How to incorporate seasonal trends into your menu

Every few months, restaurant operators are given the opportunity to refresh their food menus with the change of the season. By incorporating fresh flavors and ingredients to fit the season, restaurants can benefit from the excitement of innovation.

A key factor to remember when making any seasonal menu changes, is to always remember to take brand consistency into consideration. Make sure to also offer a specific number of seasonal options – neither too many or too little – and to highlight them through your menu design.

Quick-service restaurants and casual dining concepts can benefit significantly from seasonal changes as they provide an opportunity to look at individual item categories: think hot drinks and warming main dishes during the winter, and light salads and refreshing fruits during the hotter months.

Restaurant operators can take advantage of the seasonal popularity of dishes by introducing new menu items at the right time, testing multiple varieties of new dishes, and tracking the success and popularity of new dishes through social media.  

How to incorporate trendy seasonal flavors

Get your timing right: The first step in deciding when to introduce the new flavors is to gain a deep understanding of customer behavior through point-of-sale data. To do this:

  • Utilize your loyalty program. Analyze the frequency and order patterns of individual customer groups as you start conversations with current and former customers.
  • Understand that some consumers will adjust to trends more quickly. Take the time to know who the early adopters are in your customer base, so you can target them with these new concepts and menu items.

Introduce and test new flavors: The most successful restaurant operators take a flexible approach to new product development and use research to support their decisions.

  • Test a prototype of any new product early in the development process to get customer and operational feedback. Ideally, test several prototype versions and take note of what customers think.
  • If an operator isn’t ready to capitalize on seasonal trends, it’s smart to develop potential dishes and to be ready to introduce them when the time is right. With trends, operators don’t want to unveil new ideas too soon, but they also can’t be late to the game or they won’t benefit from the full life of the trend.
  • It’s wise to work on several options at any given time. It’s almost impossible to predict how long a certain trend will last and which of your responses will be the most profitable.

Use social media to learn about your customers: Tracking social media can complement an operator’s established research channels and should be used to monitor your target audience’s evolving tastes and desires. So use these channels to see if the upcoming season flavors are something that would interest your customers.

  • Follow customers on social media to see what they like on Facebook and the photos they post on Instagram. Research the latest posts and identify popular terms to gain insight into emerging trends. Try doing a hashtag search on Instagram and Twitter and set up a few searches with hashtags related to your brand, industry and product. This will allow you to receive instant notifications when customers or competitors use these key terms.
  • Listen to the conversations consumers are having online to learn more about the underlying motivations and desires that trigger certain behaviors. For example, if more customers are posting about plant-based proteins and vegetarian diets, check whether they are also active in sports, yoga or mindfulness. Perhaps they are active in environmental concerns or in animal welfare. The motivations of each of these groups are different, and as a result, an operator’s menu strategy should be different for each group, as well.

While it can be tempting to immediately incorporate new seasonal menu items, it’s smart to start with research to make your efforts worthwhile and ensure that the new menu items are something your customers will embrace.

Philipp Laqué is Managing Director at Revenue Management Solutions, in charge of the company’s work for clients in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Netherlands, Germany and the Scandinavian countries.

Philipp holds a Masters in Hospitality Management from Cornell University and a Bachelor of Science with Honors in International Hospitality Management from Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne, in Switzerland.