm Technomic, 49 percent also said “seasonal” menu items are more appetizing, and another 39 percent believe “seasonal” dishes are healthier.
Considering some of biggest trends in the restaurant industry today, this data isn’t surprising. Across both the full-service and limited-service segments, natural, locally-sourced ingredients and sustainability are skyrocketing in popularity — and profitability.
And, given the limited availability of these ingredients, restaurant owners and operators are now feeling greater pressure to build some level of seasonality and flexibility into their menus.
The demand from consumers is obvious. But what’s the best way to manage these regular updates to your restaurant’s offerings? Below, we explain how to make the most of your seasonal menus and increase your restaurant sales.
Stand Out with Seasonality
When your business model includes seasonal menu updates, marketing your restaurant and boosting your brand awareness becomes much more straightforward. Build up anticipation for your new menu launch with a series of teasers posted across all your social media platforms. Then, when you make the big release announcement, include links to and pictures of dishes from the new menu with every post.
Throughout the season, continue to post photos of your seasonal menu items to promote LTOs. And, as the season winds down, boost interest in the menu with a “get it before it’s gone” message — while still building buzz for your next new menu.
Restaurants that succeed at seasonality tend to think outside the box when it comes to menu updates. Nearly every coffee shop has some version of a pumpkin spice latte from September to November, but pumpkin flavors aren’t limited to beverages and desserts.
In fact, according to DataSsential, pumpkin is appearing on 162 percent more appetizer menus, 92 percent more entrée menus, and 53 percent more menus overall, compared with 4 years ago. Dishes like curry pumpkin bisque, pumpkin tortellini, and even pumpkin mac and cheese make this seasonal favorite better than basic — and are a great way to entice customers seeking a taste of fall flavors.
To make your dishes stand apart from your competitors’ offerings, investigate the availability of ingredients during each season, factoring in your geographic area and access to local sources. For example, fall brings a variety of rich produce like beets, Brussels sprouts, and pomegranate, as well as gamier proteins like lamb, duck, and mussels.
Experiment with all the ways you can incorporate these ingredients into your menu, and use them across several dishes. Not only does this tie together your menu, it also helps reduce waste and keeps your operations more sustainable — in turn lowering food costs and further increasing profits.
Optimize from Farm to Print
The most important step to take when implementing seasonal menus is finding a vendor you can trust to provide fresh, local ingredients each season. By developing relationships with farmers and other suppliers, you’ll have more confidence in the quality of what you purchase — and could gain access to special deals or new offerings that can make your LTOs extra special.
Although not all of your ingredients need to be locally sourced, having reliable access to these ingredients reduces the stress of managing inventory and qualifies your restaurant as a more sustainable — and healthy — operation in the eyes of a consumer.
Another important piece of the seasonality puzzle is printing your new menus. If you’re only featuring a few specials each quarter, consider printing an additional one sheet of your seasonal offerings or an insert to include with your existing menu.
However, if you’re making significant changes to your offerings and prices, you’ll want to reprint your entire menu. No matter which route you choose, however, look to print about two menus for every three guests. This provides extra inventory if menus are torn, worn, lost, or stolen.
Updating your menu seasonally not only helps your business benefit from new items, it also sets an ideal timeline for analyzing your entire menu each quarter. Look to see how items have performed year over year, as well as how each item has performed over the quarter, to identify which dishes are your “stars” (items that are highly popular and profitable) versus your “dogs” (items that are less popular and profitable).
Also take the time each quarter to evaluate whether your menu design needs to be updated with a fresh look and optimized layout. Ultimately, knowing what has worked in the past helps you make informed decisions when creating new items for your menu, or even freshening up your current one.
Stay Nimble with Seasonal Changes
Your back-of-house team obviously needs to be aware of menu changes so they can execute the new dishes properly, but don’t forget to train your front-of-house staff — especially servers — on the updates, as well. The best way to get everyone on board, and sprinkle in some team building, is by hosting an all-employee tasting.
As the front-line marketers for your menu, your servers need to know every detail about the new dishes they’ll be recommending to your customers. While your servers are trying the dishes, be sure to describe each item in the way that can be used with a customer, so each staff member can respond appropriately when a diner asks what a dish is like or requests a personal recommendation.
Finally, when shifting your restaurant business model to focus on seasonality, you need to consider the impact frequent updates and these fresh, local ingredients will have on your back-of-house equipment and kitchen design. You may need to switch between simmering stews in the winter and chilling ceviche in the summer, so prepare your kitchen and staff to handle these operational shifts with the right procedures and equipment.
Since these local, fresh ingredients may have a shorter shelf life and higher cost, they also need to be optimized to their full use to balance the added expense. If you find that certain seasonal ingredients take longer prep time, make sure your kitchen crew is trained on how to handle these ingredients efficiently. To optimize production, you may also need to reorganize the layout of certain stations.
Looking at your operations with this year-round perspective, while keeping in mind the day-to-day details, will keep everything running smoothly season after season.
Looking to start using seasonal menus in your restaurant but need cash to fund all the changes? Learn how a merchant cash advance can help.