A visit to just about any farmers market this time of year will reveal that, much of summer’s bounty is still coming in strong: squash, tomatoes, corn, melon and stone fruits remain ripe, enticing and abundant. But as long daylight hours begin to wane, soon that fuzzy, juicy peach will become scarce. The nip of cooler fall months will be reflected in the goods nature provides and time will be ripe to make some seasonal changes to menus.
Photo Credit: CUESA
Data provided by Upserve suggests that offering seasonal menus can help to increase sales margins—by up to as much as twenty-six percent. Creating menus that utilize the abundance of lower-cost commodity ingredients in their prime can be reflected in lower food costs. However, seasonal changes to menus need not involve a complete overhaul of offerings that would risk alienating customers or negatively affecting member expectations. Maintaining classics or traditions that members have come to expect and enjoy throughout the year is important to a club’s identity and brand. (Why does Chicken Picatta in all its iterations hold its place as a mainstay on club menus?)
Consider other benefits of seasonal menu changes: Consumer interest in locally produced goods shows no sign of slowing down. According to research firm Technomic, fifty-seven percent of guests seek out dining establishments that offer seasonal and locally-sourced items. Customers show great willingness to support local, sustainable food and the talent it takes to bring those products to their plates. Changes in ingredients can showcase the skills and cooking techniques of a club’s culinary team. A dish highlighting a braising preparation or house-made condiment that makes use of a seasonal ingredient, reflects the interest, engagement and focus of the kitchen crew.
Naturally, menu changes can’t just occur on a whim and need to be designed well before the calendar reflects summer to fall, winter to spring. Seasonal changes to menus should be thoughtful, tested, costed and sampled for feedback. Ingredients need to be sourced through reliable vendors who can maintain supply. Consider the labor, preparation and timing logistics of each new dish. Just as a new menu brings positive buzz and interest in the dining room, changes should not impede the flow of the line, negatively impact ticket times or bog down any one station.
Be mindful of all the engineering components like placement, pricing, trends and wording when making menu adjustments. Remember the importance of “truth in menu” and state accurately and correctly an ingredient’s provenance and producer. Executing menus by using a bit of the best of what’s around reaps many benefits.
Don’t forget your beverage menus! From light and refreshing summer spritzes to hot spiked cider and warm adult spirits, bar beverage menus should change with the seasons as well.
Chef Mary Howley is the culinary consultant to the RCS Hospitality Group and a former Executive Chef of her own catering company, several country clubs, and fine dining restaurants. She studied throughout Europe and honed her skills on the East Coast working with a myriad of culinary styles. She had the honor to serve as research and development chef for Food Unlimited, and held the position of Pastry Chef in two James Beard Dinner Events.