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How to Use Seasonality to Attract Restaurant Guests

Posted by Brady Thomason, NetSuite Solution Manager, Restaurant & Hospitality

Tailoring your menu and events by season has become a proven way to increase profits and bring in new guests. As seasons change, restaurant-goers are looking for any reason to meet up with friends and try new dishes or experience a different ambiance. Seasonality can also inspire events, menu specials and your décor.

Given that there are over 660,000 restaurants in the U.S. American diners have many choices when it comes to eating out at a restaurant. Often, people’s food choices and preferences are affected by the seasons, so it’s important to keep in mind that restaurants can experience up to a 20% seasonal dip, according to the Restaurant Insider

That’s a big chunk of sales, so here are some ways seasonality can work in your favor.

Serve a Seasonal Menu

Whether you’re looking to overhaul your entire menu or simply add a few specials, a seasonal menu is an ideal way to showcase your chef’s creativity, bring new guests to your tables and save on food costs.

A seasonal menu can be a powerful marketing tool. In fact, seasonal menus see 26% more orders from diners, according to Restaurant Insider. Clients want to feel that they’re getting something fresh, new and healthier because it’s in season. The sense of novelty appeals to diners because it implies this is something special for that season that may be unavailable at another time.

In Basic Kitchen and Food Service Management, seasonality is listed as one of the four factors that directly impact the cost of food for restaurants. Weather, transportation costs, and commodity prices are the other three factors. The proximity to the food source means it is typically less expensive for the restaurant owner because it does not include the higher fuel costs and chemicals to preserve the food for transport to their source. There are also less pesticides and herbicides used to grow seasonal varieties compared to off-season produce.

Buying food at the peak of its supply costs less to farmers and distribution companies because they’re able to allocate a larger bounty to local markets and suppliers. There are many benefits to purchasing local produce, but food cost and taste are the biggest benefits.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) monitors the cost and production of all foods and crops. Some vegetables like lettuces and fruits like apples have a consistent cost, but other more seasonal produce such as strawberries, peaches or asparagus can cost double their normal price during the offseason.

“Fresh produce prices are subject to seasonal patterns, the result of uneven demand, supply, or movement to market when either production and/or use is concentrated during particular months,” states the USDA.

A seasonal menu conveys a local “farm-to-table” vibe which is more sustainable and fosters a sense of community since seasonal ingredients can be grown locally. 

If you decide to add seasonal menu items, you can also promote the change with a special tasting session event to help generate buzz. You can make it more unique by pairing wines and desserts as suggestions for your new seasonal dishes.

Decorate by Season

Nature’s seasonal changes can also be an inspiration to switch up your restaurant’s decor as well. Seasonal colors, plants, tabletop bouquets, menu designs, curtains and even art can refresh your space, making a more inviting space for your restaurant that can also coincide with any seasonal changes you make to your menu.

Seasonal Events & Promotions

In addition to a tasting session for your new seasonal menu, there are other types of events you can host depending on the time of year. 

Events could include a special Valentine’s Day dinner promotion in the winter or live music in the summer. You can also choose seasonal events based on your community.

For example, Washington, D.C. holds its annual National Cherry Blossom Festival in March and April. Local restaurants use the festival as a catalyst to create seasonal events like Paws and Petals at Momofuku’s Milk Bar in Logan Circle. The bakery hosts a happy hour event that welcomes guests and their furry companions. Guests then leave with a seasonal cherry rose cookie that’s a favorite menu item.

There’s also the Sherry Blossom Festival at Spanish restaurant, Estadio. Estadio celebrates Spanish wines with sherry flights, sherry-themed dishes and complimentary porron pitchers that’ll travel around the restaurant,” according to the Washingtonian.

Seasonal events and promotions can also be tied to other notable months or holidays throughout the year, including supporting a theme or cause. Tying your event to a cause can also help you give back to your community and cater to your core guests with seasonal events.

Since family gatherings correspond to calendar holidays and seasons, they are a big demographic to tap for these types of promotions. According to Restaurant.org, people often forget that families are a large part of the restaurant business.

“Parties with children under 12 account for $17.7 billion in annual restaurant spending,” said Ian Davidson, brand insight senior manager for C3, a marketing agency specializing in children and family promotions.

Depending on your restaurant, you can easily be more family-friendly with seasonal and themed printables for kids to color, a prize box with seasonal goodies or in-season desserts or other menu items families will enjoy.

No matter what you choose to add seasonality to your restaurant, you should enjoy the process because the more fun you have planning it, the more your guests will enjoy the fruits of your labor.