Seasonal Food Calendar

Seasonal food has been considered a top trend for at least 6 years now and doesn’t appear to be going anywhere. In a recent Nation’s Restaurant News poll, 23 percent of operators reported plans to alter their menus over the next year to work seasonal items into their offerings. That isn’t surprising, with more than half of customers claiming they’re not only more likely to order food described as seasonal, but are also willing to pay more for it. Adding a seasonal menu to your restaurant takes some extra work, but for many businesses it may be a decision that pays off in the end.

Benefits of a Seasonal Menu

  • Buying food that is in season is often cheaper. Farms are more likely to have seasonal items in abundance, incentivizing them to cut you a deal to move their produce before it spoils. Also, if you buy food items that are seasonal to your area specifically, you can save on shipping. This, plus the premium customers are willing to pay for seasonal products, means more profits for your business.
  • Seasonal menu items are more environmentally friendly. Items that are grown in-season are usually grown outside without the assistance of an energy-intensive greenhouses. Buying local seasonal food also has an impact, as shorter trips produce less greenhouse gas, which in turn decreases the carbon footprint of each dish you create.
  • Fresh, seasonal food has better flavor. Food that is purchased in season is more likely to have come straight from the source, while out-of-season produce may have spent weeks or months in dry storage or a freezer. Additionally, produce that is not meant to be used right away is often picked before its peak of ripeness, which can affect not only the item’s flavor but also its nutritional value.
  • Seasonal Planning Tips

    It can be tempting to jump head-first into the seasonal food excitement, but be careful not to bite off more than you can chew. Consider starting with a small seasonal menu in addition to your usual staples, then expand it later if the trial goes well. Be sure to keep your menu updated. Customers don’t appreciate being told that you actually ran out of that locally grown corn you still have listed from last week, and making claims about your menu that you can’t back up is sure to land your restaurant in hot water.

    Seasonal menus require a fine balance of planning and flexibility. You’ll need to plan ahead by designing recipes featuring the seasonal ingredients you choose, but your ingredients being at the whims of the weather means you also need to be prepared to adjust your menu at the last minute to make do without that shipment of squash or tomatoes you had your eye on. On the flip side, if your supplier comes into an abundance of zucchini at the end of August, it may be offered to you at a special price for a bulk purchase. That could leave you with baskets full of an unplanned ingredient you need to create a recipe for. You’ll also need to decide whether to stick with local providers or to widen your options a bit by expanding your buying radius. Buying locally gives you another advantage you can capitalize on in advertising, but expanding your search allows you more flexibility in planning your menu with a wider range of ingredients. If you decide to stay local, you can discuss your seasonal options with local produce suppliers, or you can do some research online on what items are in-season in your area.

    If you decide to have seasonal items shipped in from outside your immediate vicinity, you have more ingredients to choose from, but you may need to be careful about where you buy from to ensure you’re getting fresh, never-frozen produce. While each year’s weather can cause this to vary some, we’ve put together a list of which fruits and vegetables are usually available each month of the year in the U.S. to give you a starting point as you plan your menu.

    Please note that most seafood is also seasonal. However, because it’s a little more complicated than produce, keep an eye out for a future blog post on sourcing seafood.

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    Courtney Barkley
    Courtney Barkley

    Courtney Barkley has lived in nearly as many southeastern states as most Americans have probably visited, settling in East Tennessee in early 2013. She and her husband Thomas were married during ShadoCon 2012 – an anime, gaming, and comics convention – in a ceremony that featured a reading about dinosaurs in love from a friend dressed as Doctor Who. She spends her free time chasing her brilliant and imaginative son Nathan, hanging out with friends, binge-watching shows, playing video games, and keeping up with the characters of the Marvel Universe. And, any chance she gets, she sneaks off to Florida to visit friends and the happiest place on earth – Disney World.

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