Now that Memorial Day has passed, it’s safe to wear white – and start thinking about summer! After listening to many National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show (NRA Show) speakers predict what will be heating up this summer’s restaurant scene and after scouring through many expert opinions online, I’ve compiled the following list of things to look for on and off the menu this season.
Smoky flavors. This year, chefs are taking char-grilled to a whole new level. From barbecued meats to fruits and veggies (and even desserts!), everything just got a little bit hotter. Coal ovens, things that sizzle, and fire-grilled are all the rage right now. Look for a little extra burn on the unexpected this summer. Flaming cocktails will also get some attention at your bar.
Gourmet burgers. Sure the American classic quarter pounder with cheese, lettuce, onion, and tomato is still a popular go-to item for many dine-outers, but there is an emergence of culinary excellence behind one of our culture’s iconic staples this summer: the burger. You can now order burgers for breakfast with an egg on top, get a burger stuffed with, well, almost anything, or order up a burger with new and exciting condiments, such as jalapeno relish or chipotle BBQ sauce. The new generation of burger lovers enjoy trying something radically new with their something familiarly good. And what better time to experiment with a good ol’ fashioned burger than summertime?
Locally sourced ingredients. The phrases ‘health conscious’ and ‘fresh foods’ have been trending for a while now, but more than ever, restaurant guests expect cooks to be sourcing their ingredients from local farmers or fisherman. More than that, they want to know which farm…and the entire story from seed to tabletop. Whether it’s in the menu or information you post on your social networks, being as transparent as possible about where your food actually comes from will be a great approach to your new summer menus. Customers will begin to expect these details to be readily available, so you better get prepared to be held accountable for every ingredient choice you make. Plus, this is a great time of year to forge relationships with your local growers while the supply is bountiful.
Coupons. A decade ago, I sat in a college marketing class looking at less than 3% average redemption rates and at that time, realized coupons were a dying fad. Then the 2008 recession happened…and changed everything. Only coupons are no longer delivered as direct mail pieces that show up in your roadside mailbox like they were when I was studying envelope design (yes, that was actually an academic lesson). Daily deals, social media, and coupon or price checker apps have revolutionized the way people spend and save money. It might not be new, but this summer, this trend is not old, yet, either. If your restaurant hasn’t already experimented with digital couponing, maybe now’s the time. Restaurant goers are savvy to find a good deal, and if your competition is offering something you aren’t…well, they will win.
Yogurt. From frozen to Greek, yogurt is definitely a buzzword in the foodservice industry right now. Its versatility allows for it to be used in many different ways and dishes. It can be a substitute for mayo or sour cream, used in dressings and pasta sauces, used in marinades, milkshakes, or smoothies, and used for fruit dips, cheesecakes, or other desserts. Many prefer the frozen variety over softserve, and with today’s customize-it-for-me attitudes, choose-your-own-toppings buffets have also become very popular. What can you do with yogurt?
Dog-friendly patios. Already popular in Miami and So-Cal, more and more dog lovers want to bring their pooch along when they stop for a quick drink or deli-style lunch on your restaurant’s patio. Take the opportunity to make new loyal customers, the four-legged kind. Of course, this is only good advice if you’re promoting a hip, casual, relaxing vibe and don’t mind a little doggy slobber on your deck floor. Leashes required!
Flavored teas. The options are not just sweet, unsweetened, or raspberry anymore. Tea drinkers are developing more sophisticated palettes, so they want you to introduce them to new ice tea flavors this summer. Try a new tea of the week, or find one that will be a hit all summer long. Serve it freshly brewed over ice for a guaranteed positive Yelp! review.
Artisan breads. As carbohydrate-eaters resurface in the post-Atkins™ era, they’re looking for distinguished breads to nibble on between the appetizer and main course. Again, the principle that everything familiar can be new again applies. Take something simple and make it exciting by preparing it in a new way. Start with baking bread with brand new appeal. Make bread a challenge by creating some art out of it. You can do it!
Gluten-free everything. As I’m sure you’re aware, more and more people are requesting gluten-free items on the menu. Oblige by creating just a couple delicious and gluten-free mainstays, label them well on your menu, and voila!, you will become an instant restaurant hero to those in need. Your flexibility in adapting your regular menu items to cater to other food allergies (such as milk or nuts) will also be a hit to your customers who trust, in some cases, their lives to your safe cooking habits.
I hope these tips help you stay on trend this summer season. Feel free to post your restaurant’s success with your menu or marketing experiments. Join the conversation below.