Not only do seasonal foods have tremendous benefits for both people and the planet, but they’re also increasingly in vogue, due in no small part to the inspiration of the White House Kitchen Garden.
In fact, consumers are showing a strong preference for all things seasonal, with CNN Money recently declaring, “Seasonal is the new local.”
As your restaurant prepares to make the shift from summer to autumn, let’s take a closer look at why seasonal matters, along with six tips aimed at helping ensure that your fall menu is seasonably pleasing to diners.
How Important Is a Seasonal Menu This Fall?
According to food-focused research and consulting firm Technomic’s Healthy Eating Consumer Trend Report, 59 percent of consumers indicate that they’re more likely to chose a restaurant menu item which is described as seasonal.
Furthermore, they also viewed seasonal items as more fresh (58 percent), more appetizing (49 percent) and healthier (39 percent).
Not only is the seasonal trend skyrocketing, but it’s doing so consistently across both full-service and limited-service segments. The takeaways for restaurants? They need to be both seasonal and flexible when designing their menus.
One last reason to switch up your menus this autumn? Of all of the seasonal bounties, fall flavors are perhaps the most evocative of the senses — from the colors to the scents to the feelings they convey.
6 Tips for Embracing Seasonality in Your Menu
1. Find the Right Vendor
Perhaps the most important step to take when designing your seasonal menu? The partnership of a trustworthy and helpful vendor. Not only can developing good relationships help you gain access to the best ingredients and prices, but it also boosts your confidence in the quality of your purchases.
2. Think Outside the Box
Sure, fall immediately brings to mind thoughts of pumpkin spice lattes and ice cream. But limiting the incorporation of seasonal flavors to just drinks and desserts is missing a major opportunity to innovate. From pumpkin sushi to pumpkin macaroni and cheese, restaurants are pushing the boundaries and delighting diners with creative new offerings.
If you’re falling short here, you’re likely falling behind. Research from Datassential MenuTrends indicates that pumpkins show up on 53 percent more menus than they did just four years ago. Leading the charge? Pumpkin appetizers, which spiked by 162 percent over the same period of time. Pumpkin entrees trailed appetizers with a still-impressive 92 percent growth rate.
But thinking outside the box also means thinking beyond everyone’s favorite round, orange, gourd. There are plenty of other iconic fall flavors to work with, including apple cinnamon, apple cider, caramel apple, beets, Brussels sprouts, ginger, pomegranate, mushrooms, cranberry, butternut squash, pear, maple and chai. The list goes on and on.
Gamier proteins, such as duck, lamb and mussels, are also seasonally appropriate in many regions of the country.
3. Embrace Experimentation
While your vendor can point you in the direction of seasonal flavor pairings, putting them together in an appetizing way comes down to your chef. While determining exactly how to incorporate ingredients into your dishes can take time, it’s an important endeavor — not only in terms of the taste of the final product, but also in terms of creating a balanced menu.
4. Train Your Staff
The most exciting new menu items in the world are meaningless if your staff isn’t able to aptly convey these offerings to diners. In addition to your back-of-house team, it’s critical to educate servers and other front-of-house staff about new additions to your menu.
Tastings are a terrific team-building effort, and also allow servers to provide firsthand personal recommendations when diners ask about a particular dish.
5. Get the Word Out
It’s a simple fact: Diners won’t come out to try your new fall menu if you don’t get the word out. Employ a multi-channel strategy to make sure all potential consumers are aware of your updated offerings.
In addition to email blasts, updating your website, and social media posts, taking out a newspaper ad can help you reach diners who haven’t yet completely entered the digital age.
6. Look at the Logistics
Rolling out a seasonal menu isn’t just a creative endeavor. There are also many logistical factors to take into consideration, such as determining when to debut new menu as well as which type of menu to use.
One tip when it comes to the former? According to QSR, seasonal menus are launching earlier than they have in the past. While October used to be prime time for the debut of fall flavors, more and more restaurants are catering to diner nostalgia by introducing fall items in September.
Of course, embracing the seasonal movement isn’t just about making your diners happy. Doing so can also lead to positive outcomes across everything from reducing waste and lowering food costs to maintaining sustainable operations.
And while all of that pumpkin, apple, and cinnamon will certainly taste delicious, they’ll be made sweeter still by the boost to your bottom line.