Restaurant sales can be hard to predict around the holidays with so many factors contributing to growth or decline. Generally, holiday restaurant sales tend to mimic retails sales. If that is true to form, then we are looking at a good year in 2018 as retail sales are predicted to be up 4 percent from last year.
It seems that the joy of the holidays tends to make diners feel like splurging on food as well. According to Grubhub, restaurants that have seasonal items on their menu report 26 percent more sales and checks that are 23 percent higher than other times of year. So why not plan a seasonal menu to draw customers, new and old, through your doors?
Below are seven benefits of incorporating a seasonal menu.
- Lower food costs. Foods that are in season cost less. It is a simple rule of supply and demand. Certain foods are easy to grow this time of year, such as squash, kale, and root vegetables. As they become abundant the farming industry can sell them at lower prices based on shear volume; giving operators better buying power.
- Improved flavor profiles. The taste of seasonal menu items is just as important as the cost savings allowed. Most of the food that we purchase are held in warehouses and transported quite a distance before it ever makes it into our inventory, which affects the taste. Buying locally grown seasonal items allows us to create great dishes with higher quality, flavor, and texture using less ingredients.
- Low-cost menu items. Think beyond produce when considering seasonal menu items. Think chili, stew and soup, or comfort dishes such as meatloaf or pot pie. These options are always a big hit in the cold winter months and they tend to be low food cost recipes.
- High-margin seasonal cocktails. Don’t forget the drinks. Seasonal cocktails are just as trendy as seasonal dishes. Adding a few high-margin specialty drinks such as hard apple cider, whiskey coffee, or winter beers can be a great addition to any seasonal menu and a boost to your bottom line.
- Increased marketing power. Adding new menu items is a great reason for you to reach out to customers and prospects. If feasible, offer coupons such as 25 percent off the check, free appetizer, or a free dessert. Advertise added menu items via direct email, on your Facebook page, Instagram, Twitter, and any other apps that you are subscribed to. Ask your family and friends to share your menu on their pages as well.
- Sparked customer interest. Your regulars may be delighted to see new items on your menu. Change, even when temporary, can peek the interest in your current customer base and put you on the radar of new prospects that are looking for something different to try.
- Re-engaged employees. Employees can tend to go into auto-pilot during the holiday season. Instead of concentrating on work, they are dealing with their own holiday plans, gift lists, and family or travel matters to worry about. Try running contests for the highest sales of seasonal menu items to get your staff excited about promoting the seasonal menu.
Tips for seasonal menu success
If you are tempted to try a seasonal menu but still not convinced, try a singular seasonal item such as soup or dessert to test the waters. The results of the trial can let you know if it works for your concept and your customers.
If you are incorporating locally sourced seasonal produce, find a reliable source with references. The last thing you want to do is create an amazing menu that is a big hit only to be unable to deliver it. Some of your regular vendors will be able to supply seasonal items but be careful not to promote them as “locally grown” unless you are sure of the source as diners will be interested where the food comes from.
Be sure that all your employees are well trained on the seasonal menu items. The back-of-house-staff needs to know exactly how to execute the dishes consistently. And, it is nearly impossible for servers to upsell items that you do not have details on. The best way to get everyone excited is by hosting an all-employee tasting and use the words that they should be using to customers while explaining the dishes.
Rather than recreating your menu to include short-lived menu items — which can be pricey — promote seasonal items on table tents and special boards. If your restaurant does a lot of catering or take out, be sure to include a printed flyer listing seasonal menu items along with their order. Reminding diners that these selections are available for a “limited-time-only” may encourage people to splurge on new items.
So, determine what’s in season and what’s in demand right now and start figuring out an appetizing and profitable seasonal menu. You’ll be rewarded with satisfied customers, higher profits and rejuvenated employees. It may also help win new customers that dine at your restaurant all year long.