Butternut squash ravioli in the fall, lobster rolls in the summer. Seasonal foods are the best way to keep things interesting while incorporating the freshest ingredients. Changing up your menu also gives you the opportunity to flex your creative muscles and try out a new recipe. But where do you even begin? When creating a seasonal menu, here are some things to keep in mind:
- Plan ahead. The best way to work with seasonal items is to look to the next season and research. By May, you could start preparing and brainstorming for June summer menu items. In July, look to fall dishes for September and so on. You may even choose to work further ahead. Chef & The Farmer plan a year out, freezing fresh ingredients throughout the year for the winter season.
- Learn from each season. Take note of which dishes worked best and for what time periods. Use what you learn from each season to plan for the year ahead.
- Produce isn’t the only way to incorporate fresh ingredients. Seasonal seafood, like lobsters, oysters or mussels, add unique flavors to otherwise ordinary dishes. For example, Barchetta in New York created a Spring Fettuccine with Lobster, English Peas, Spring Onions, and Sorrel. Here are some simple ideas to add seasonal seafood to your menu.
- Go local. Locally-sourced ingredients shouldn’t be anything new to your restaurant, but look to the farms and suppliers around you to find ingredients at the peak of perfection to add to your menu. This winter, look to incorporate vegetables like broccoli, kale and cabbage.
- Use customization. If you’re a QSR or fast casual establishment, seasonal menus can still work for you through customization. Places like Fusian in Cincinnati and Boloco in Boston feature local seasonal ingredients that diners can opt to add to their dishes.
- Think of it as research and development. Seasonal dishes are an opportunity to try new methods and dishes that can help to inform your core menu.
- Make it easy for your staff. Give your staff time to get acquainted with any new dishes and make sure they can easily describe it to curious diners.
- Roll it out. Use the right combination of social media, your website, inrestaurant signage, menu inserts, notations on menu boards and your staff to spread the excitement about new seasonal menu items. For more marketing ideas, check out this post on techniques for small restaurants.
- Get some input. Take the time to ask your staff what they look for each season. By making it fun and involving everyone in the process, suddenly everyone is energized and re-committed to the business and to marketing it.
- Have fun with it. Not only is a new season a new start, but the changing of the seasons also evokes fond memories and aromas for nearly everyone. Play with these familiar flavors and work to develop a menu that will help create new memories for your diners.
If you’re still on the fence on whether or not to try a seasonal menu, remember that they allow diners to discover new flavors and ingredients at their peak. They’re also temporary – so there’s no harm in trying something new. If anything, a seasonal menu change will hopefully inspire new creations and keep things fresh and exciting for both your staff and your patrons.