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How to Plan a Seasonal Menu: 6 Tips

Seasons and holidays present novel opportunities for restaurant owners to revamp their menus every few months. Managers have plenty of fresh ingredients at their fingertips — with a bit of creativity, they can concoct unique menu items that attract customers and boost their establishment’s reputation for innovation. 

Of course, a prime seasonal menu takes time and careful planning, ensuring your restaurant delivers specialty items for each category and taste bud. It also demands tracking each item’s popularity and marketing your offerings online. 

6 Tips for Creating a Seasonal Menu All Year 

Customers get excited when they notice new food items at their favorite eateries. Seasonal menus are especially helpful in sprucing up your restaurant’s offerings without overhauling the entire menu. Check out these six tips for pulling off a successful and delicious seasonal menu for your restaurant.

Use Seasonal Produce

About 38% of restaurant goers prefer eateries that serve food using locally grown ingredients — a factor that plays into their demand for greater sustainability and greener lifestyles.

Locally grown fruits and vegetables that are in season make for the freshest, most decadent flavors. Sourcing seasonal ingredients is also an excellent way for restaurants to better connect with their communities and boost the local economy. Sometimes, seasonal produce is less expensive than nonseasonal goods and more conducive to your bottom line. 

Hardy winter vegetables that best withstand growing in colder temperatures include lettuce, carrots, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbage — typical ingredients you may find throughout various fall and winter meals. 

Meanwhile, spring and summer menus may incorporate warm-weather fruits and vegetables like avocados, tomatoes, cucumbers, peaches and fresh, green herbs.

Create Unique Monikers

Flex your creative juices by developing interesting monikers for menu items that reflect the current season. The right names can set the tone and excite people for your restaurant’s seasonal offerings, including drinks and desserts.

Draw inspiration from seasonal themes — for example, the summer may remind you of tropical vacations, pool parties and the beach. A fun innovation may be an original cocktail called a “Typhoon” using blue curaçao, cream and other ingredients.

On the other hand, fall is reminiscent of brisk temperatures, changing leaves and bonfires. Revisit your dessert menu with a s’mores offering, such as “Campfire Mousse,” to remind customers of happy autumn memories with family.

Select Traditional Favorites

Customers will also appreciate a restaurant that remembers their favorite classic flavors of the season.

According to a 2020 YouGov poll, 76% and 75% of Americans responded with roasted and mashed potatoes as their most beloved holiday dishes, respectively. About 61% responded with macaroni and cheese. 

Including customers’ favorite seasonal or holiday foods is a surefire way to get them to visit your establishment. Putting your restaurant’s unique spin on a traditional recipe people love will leave a lasting impression on patrons. 

Combine New Flavors

A seasonal menu allows you to experiment with different ingredients and combinations. You can make your restaurant stand out from the rest by including dishes customers can’t find elsewhere.

Herbs and spices can significantly change how a dish tastes, leaning into specific flavors and aromas for each season. For instance, rosemary, thyme, garlic, ginger, cinnamon and paprika are warm, wonderful flavors to add to winter dishes. 

Meanwhile, cilantro, mint, cumin and cardamom may be better suited for warmer months.

Remember Dietary Restrictions

When planning a seasonal menu for your restaurant, remember those with allergies, sensitivities and dietary restrictions. You won’t be able to cover all nutritional needs, but offering one or two dishes for in-demand alternatives will broaden your customer base.

According to the Vegetarian Resource Group 2022 Poll, 6% of respondents classify as vegan or vegetarian, while two-thirds of Americans sometimes eat plant-based meals.

Additionally, gluten intolerance impacts 6% of Americans and is more common than celiac disease. 

Fortunately, you can add several meatless dishes to any seasonal menu. Including offerings that you can easily modify for gluten-intolerant customers is also a good idea. 

Find Food Inspiration

Look for inspiration online if you need help figuring out what to add to your restaurant’s seasonal menu. Social media and other eateries’ websites are bound to have many ideas.

Food establishments often share their seasonal menu online for customers to view in advance. Peruse them as a starting point for your own. Just be sure to avoid copying dishes from local competition. 

Pinterest may be another source of inspiration for restaurant owners and chefs to learn about different flavor combinations and seasonal fare. 

Gain Attention for Your Restaurant’s Seasonal Offerings

A seasonal menu makes for good business, but what’s the point without customers realizing it exists? Restaurant owners should market their seasonal menu across as many channels as possible.

Following other restaurants’ leads and uploading your seasonal offerings on your website’s homepage is a great place to start. Many people like to decide what they want to eat before they visit. 

Social media is another excellent outlet to reach customers and advertise delicious seasonal fare. Hire a photographer to take professional photos of your restaurant’s holiday meals and consider creating posts regarding daily specials. 

Depending on what you notice is trending among your patrons, you can share your restaurant’s most popular seasonal drink recipe. 

Well-Planned Seasonal Menus Could Be Your Ticket to Success

Create enough spectacular offerings for the season and people will return — hopefully, with a few friends and relatives. You can make the most of seasonal ingredients and classic holiday dishes by creating a special menu and dining experience for loyal customers year-round.

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