Seasonal specials continue to gain traction with restaurant-goers, according to Chicago-based research firm Datassential, especially as consumers seek to eat seasonally and locally. “Increasingly, consumers appreciate the fact that produce does, in fact, taste better when it’s consumed while in season,” says Maeve Webster, senior director for Datassential. “It’s clear operators are responding, as the number of LTOs—particularly those with a decidedly seasonal slant—continues to increase each year.”
One easy way restaurants can capitalize on this trend is by combining in-season herbs and produce with familiar ingredients for a fresh twist. For example, the chef might garnish a potato pancake with rosemary and creme fraiche or top black beans with pulled pork, fresh greens, tomatoes and avocado to create a seasonal bowl.
“Adding seasonal ingredients to potato and bean dishes certainly elevates interest,” says Webster. “The great thing about both potatoes and beans is that they can be a base for a really wide array of ingredients, which allows operators a lot of versatility and innovation.”
Webster also notes that while seasonal specials are often menued as salads or sides, the opportunity doesn’t end there. “There’s no reason why any and all items on the menu can’t leverage seasonal ingredients or flavors in some way,” she says.
One caveat, however: Seasonal does not equal fresh. Over 80 percent of operators menu at least one fresh item, according to Datassential, so the word isn’t as powerful in consumers’ minds as it used to be. It’s important, then, for items that are marketed as seasonal specials to feature truly seasonal ingredients.
“Seasonal [ingredients] should stand apart; they’re appealing because they’re at the height of ripeness,” says Webster. “They should definitely only be featured during the true growing season.” For the holiday season and winter months, that means focusing on ingredients such as sweet potatoes, kale and apples.
This post is sponsored by Basic American Foods