In this article, you will learn:
- how the seasonal menu leverage works
- how the calendar and creativity work for your profit
- what increases the average bill more than the selection of dishes
- who can help you promote your seasonal offer and how to make the best of it
The power of seasonal dishes and beverages is found in the limited offer mechanism, which is an ideal way to generate sales. Restaurants that efficiently redesign their menus will increase profits by even 10-15 percent (estimate by Menu Cover Depot).
Special seasonal drinks and unique dishes are a honey pot for guests and encourage increased spending with each visit. Please note that the popularity of a signature dish is not always reflected in its profitability. Even the biggest market players create menu items that are first and foremost to intrigue guests and encourage them to visit. The fine dining sector is especially skilled in this art. For example, in the autumn of 2021, the famous Copenhagen Noma offered a reindeer brain custard (served on a skull), a dumpling filled with bear stock, or duck brains.
However, the principle of encouraging guests by means of a limited offer also applies to popular venues or street food chains. Even if the flagship offers are sold with a small margin, or even at cost, the other menu items are designed in such a way that they earn larger profits for restaurant owners. Some seasonal products and dishes can even gain an iconic status, such as Starbucks's Pumpkin Spice Latte or McDonald's Lumberjack Burger.
In the pandemic, the bar of creativity for restaurateurs to attract guests has gone up. Seasonal menus are not only those based on products available in a given season. They include storytelling menus about culture, events, or even fashion.
It is also important to keep up-to-date with the current trends in the menu. McDonald's has greatly leveraged the personalization trend by introducing four new "menu hacks'' developed by customers. It includes the "Land, Air & Sea," a Big Mac that includes a McChicken and a Filet-o-Fish, in addition to the regular Big Mac ingredients. "We've all had those times when we couldn't decide between a burger, fish or chicken. McDonald's will let you get all three. On the same sandwich," explains the portal Restaurant Business. "This campaign shows that it has never been 'our menu.' The menu belongs to our fans," comments Jennifer Healan, Vice President of Marketing.
The latest Global Menu Innovation report shows nine other interesting trends that appear in chain restaurants around the world. One of the more interesting is the unabashed mixing of dishes, as in the case of Fettuccine Carbonara Chicken Tacos. It is a cheese-based pasta served in the fried chicken tacos and advertised as "handy". The vegetarian approach to popular street food is another interesting trend. Betos's Lomito Vegas replaces the classic slices of tenderloin with eggplant and fills the sandwich with eggs, mayonnaise, cheese, tomato and salad.
Another way to attract guests' attention is to use food in unusual colors. Indonesian Burger King offers a purple sandwich which includes a purple bun, as well as matching purple cabbage and blueberries. The purple menu also includes Korean fried chicken, purple ice cream and purple desserts.
How to set prices? The pandemic-induced workforce drain, as well as rising wages, prices and growing supply problems affect businesses worldwide. They disrupt restaurant profitability and cause price increases. On the other hand, they enforce more creativity in creating a restaurant's offer. This is why a diversified seasonal menu is a good tool and a pretext for a "camouflaged" price increase that is not discouraging for your guests.
It is a good idea to plan your seasonal menu well in advance, especially if it is to be based on perishable ingredients. If there is a chance that your fresh produce suppliers won't be able to provide enough seasonal ingredients, or that there is not enough proper storage space, you can always use a reputable semi-product supplier. For example, Aviko's sources its frozen goods directly from producers - local certified suppliers with years of proven record. Modern shock freezing technology keeps Aviko products as fresh as possible. This is a reliable solution to ensure quality and continuity of supply.
Analyze data from previous seasons and observe this year's results. This will help you to know which dishes to keep on the menu for the next year. Perhaps some of them will become your hallmark over time? The analysis will also allow you to determine which of last year's specials to replace with new ones.
The philosophy of building a seasonal menu may vary. It can take the form of an additional menu card, or become the principle of building a complete rotating menu. A rather extreme example is the New York Restaurant, Reverence. It operates in the spirit of lean, using only seasonal ingredients and offering only a tasting menu that changes often. Dining at this restaurant requires early booking and a downpayment (approximately $100 per person). Head chef Russel Jackson completes the meal in an unusual way: asking his guests what they didn't like and what he could improve. "I know it's going to take time for people to learn to trust me, but I've been doing this for over 36 years now professionally. I kind of know what I'm doing a little bit. Just give me the opportunity, that's all I'm saying." comments Jackson in an interview with Grubstreet.
Should the menu be eco-friendly? Restaurants are facing another task posed by their guests. They should pay attention to the growing trend of health and food quality awareness. Its importance is highlighted by the latest report "Direction: Restaurant of the Future" published by EIT Food. Among its co-authors are Polish restaurateurs and HoReCa professionals with many years of experience. It turns out there are many problems to meet these expectations: product availability, production capacity, transport and on-time delivery from the now-popular local producers and farmers. How can this be addressed?
One idea is to reduce the amount of products used and prepare a single product in many ways as a "themed menu". For example, a renowned British chef, Nuno Mendes, in his conversation with the Fine Dining Lovers portal gives four unusual spring leek recipes. It offers charred leeks and white asparagus, colcannon mashed potatoes with cabbage and leeks, creamed pea and leek soup with croutons, as well as buckwheat pancakes with leek filling.
Seasonality and creativity can affect not only dishes, but also drinks such asNew Year and other festive drinks, and summer holidays drinks, both alcoholic and nonalcoholic. A study by the NPD Group showed high correlation between food and beverage sales: seasonal beverages served as aperitif increase the average bill (the portal Snacking reported the average increase of 25% in summer 2020).
The margins, which typically range from 25% to 30% per beverage, are higher for specialty drinks that are compatible with the restaurant's theme. This is a great topic for waiters to discuss with guests and for communicating on social media.
During the winter season, hot cocktails with hot chocolate, cider, advocaat, or coffee are a very popular replacement for dessert. Spring offers can include subtle flavors such as apricots, avocados, or strawberries. Even avocados and celery remind us that life will flourish again. Summer cocktails with pineapple, lemon and mango or cool cucumber will certainly not fail you. When the first cold starts, cocktails full of gently sweet and earthy autumn tastes begin to dominate. You can use apple, pear, ginger, nuts, carrots, cranberry, fig, cinnamon and, of course, root spices. And when it gets really cold and unpleasant, you can opt for warm, sweet and cozy flavors such as maple, peppermint, chocolate and sweet froth. ("Menu Engineering for Bars: Boosting Menu Profitability" Binwise Guide).
The seasonal menu is a social media bait for the palate and the eye. Therefore, it is equally important to develop a strategy to promote it. Make sure you take creative photographs, videos, for example, with a chef or a barman for use in social media, and prepare sophisticated descriptions of available dishes, to be published on the website and on the menu.
The iconic Amisfield restaurant in Queenstown, New Zealand, presented its spring menu with a creative video. Its author is Head Vaughan Mabee is the winner of Cuisine's Good Food Awards 2019. The guests have been offered a selection of dishes prepared on a new open-fire stove located in the restaurant's courtyard. Cooking on live fire or coals adds a smoky taste to fish, lamb, venison Wellington, crayfish, asparagus, and mushrooms. "The result is a dining experience that is chosen by them while being interactive, playful, theatrical and, above all, delicious," comments Tony Stewart, Director of Food and Beverage in Amisfield.
Who can you serve the new menu to? Deliberation is recommended in building a database of regular guests. This is the audience that is most likely to be most welcoming to your novelties. Therefore, broad-scale communication could be a waste of money. The description should include the dates when the seasonal menu is available and, alternatively, the link for guests to book a table online.
The well-informed and committed waiter is the restaurant's most important marketing communication tool. The server team should try new offerings first so they get a better feel for the flavor and texture of the dish and know how to pair it with wine and drinks. Creative pairing is also a good test for vendors: they should help you match drinks to dishes and create a full, creative seasonal menu.
The menu launch is a great excuse to organize a special event, or a summer evening with music. It is also important to organize dinners with influencers, to ask their opinion. They could be engaged in writing the opening review of the seasonal menu on their blog, in an appealing InstaStory. Sometimes one well-chosen seasonal offer on the menu, such as summer truffles, is enough to fuel a blog review of the best culinary critic in London! Andy Hayler visited the Zafferano in London and praised the place for "excellent texture and the gentle earthy fragrance" of the mushrooms (served with pasta), awarding it 15 out of 20 points!
However, your restaurant does not have to be Michelin-starred to regularly attract loyal guests and steadily increase turnover. If your seasonal proposals are well thought out and paired with the rest of your offerings, the leverage of seasonal menus can work to your advantage all year round, regardless whether you run a pizza place, burger joint, street food, or even a bar with Belgian fries and beer!