Preparing for the summer months involves seasonal-focused menus, lighter fare, vibrant drinks, and fun special events. These components can help drive foot traffic to your restaurant and get you on the path to a successful summer season. Beyond keeping your menus fresh and delivering a distinct, desirable dining experience, there are strategies that can help you market your restaurant and drive sales all summer long.
PROMOTE PEAK SEASON PRODUCE
Even though today’s technologies allow us to serve produce during non-peak times, taking advantage of peak season produce can enhance your offerings and put you one step ahead of the competition. Today’s customers anticipate the unique characteristics and flavors that in-season produce provides and are drawn to items on menus that call out exactly where the produce they’re consuming came from. Utilizing seasonal produce not only benefits your customers, but also your profits– produce’s greatest value is during its peak availability, creating lower food costs and higher profit margins. If you can’t tell what season it is by looking at the dominant ingredients on your menu, you are missing out on a huge opportunity to make an impact with seasonal produce.
Consult your Maines Territory Manager to see what new, seasonal produce they may be carrying, and incorporate any new items into your menu. Set aside 15 minutes to discuss a few upcoming produce items with your staff one to two months before seasonal crops will be harvested. This will spark the creative process for chefs and allow time to plan for necessary pantry items needed to develop new, seasonal dishes. In the meantime, you can begin planning ways to market your seasonal items. Whether it’s a specials menu, servers describing dishes, ads, tabletop signs, or your website, drive the seasonal message and tempt your customers with fresh, local produce… especially through social media. Post links to your seasonal menu on Facebook and high-quality photos of seasonal produce on Instagram to create buzz that your restaurant is serving up fresh, local, seasonal fare!
HIGHLIGHT HEALTHFUL OPTIONS
Thirty percent of Americans are leaving meat off of their plates and seeking out plant-based meat alternatives. Summer is the ideal time to shift the focus to vegetables as center-of-the-plate items. Cauliflower, summer squash, eggplant, and kohlrabi make for excellent plant-based “steaks.” Serve these with vegetable- or herb-based sauces such as roasted tomato pesto or lemon-Dijon tarragon sauce. Another way to attract health-focused crowds is to consider substituting artificially processed ingredients with real, organic, and responsibly sourced items and draw attention to this across your menu. Use puréed fruit instead of syrup, turnip or cauliflower mash instead of mashed potatoes, and house-made vinaigrettes in place of pre-made dressings.
You can also cater to those who crave something lighter during the summer months by incorporating more summer fruits, vegetables, and citrus profiles onto your menu to keep items fresh and seasonally appropriate. Bowls are a huge trend, perfect for featuring a range of vibrant, fresh ingredients. Utilize bowls to showcase an array of temperatures, textures, and flavors in items like salad, grain, and smoothie bowls. Showcase prime summer fruits like pineapple, mango, and kiwi and add elements like house-made granola for a crunchy texture or offer choose-your-own toppings to take advantage of the customization trend.
COOL DRINK SPECIALS
Happy hour is key to driving beverage sales in the summer months. According to the National Restaurant Association, 41% of consumers believe low prices of food during happy hour are a great reason to visit restaurants during this time. While happy hour focuses on drinks, be sure to promote appetizers or small plate items with a beverage pairing to increase check averages.
Frozen cocktails are popping up everywhere and are especially popular when warm weather hits. Use premium, high-quality ingredients in frozen cocktails such as margaritas, daiquiris, or piña coladas to offer customers the fun, creative drinks they’re craving. A recent Technomic study found that a majority of consumers say they are more likely to purchase beverages that carry natural (66%) and organic (51%) descriptors over traditional offerings. Offer on-trend nutritional and functional drinks made with detoxifying ingredients such as turmeric, ginger, or matcha. As the demand for soda continually declines, operators are taking matters into their own hands by serving house-made alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks with fresh-squeezed juices, fresh herbs and artisanal syrups. No matter what beverages you have in your summer lineup, make sure to market your seasonal refreshments and happy hour specials throughout your restaurant, on your website, and across social media.
PATIO & OUTDOOR SEATING
Patios attract customers during the summer months, especially those who love to bask in the sun while dining. Before opening a patio space, check local laws to ensure you have a permit if necessary (i.e., you are permitted to serve alcoholic beverages). It’s also important to ensure your patio area meets the same standards as the rest of your restaurant with a clean space that aligns with your brand. Equip your restaurant with the right amount of staff , including front and back of house, to take on the extra service.
Promote patio seating by posting a sign near your entrance alerting customers about the patio. You can also offer an outdoor-only limited-time menu and beverages to draw more customers to this area. Promote your patio by posting quality photos of your outdoor seating (especially on a warm day!) to your social media channels to engage with customers and directly ask them to come and experience your patio dining.
Social media is key to marketing your restaurant any time of year, but there are specific measures to take in the summer to upsell your seasonal items. Consistently post pictures of your hottest summer plates, seasonal atmosphere, and summertime events, and be sure to post them on Facebook, Instagram, and other social platforms to maximize your audience. Include details about your limited-time offers in your posts to increase their appeal and encourage customers to come and try them before they’re gone.
Summer is also the perfect time to take advantage of national food holidays such as National Ice Cream Month (July), National Hot Dog Month (July), and National Peach Month (August) to draw larger audiences and further connect with customers. Try promoting specific items based on these food celebrations that would be easy to incorporate into your specials. For example, restaurants can feature a trending chicken and waffles dish as a special to celebrate National Fried Chicken Day (July 6th). Be sure to post pictures of these offerings at least a week in advance including the corresponding hashtags (like #fresh, or #onthetable) to generate maximum engagement. Give your audience a reason to visit your social pages with contests, coupons, or other incentives. Advertise your social media channels to customers throughout your restaurant so they can keep up with your new items and events all summer long.