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How to Improve your Summer Sales with a Seasonal Menu

Nick PerryAuthor

Did you know that 24% of restaurants update their menu seasonally? 31 percent update their menus every month. While a minority of restaurants change menu items on a fairly frequent basis, there’s a good reason they do so, especially when it comes to making a summer menu.

Summer is the busiest time of year for most restaurants, and a seasonal menu is a good way to capitalize on in-season ingredients, offer something new to loyal customers, and excite new customers with seasonal dishes and farm-to-table menu items.

In this article, you will learn what a seasonal menu is, how a summer menu can improve business, and how to make a summer menu that will keep customers coming back.

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Restaurant Menu Templates

Use these menu templates as a starting point for your menu design or to give your menus a refresh.

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What is a seasonal menu?

A seasonal menu is one that is available only during certain seasons, like summer or winter. These menus typically feature in-season ingredients from local farms and local producers, with seasonal flavors. For instance, a summer menu may have favorites like slow-cooked ribs or corn on the cob, while a winter menu may have hearty soups and stews like chili or ramen.

Often, restaurants offer a summer menu in conjunction with opening a patio or rooftop, allowing diners to enjoy a seasonal dining experience. Consider Bambara Kitchen & Bar, sitting on the Charles River Canal in Boston, which offers a menu that features local seafood and other summer New England fare.

What are the benefits of a seasonal menu?

There are many benefits to a seasonal menu. First, featuring in-season ingredients ensures your seasonal dishes and flavors are fresh. Sourcing a farm-to-table menu from local farms and producers demonstrates a commitment to the community while also improving menu quality — two things customers love. 

Seasonal menus may also be more environmentally- and cost-friendly, as you won’t have to pay more to source out-of-season ingredients from faraway places. That’s nice because 51% of diners say they’re more likely to eat at eco-conscious restaurants.

Seasonal foods help keep food costs down while offering dishes that diners crave at specific times of the year. Combined with sustainability efforts, a seasonal menu can help you provide a better-tailored dining experience for your loyal customers to keep them coming back and spreading the word about your new menu.

How do you make a seasonal menu?

Making your core menu is hard enough, so how do you add a seasonal menu into the mix? There’s a lot to think about when making a menu, from pricing and margins to figuring out how menus should look and what your customers really want to eat.

To help you out, we’ve created a guide to improving your summer menu ideas to have the best seasonal menu for the upcoming busy season.

Use in-season ingredients 

Sourcing from local farms and producers is one of the hottest trends in the restaurant industry for a good reason. And why not? A local farm-to-table experience brings the freshest, in-season ingredients the shortest distance possible to land on diners’ plates. These ingredients taste better, the process is better for the planet, and they provide inspiration for your chefs to create new dishes out of seasonal produce and flavors.

If you’re not sure what to put on a summer menu, take inspiration from the seasonal foods that are being harvested and produced in your area.

Revisit your inventory and suppliers

Related to the previous point, if you aren’t using local farms and producers, consider doing an audit of your inventory and suppliers. Maybe the kitchen has a surplus of a staple like flour, or a french toast special left a ton of powdered sugar unused. Then perhaps New Orleans-style beignets make sense on your summer menu!

Making a menu depends on what’s available and how much it costs. Taking the time to assess your inventory and local supplier costs will help you figure out what seasonal dishes may yield the biggest profit. Tools like xtraChef by Toast make cost analysis easier than ever for restaurant owners and managers.

Evaluate your menu prices 

Technology is a huge asset for restaurants, especially when planning a seasonal menu. With xtraChef, you can easily figure out profit margins and procure sales data to find the best price for seasonal dishes.

With rising food costs, it’s important to find ways to save money and improve your bottom line. Implementing the right menu pricing strategies by utilizing data will help you find the right balance between attractive to customers and profitable for the restaurant. Since in-season ingredients tend to be less expensive than out-of-season ones, a simple cost breakdown and menu pricing analysis could justify keeping one dish on a new summer menu and leaving another off.

Use menu engineering

Believe it or not, the way your menu looks can make a difference to your customers. The average customer spends 109 seconds looking at a menu, and you want to make sure that time is worthwhile. 

Menu engineering is the process of balancing your menu between popularity and profitability. When creating a summer menu, menu engineering can help you control costs, maximize profit, while elevating your restaurant’s brand. One study found that ongoing menu engineering can increase restaurant profits by 10-15%.

After all, a menu is one of the principal ways a customer engages with your restaurant. You want the menu to showcase restaurant values and play up the use of local, in-season ingredients to lean into the summer vibes. People have a lot of options for where to eat; make your vibes immaculate.

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Take this course to make the most of your menu. Learn about menu psychology and design, managing your menu online, and adapting your menu to increase sales.

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Use a menu template

While menu engineering is important for designing and maximizing the profitability of your summer menu, a menu template is essential for maintaining your brand throughout restaurant seasonality. Branding shouldn’t change dramatically from season to season and a menu template helps you update your menu quickly without needing to hire a designer.

Once you’ve figured out the new dishes for your new menu — regardless of season — a menu template lets you make quick updates and roll out new menus. Whether you print your menu or host it online, a menu template is a time-saving and cost-saving asset.

icon RESOURCE

Restaurant Menu Templates

Use these menu templates as a starting point for your menu design or to give your menus a refresh.

Toast

Update your drink menu

Mai tais, pina coladas, daiquiris, oh my! Who doesn’t love a tropical drink or two in the summer? If you’re sourcing local, in-season ingredients for your entrees, don’t forget to give the drink menu some love, too.

Without data to verify the claim, it seems reasonable that many people are more likely to crave a summer cocktail over a specific summer dish. As such, your summer menu should feature specialty cocktails, wine, and beer that reflect the season. If the breweries and wineries you typically source from create seasonal options, you should offer them on your restaurant menu.

Promote on social media

You should promote your restaurant on social media throughout the year, but a new menu or seasonal changes are great opportunities to increase engagement and attract new customers. 

Social media can be a game changer for businesses, especially when introducing new items or making seasonal menu changes. Leveraging platforms like Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, and Twitter will keep loyal customers excited to come back and draw the interest of new customers. 

Don’t know where to start? Check out our social media marketing guide.

Ask for (and incorporate!) feedback

Customers are the lifeblood of any business. You want to know what they like and what they don’t, which is why getting guest feedback is so important.

After introducing a summer menu, gathering guest feedback will help you make improvements throughout the season. That last bit is crucial. Don’t just gather feedback — actually incorporate it into future menu iterations! Whether guests aren’t crazy about a particular dish or they feel like something is missing from the menu, feedback is a great way to set your summer menu and future seasonal menus up for success.

Summer menu ideas for your seasonal menu

Sometimes, the best inspiration comes from competitors. So, to get you started, we’ve outlined a number of summer menu ideas below from real restaurants.

  • Kale Caesar salad – Malibu Farm, Malibu, CA

  • Flash-marinated raw fish ceviche – La Mar by Gaston Acurio, Miami, FL

  • Baked crab cake – Pier 6, Boston, MA

  • Southern fried Texas quail –  The Grove, Houston, TX

  • Whole roasted chicken – River Roast, Chicago, IL

  • Bananas Foster – Broussard’s, New Orleans, LA

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For more than 70% of diners, high-quality food is the top factor in choosing a restaurant to visit, even if it’s a little more expensive. Creating seasonal menus is a great way to ensure your food is fresh, in-season, and sourced from local farms and producers. When creating a summer menu, reference this guide to design menu items that feature seasonal flavors that will keep loyal customers coming back and profit margins that will raise your bottom line.

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DISCLAIMER: This information is provided for general informational purposes only, and publication does not constitute an endorsement. Toast does not warrant the accuracy or completeness of any information, text, graphics, links, or other items contained within this content. Toast does not guarantee you will achieve any specific results if you follow any advice herein. It may be advisable for you to consult with a professional such as a lawyer, accountant, or business advisor for advice specific to your situation.