Seasonal menus are all the rage right now. From a farm-to-table autumn degustation to a soup of the week in winter and a rotating seasonal summer cocktail, consumers are riding the seasonal menu trend like never before. In fact, 49% of consumers think a seasonal menu is more appetising. To them, seasonal means fresh and it means full of flavour — two things crucial when creating dishes for your menu.
Sure, as a restaurant owner or venue manager, it’ll take a bit of effort to seasonally update your menu. You might need to source new produce suppliers, visit local grocers to see what’s in season and in abundance and help your chefs find the time to be innovative and come up with new dishes. You’ll also need to train staff on the new menu items so that they can upsell the hell out of them, and reprint your physical menu or update your digital one.
But trust us, the rewards are worth the effort.
What are the benefits of a seasonal menu?
Your chefs can get creative
Creating a seasonal restaurant menu means your chefs have the platform to tap into their inner creativity. It gives them a means to be innovative and as a chef, that can go a long way when you’re cooking the same dishes, day in and day out.
You can explore new flavours
There’s no doubt about it: a seasonal menu gives your venue the ability to explore a diverse range of flavours, produce and foods. Different seasons play host to different foods and a rotating menu gives your restaurant the ability to tap into this diversity and play with all these flavours.
While a classic winter menu might showcase such ingredients as apples, potatoes, brussels sprouts, collard greens, citrus, persimmons and squash, a summer menu can be just as diverse. Think everything from avocados, asparagus and watermelon to cherries, peppers and tomatoes. Then you have spring which is best for radish, fennel and mint; and autumn where you can showcase beetroot, broccoli, bok choy, and silverbeet.
It’s also important to remember that a seasonal menu gives you the means to use produce that is at its peak.; Flavours are more robust, giving dishes fuller, more distinct taste thanks to the ingredients used.
You stay relevant
It’s no secret that we crave different foods at different times of the year. Summer calls for fresh, fun, cooling meals, while winter screams warming comfort dishes and hearty ingredients. And after all, it’s important to give your customers what they want - it’s what will keep them coming back for more.
So stay relevant to the season and offer soups, stews and slow roasts in winter and salads, plenty of fresh seafood and even cold soups in summer. It can also be a great way to throw big calendar holidays into the mix by doing things like creating a seasonal Valentine’s Day dessert or playing with pumpkin in your dishes come Halloween.
It keeps your staff engaged
When you have a seasonal menu change — whether it’s an entire menu or a few dishes — your staff have something new to sell. A menu tasting is a great way to have waiters and bar staff experience what they’re selling, and ultimately being able to sell it better.
A tasting involves whipping up new menu items and having the chefs talk to the staff about the produce that’s in season, the flavours they chose and the reasons certain ingredients are stand-outs. This way, your wait staff can fall in love with the dishes — just like you did when you decided to give it the greenlight and feature it on the menu.
Waste not, want not
At me&u, we’re all about minimising food waste. A seasonal menu gets the sustainability tick of approval. Reducing the amount of food you discard at the end of each week — which can happen when items aren’t in season — is both better for the environment and the community.
The importance of sustainability to customers and consumers is higher than ever, so a seasonal menu can go a long way in showing new and existing customers that you are doing your part to reduce food waste and use in-season foods.
It cuts your costs
A seasonal menu will also decrease the cost of goods sold, meaning more profit in your pocket at the end of the week. A seasonal menu also means there is less chance of buying produce that is sub-par, which you might consequently throw away.
A seasonal menu should also see your ingredient or grocery costs drop. In-season produce is cheaper because it is abundant. Not only are you buying more flavourful produce, you’re also getting more bang for your buck.
You can #supportlocal
More often than not, a seasonal menu means turning to local farmers and grocers for locally-sourced foods. This local angle is sure to please customers, who love knowing that their favourite venues not only support local businesses, but also have fresher produce due to the location of the food source. In short, the closer produce is sourced to your establishment, the fresher it is likely to be. Plus, the closer the food source, the less environmental impact you have due to a reduced use of transport — and reduced transport equals less pollution.
In addition to doing a good thing, the #supportlocal movement is critical right now as we recover from COVID-19 which is why, more than ever, customers are going out of their way to shop at local grocers, butchers and fishmongers, and are now more likely to eat at a local, family-run restaurant over a chain.
You can grow produce on site
Having an on-site herb garden is both ultra-impressive to your customers and very convenient for you. Customers appreciate the effort that goes into growing food and produce on site, and will often choose dishes with grown-on-site ingredients off the menu. But don’t underestimate how helpful it might be for your staff. Need that sprig of thyme for a cocktail garnish or those few coriander leaves to top off the curry? Just head out the back and grab it!
And don’t forget…
It’s not just about the food! Seasonality benefits the bar side of things, too. If it’s cold outside, consider throwing a hot toddy, mulled wine or Irish coffee on the menu and see how much your customers lean into it.
Using seasonal ingredients in your cocktail or drinks list can be a huge hit. Whether it’s a pumpkin-spiced latte in winter or a cucumber and mint capriosca in summer, locally-sourced, in-season ingredients can really put a spin on your drinks list, help you stand out from the crowd, and inspire your bartenders to be their most creative.
How can you leverage a seasonal menu?
Use it as marketing
Leaning into seasonality gives you four additional times a year that you can drive revenue and acquire new customers. Every time you change or update your menu, announce it! Send out an email to your mailing list and splash it across your social media platforms.
It’ll get your loyal customers wanting to come in and try the new dishes, and can entice new customers who haven’t dined at your establishment to head in and try the new menu or dishes. After all, people love something new that they can talk about and share with their friends.
Have a launch night
What’s better than a social announcement? A launch night! Word-of-mouth marketing can often be the best form of advertising, so grab your closest friends and family and showcase your newest seasonal menu. Rest assured, it will be posted on social media and others will hear about it.
Use it to obtain partnerships
Partnerships can be huge for growing your brand and your business. Think about collaborating with famed chefs to create a dish inspired by them. Not only will it cause hype and make it very article-worthy for publications like Broadsheet, Time Out and Urban List, chances are the chef will post it on their socials, too, allowing you to tap into a new audience and fresh customer base.
Our tips for creating a seasonal menu
If it’s overwhelming to change your menu at the beginning of each season, then don’t. Working within your bandwidth is important, so don’t spread yourself too thin. Creating four menus a year can be a lot, so maybe just start with two changes. It’ll be a welcome change and will deliver benefits mentioned above.
A great way to inspire a new menu is to head to your local grocer, butcher or fishmonger. See what they’re selling, ask them what they’ll be getting in, and get their opinion on what foods will be the best quality for the upcoming season. After all, they are the experts.
Not everything has to be seasonal
It’s important to remember that not everything has to be seasonal. If you have a favourite supplier for olive oil, lamb or chicken, keep that supplier. Don’t change the menu items that are fan favourites or that are making you the most money. Seasonality is something that can be sprinkled into a menu, rather than overhauling it.
Focus on fruits on veg
Keeping a focus on the in-season fruits and vegetables is a sure-fire way to allow for chef creativity and to interest new customers. With the vegan and vegetarian trend at an all-time high, it’s important to cater to this dietary requirement and offer vegan dishes that are heavily veggie-focused.
Keep it simple
Like with anything, overcomplicating things can sometimes have you missing the mark. Don’t overwhelm your chefs by overhauling the entire menu, and don’t overwhelm your customers by overtly pushing the seasonality aspect and ingredient-stuffing your dishes. Simplicity can go a long way.
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