A seasonal menu dish

7 tips for crafting a winning seasonal menu

Restaurant owners across the country are adapting seasonal menus to feature the flavor profiles of each time of year. Seasonal menus are great for attracting customers and promoting sustainability — not to mention the freedom it can allow for your chefs to get creative in the kitchen. 

Eating fresh and locally sourced ingredients is all the rage amongst diners. When your restaurant embraces a seasonal menu, you can create an authentic and locally sourced dining experience right at the heart of your community.

Hungry diners are searching for ways to enjoy each season, so it’s up to you to craft an irresistible seasonal menu that perfectly captures these flavors. Before you embark on creating a seasonal menu, here are some tips you should know:

What is a seasonal menu?

A seasonal menu is a limited edition menu that utilizes seasonal ingredients to create dishes that appeal to the flavor profile of the time of year. Restaurants craft seasonal menus to promote ingredients that are fresh at the moment.

Why is it important to have a seasonal menu?

Diners look for tasty recipes that coincide with the seasons. A seasonal menu can be a unique attraction that brings diners through your door. Offering seasonal dishes that differ from your normal options excites returning customers and inspires new guests to give your restaurant a try.

Customers’ interest in seasonal dishes is reflected in their ordering habits. Grubhub’s State of the Plate report noted that butternut squash soup was one of the most popular dishes ordered this winter, and customers looked for strawberry lemonade freezes in the spring. 

Tapping into seasonal flavors can help you capture these hungry diners who are searching for ways to enjoy each season.

A seasonal menu can not only generate excitement around particular times of the year, but can also help control food costs. 

Cooking with seasonal ingredients that are more abundant during peak times curbs high supply costs because farmers and distributors have larger bounties to sell. Buying seasonal ingredients is sustainable, too. When you prioritize seasonal food you support your local supply chain while utilizing fresh ingredients.

How do you create a seasonal menu?

Wondering how your restaurant can capture seasonal flavors and build excitement amongst your customers?

 Here are seven tips you should know before you craft the perfect seasonal menu:

1.  Find what’s in season

Figuring out what ingredients are in season to create this menu sounds like a no-brainer, but this can differ based on where your restaurant is located. You can source your local farms and distributors to learn what ingredients are fresh in your area.

Each season brings different fresh ingredients, and your job is to capture these ingredients in your dishes. Here are some ingredients that are fresh each season:

Spring menu ingredients: Blueberry, artichoke, asparagus, peaches, rhubarb, snap peas

Summer menu ingredients: Watermelon, basil, bell peppers, corn, eggplant, tomatoes

Fall menu ingredients: Sweet potatoes, apples, brussel sprouts, cranberry, pumpkin, squash

Winter menu ingredients: Cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, grapefruit, kale, pears

2.  Source local

Sustainable eating is on the rise, and diners are increasingly health-conscious and mindful of the food they eat. Sourcing local ingredients creates a fresh dining experience that highlights the origins of your dishes to attract customers.

Partnering with local farmers to get ingredients for your seasonal menu can also help you foster community relationships. Shopping locally also builds connections in your neighborhood and helps give back to the local economy.

Lighthouse, a farm-to-table restaurant in New York City, has found great success sourcing local ingredients to craft their menu. Lighthouse utilizes in-season ingredients to help decrease the cost of their local ingredients. They have been able to foster community within the city and keep customers happy by getting creative with their organic, locally-sourced ingredients.

3. Let your staff get involved

Seasonal menus give you a chance to experiment and get creative. Let your chefs come up with new dishes and encourage your servers to learn the stories behind the limited edition items. Adding variety to your kitchen can keep staff engaged and excited about your restaurant.

4.  Create a holiday menu

Thanksgiving wouldn’t be the same without turkey and the 4th of July wouldn’t be complete without a cookout. Food is a central part of many holiday celebrations. 

You know hungry customers are looking for specific dining experiences around the holidays, so why not make your restaurant the go-to place to enjoy these traditions? Every season brings widely celebrated holidays that can be a great chance to build excitement around a limited edition menu. 

A great holiday menu can bring new customers looking for specific traditional dishes through the door.

5. Promote your seasonal menu on social media

Seasonal menus are time-sensitive, so you want to make sure you get the word out to inspire customers to place an order before it’s gone. Posting about your exclusive seasonal ingredients on social media can directly reach your customers and get them excited about placing an order. 

Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are great places to highlight your seasonal dishes and let customers know how long the menu lasts.

6. Pair your dishes with seasonal drinks

There’s nothing better than warming up with a smooth hot chocolate in the winter or cooling down with a fresh lemonade in the summer. Seasonal beverages are a huge draw for diners and a great way to incorporate seasonal flavors.

Crafting creative seasonal cocktails or featuring a seasonal beer on your menu is also a great way to experiment with new brands and flavors. Diners get excited about specialty drinks, and adding seasonal drinks to your alcoholic beverage selection can also increase customers’ check size.

Did you know you can sell alcoholic beverages on Grubhub? Let your diners bring seasonal beverages home by offering alcohol to your delivery and takeout menu.

7. Don’t forget the sides

Side dishes are an easy way to add seasonal ingredients to your menu without making big changes. Pairing main courses with sauces, garnishes, or small dishes will allow you to incorporate seasonal ingredients at a lower cost.

Tap into delivery with your seasonal menu

Incorporating seasonal ingredients into your menu can be a great way to attract new customers, strengthen community relationships, and let your creativity shine. 

Building a seasonal menu that captures trending dishes can also allow you to incorporate fresh ingredients and intrigue customers who are looking for popular meals. While in-season foods remain consistent year to year, trends in how diners love to enjoy these ingredients shift yearly. 

Before you put the finishing touches on your seasonal menu remember that not every item in your menu needs to be seasonal as the months’ change. Make sure you keep the staple dishes that your restaurant is known for so that your regular customers can enjoy their favorite meals all year round. While it’s fun to feature seasonal items, consistency across your menu is essential to maintaining your restaurant’s personality.

Ready to reach more customers with your seasonal menu? Sign up for Grubhub today to get access to a menu consulting team and restaurant experts who will work with you to optimize your menu for online ordering success.