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Winter is coming: 5 winter menu ideas for your restaurant

Posted by Ana Cvetkovic on Oct 30, 2019 4:05:01 PM

Cold weather is quickly approaching - is your restaurant ready to change with the season? As the temperatures fall, consumers’ dining habits change. They crave different flavors and dine out less in favor of staying cozy at home. 

Winter is the perfect time to flip your menu and bring in delicious, heart-warming dishes to your restaurant to attract new diners and keep your sales up through the cold months. Not sure why or how to give your menu a seasonal makeover? We’re explaining why it makes good business sense to update your menu for winter and sharing five winter menu ideas to shake things up during the chill.

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Let's look at the some winter menu tips and ideas.  

Why update your menu for winter?

Changing a menu takes a lot of effort. You have to develop recipes, source ingredients, and train your back-of-house staff on how to prepare the new additions. However, this effort is well worth it when it comes to updating your restaurant’s menu for the winter - here’s why.


Seasonal cravings

The dishes your restaurant serves in the summer, such as smoothies and salads, will wane in popularity as temperatures cool down outside. Diners will lose interest in these refreshing dishes and will seek out hearty, warm meals instead. While you should keep staples on your menu, consider adjusting dishes with the seasons to keep up with what your customers are craving. 

For example, you can make your salads available as grain bowls in the winter, or swap out fresh veggie side dishes for comfort food sides like stuffing or mac and cheese.



Changes in consumer behavior

Consumer behavior changes with the season. Just like bears hibernate to stay warm, people dine out less when it’s cold because they don’t want to leave their warm homes and offices! 

Snow also has a huge impact on the restaurant industry. According to Eater, restaurants in Portland, Oregon lose as much as 20% in monthly profits when the city experiences just one snow day in a month. 

In order to avoid losing business in the winter, you’ll need to make your dine-in menu extra special in order to lure diners out of their homes, or revamp your takeout and delivery menus.


Holiday opportunities

With the winter holiday season comes a ton of promotional opportunities for your restaurant, which means you should definitely update your menu. Wintertime is packed with food-focused festivities, and not everyone wants to slave away in the kitchen to make pumpkin pie, turkey, and stuffing. The holiday season is a money maker for restaurants because it’s an opportunity for lucrative catering deals and host holiday events.  

Here’s a helpful list of winter holidays and popular foods associated with them:

  • Thanksgiving (November 28) - Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, pie
  • Hanukkah (December 22-25) - Kosher latkes, brisket, kugel
  • Christmas (December 25) - Similar menu as Thanksgiving
  • New Year’s Eve (December 31) - Champagne!

Update your menu for winter or you’ll see your revenue plummet with the temperatures!



5 winter menu ideas that turn up the heat!

Now that you’re convinced you need to spice up your menu, here are five fun winter menu ideas to help you usher in a successful season.


1. Use seasonal ingredients

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Millennials like dining locally and supporting restaurants that support these values. You can attract these big spenders by serving dishes made with locally sourced ingredients in the winter. 

Seasonal availability will dictate what’s on your menu when you purchase food from local farms. This means that if your restaurant is in Toronto, you’ll likely be serving butternut squash soup instead of corn chowder, or apple pie instead of blueberry pie. Consider partnering with a local farm for a farm-to-table event that really attracts the local crowd.

Don’t forget to update menu pricing based on the market price of local, seasonal ingredients to keep your food costs consistent with sales.


2. Use seasonal flavors

Beyond using ingredients that are in-season, your restaurant should incorporate flavors that are associated with wintertime into its seasonal menu, such as:

  • Pumpkin spice - Beyond milky espresso beverages and pies, why not get creative with a savory dish? Pumpkin spice curry, anyone? Yum!
  • Peppermint - Go for a traditional lamb roast with mint jelly dish or add peppermint flavoring to hot chocolate.
  • Mulling spices - Mulled wine is a classic this time of year. You could also create spiced cookies using these seasonal flavors.
  • Cranberries - Why not make a hot cranberry cocktail, or serve a cranberry chutney with pita bread as an appetizer?

When you create limited edition dishes with seasonal flavors, you give customers something to look forward to on the winter menu for years to come. The pumpkin spice latte wouldn’t make such a splash if it were available all year-round, would it?


3. Heat things up

In colder parts of North America, winters can be absolutely brutal. From the cold to the snow, people are less inclined to dine out when temperatures fall. If you offer hearty dishes, you might just be able to entice customers out of their homes and into your restaurant.

Consider creating a seasonal comfort food menu featuring these dishes:

    • Soups - Experiment with chowders, chilis, and stews.
    • Casseroles - Carb + meat + cheese is a winning combination for a satisfying one-dish bake.
    • Curries - Combine seasonal veggies and meats with spices for a meal that will warm customers from the inside out.
  • Mac and cheese - Jazz up a classic with deluxe toppings like bacon and stewed tomatoes.
  • Winter cocktails - Hold the ice! Add steamy drinks like mulled wine, hot toddies, and Irish coffee to your winter drink menu.

You can also test these menu items for a limited time to see which ones sell best, then only officially roll out the best-selling items with your new winter menu to keep profits up. We’re getting toasty just thinking about these delectable dishes...


4. Update takeout offerings

Even though consumers dine out less when it’s cold, they actually eat more in the winter. Take advantage of the winter munchies by focusing more on your takeout offerings. 

One way to do this is to introduce new dishes that are available exclusively for delivery and take away. Use our comfort food list in the previous section for inspiration. Partnering with a delivery service like Grubhub, Uber Eats, or DoorDash can simplify the operational side of delivery and help you reach more customers.

After you create this winter takeout menu, you have to let your customers know about it. Promote it through social media, your restaurant’s website, and its email newsletter.

If your sales data indicate a significant decrease in dine-in customers during the winter, adjust your staffing needs accordingly. Schedule fewer servers in the winter to meet your projected sales channel needs, and hire more back-of-house and delivery staff.


5. Plan holiday menus and events

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People want to maximize family time during the holiday season. While some families bond in the kitchen, others prefer to leave the cooking to someone else so that they can spend quality time together in other ways. Restaurant sales have recently seen a 6.4% increase around the holidays. There are several ways your restaurant can profit from the holidays.

First, you can create a takeout menu for the holidays. Diners can order a holiday spread—like rotisserie chicken or turkey and homestyle sides—and pick it up at their convenience.

Alternatively, you can create a catering menu for bigger orders, like for holiday office parties. 

Lastly, why not host a party for Christmas or New Year’s at your restaurant? You can set up live entertainment, serve a deluxe menu, and offer party favors while charging a pretty penny for tickets.



Takeaways for how to spice up your winter menu

While diners “hibernate” in the winter by dining out less, the hospitality industry has to keep their attention to maintain steady revenue. Incorporate these winter menu ideas at your restaurant for a lucrative season:

  • Use seasonal ingredients and flavors
  • Introduce heart, comfort food dishes into your menu
  • Revamp your takeout offerings
  • Become a destination for holiday meals

Stay warm, folks!

 

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Ana_Cvetkovic Ana Cvetkovic is a freelancer and content producer for 7shifts. She is also the CEO of BLOOM Digital Marketing, a New York City-based creative marketing agency that helps the hospitality and tourism industries reach new audiences online.

 

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Topics: Managers, Restaurants