If you’re a restaurant owner, the idea of making seasonal menu changes may seem daunting. After all, this could entail adding new menu items, updating ingredients, re-training staff, or all of the above. Additionally, there is an underlying fear that consistency will be lost if the menu is changed too frequently.
But, recurring menu updates don’t have to be an intimidating task. In fact, your menu can become a platform where your staff is able to get creative with in-season ingredients and food trends while you impress your regulars with new menu offerings and grow your customer base.
As far as consistency is concerned, you won’t lose customers – as long as your restaurant is delivering the same stellar experience again and again. In fact, you will likely gain new patrons because of the seasonally variety offered.
Here are seven tips for how you can change your menu seasonally without sacrificing consistency.
Keep Staple Items the Same
If you’re famous for your entrees and don’t want to change them, no problem. Leave the main part of the dish and opt to alternate the sides based on what’s in season. For example, if you feature a New York strip steak accompanied by two sides, in the winter you could offer it with Brussels sprouts and mashed potatoes, and in the spring you could offer asparagus and watercress greens topped with avocado.
Featuring in-season sides is an easy and unobtrusive way to change your menu while still maintaining the foundation of the dish.
Feature a Few Seasonal Dishes
As the seasons change, so does the produce available for consumption. Produce consumed during its season is fresher, richer in nutrients, and in its prime. Think fall squash, winter leeks, spring artichokes, and summer bell peppers — there are so many options and combinations available for your creative discovery!
If you play with seasonal offerings, customers will begin to anticipate your menu changes, and be excited to try them. Have fun and translate seasonal produce into mouth-watering masterpieces.
Play with Flavors
Different textures and tastes, especially when combined, can enhance the seasonality of a dish. For example, topping your arugula and feta salad with watermelon and mint will highlight summer flavors. Whereas sprinkling cinnamon and nutmeg on top of a slow-roasted duck entree will bring out the comforts of winter and make for a perfect Valentine’s Day restaurant promotion. There are limitless combinations you can showcase, and it’s an excellent way for your chefs to showcase their creativity and talent.
Notify Customers When You Change Your Menu
Imagine, you offer a pesto pasta dish on your menu year-round, switching out the toppings as the seasons change. Summer arrives, and so you use basil, pine nuts, and tomatoes for the pesto. A regular customer orders the dish, unaware of the addition of pine nuts. The food arrives much to the dismay of the customer, who is very allergic to pine nuts.
Always notify customers when you make changes to your menu. If you don’t, your restaurant’s dishes will be seen as inconsistent and could potentially be dangerous.
For frequent menu changes, place an asterisk* at the bottom of the menu stating, “Ingredients and flavors are subject to change”. Instruct staff to inform customers of any variations. Another option is to have rotating menus that can easily be swapped out at the start of a new season.
Retrain Staff as Needed
When you do change your menu, educate your staff on why certain changes were made. This will enable them to answer questions, upsell, and passionately convey why the menu has changed.
If you are a full-service venue, take your point of sale system tableside, cheat-sheet equipped with pictures and descriptions of the seasonal options and additives. By doing this your staff will always feel confident selling new additions and answering questions about preparation and ingredients.
Market Your Seasonal Offerings
Before launching your updated menu, market what’s coming to potential and loyal customers via your social media accounts and website. Change your cover photo on Facebook to feature a new dish, Instagram photos and descriptions of how the season’s are inspiring you, and feature the seasonal menu on your website.
Use popular hashtags to reach a bigger audience, and do interactive social media polls asking a question like, “What is your favorite winter dish?”. Then perhaps you feature the most popular answer on your menu for that season.
Set the expectation in advance so loyal and potential customers know what to expect of your restaurant when looking online.
Maintain Consistency Everywhere Else
Consistency is more than just about your food — in fact, food is only one part of your restaurant’s overall image. Service, ambiance, and the overall vibe also play an important role in the reputation of your venue.
As long as everything else about your restaurant has a stable image and guests always know what kind of an experience to expect, then seasonal menu changes won’t negatively impact your restaurant’s reputation. Instead, your venue will have four opportunities each year to experiment with new flavors and dishes, stay relevant in the ever-changing world of food, boost traffic, and increase sales!