Summer is marked not just by the abundance of seasonal bounties across the country, but by the celebration of moments created by the season, from the opening up of lobster shacks here in Maine to the special release of blackberry milkshakes in the Pacific Northwest. Seasonally inspired menu items create special moments.
Sure, strawberries and tomatoes are available year-round, but we’re hard-wired to enjoy them more in season. It’s human instinct to respond positively to such ingredients and flavor profiles. What else but a primal response would explain the seasonal phenomenon of Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte? We know full well that baristas aren’t scooping fresh pumpkin behind the line, yet the annual success of this seasonal offering is noteworthy.
By capitalizing on seasonality through a menu offering, operators are ultimately creating a special occasion, marking a moment. In our new Flavor R.O.I. department, First Watch’s Shane Schaibly uses a trusted formula of seasonality + a familiar format + customer loyalty to allow the brand continual on-trend menu development, as well as marketplace differentiation. Tapping into a seasonal ingredient enables operators to mark the time for consumers, and by doing so, slow it down so it gets noticed as special—the flavors, the company, the season. “Evergreen” ingredients just don’t have this aptitude.
With the abundance of year-round items at the ready, and with the fast-paced competitive buzz for trend-forward ingredient adoption, we sometimes overlook the simplicity of this goal. Having recently returned from an inspiring culinary adventure in Italy, I was struck by the emphasis on creating that moment of timelessness through food and drink experiences. Not just of the season, but of time. For example, the Aperol spritz aperitif is not only an iconic part of Italy’s culinary culture, but it’s also a dedicated event in a given day. While the spritz has deep cultural roots, it demonstrates how a simple menu offering can slow time and create an occasion. (In this issue, Maeve Webster profiles the spritz, and the ways to offer a customized version in our )
Consider how you might leverage seasonality or even a culturally significant menu item to create a memorable event for guests. Throughout this issue, there’s no shortage of ideas for doing so, taking inspiration from the ways chefs are building on the love of pasta, fried seafood or shakes and smoothies to create not only a craveable menu item but a celebration of a moment.
Cathy Nash Holley