Spice up Your Menu: A Pan for All Seasons
Variety is the spice of life. Yes, we’re creatures of habit when it comes to food – for ten years now Tasty Eating has been asking owners what their bestselling item is (apart from chips) and, no surprise, the answer is almost always: ‘the Quarter Pounder’. But equally, savvy fastfood restaurants know that their customers love novelty, and value a menu that’s dynamic and seasonal, spiced up with a few surprise offerings.
A one-off, or limited seasonal offering, tends to get people excited and is a great way to drive sales, particularly if you throw in a deal around it. This year, Mexican chain Chipotle announced they were offering free guacamole to celebrate ‘National Avocado Day’. They promoted the offer exclusively through social media and experienced their highest recorded digital sales day in company history – that free scoop of guacamole drove sales up by a massive 60%!
The big players know the value of limited-time offerings. This summer McDonald’s introduced six LTO burgers for eight weeks, calling it their ‘Great Tastes of America range (see below).
Bringing seasonality to your menu is about catering to people’s different taste preferences, summer, and winter. And it’s about using seasons and festive days to add novelty to your menu. Even consumers set in their tastes appreciate surprise items and limited-time offerings.
Festive Days are the obvious time to add a bit of spice and novelty to your menu. All the big players are at it: Starbucks offers a Pumpkin Latte every Hallowe’en and McDonald’s is famous for its green Patrick’s Day milkshake.
UK quality burger chain, Byron, does a Christmas or ‘cheesemas’ burger called the Fromagemas (a 6oz hamburger with cheddar, red Leicester, Byron cheese, crispy Grana Padano, Grana Padano aioli and a jug of Byron cheese sauce).
Irish chain Supermacs also has a ‘festive’ Christmas burger: double-stacked fresh beef burgers topped with caramelised mushroom and onion, a slice of swiss cheese and light peppercorn mayo – served in their Kaiser bun.
Famously Good Friday was the fish day in Ireland and this still holds for some parts of the country. If you’re selling more fish on Good Friday anyway, why not make a feature of it? Consider doing a deal – it will boost general sales.
And if there’s no famous feast day coming up that you can tailor your products to, well make one up, like Chipotle did with National Avocado Day. (It doesn’t have to be national – a regional celebration could work great).
Introducing new menu items for each season can be a great way to refresh a menu that might feel jaded. These limited-time offerings will give you the impetus to market your whole menu. New items are perfect for social media and will enable your customers to interact with the business by giving their opinions on your food. When you create a Facebook post about how your new menu is selling quickly, and people back up the statement by praising your food, others will want to take part in this limited-time opportunity.
McDonald’s ‘Great Tastes of America’ range – their LTO for summer 2019 – was inspired by the USA’s most iconic states and foods – each burger captured the tastes of New York, Mississippi, Kansas, South Carolina, Alabama, and Nashville respectively. (Interestingly four of the six have BBQ flavours – see ‘Dish of the Season’ article in this issue).
Irish chain Eddie Rockets launched their summer menu with 10,000 free smoothies this year.
Hot and Cold
Our tastes change according to the season. Typically, in winter, we need more ‘fuel’ and in summer more hydration. In the US, Technomic’s 2017 Flavor found that a third of consumers like to tweak their diet throughout the year. Flavours like coconut, watermelon, and other tropical fruits are associated with summertime, and chocolate, mocha, mint and pumpkin with autumn and winter.
Irish takeaways aren’t likely to have tropical fruit on the menu but you’ve probably noticed changes in the way customers order – maybe bigger, heartier burgers in the winter and lighter chicken dishes in the summer? Can you use your knowledge of customers’ taste preferences to devise seasonally-appropriate LTOs?
Sustainable, seasonable and local
Sustainability, seasonality and food provenance is a trend that consumers continue to look for when choosing where to eat. A seasonal menu gives you the ideal opportunity to use local seasonal food products. If your source produces from a local market or harvest, then let your customers know – it’s a bit like fish restaurants having ‘catch of the day’ on their menu. Letting customers know that their meals feature ingredients harvested from local resources not only speaks to their freshness but also emphasises that your restaurant is an integral part of the community.
Depending on what food is available in your location, you may be able to reduce costs by using whatever food is in season. If you pay close attention to which menu items sell in which seasons then you can avoid having an oversupply of certain items at different parts of the year.
Finally, adding new items to the menu for a season gives your staff a chance to experiment with new preparation techniques and to use new fresh ingredients. One of our interviewees this issue, Richard Delahunty of Cafolla’s Castlebar, says that introducing new menu items helps keep staff engaged and motivated. If you’re lucky enough to have a really culinary inventive staff member in the kitchen – see Ron’s Monstarevin interview – give them the chance to experiment in the kitchen. And for point of sale staff changing the menu gives them something new to talk about with your customers and allows them to upsale with new food items or drinks.