Seasonal Autumn Menus: Pumpkin and More Pumpkin

By Kerri Adams, Managing Editor 

Restaurants offering autumn seasonal items on their menu is certainly not a new trend. Once summer is over, consumers look forward to the various fall holidays. Autumn brings seasonal ingredient favorites and since more restaurants are consistently offering seasonal menus year round now, this year’s autumn menus are as festival as ever– from the quick serve to fine dining segment.

Why are Consumers Still Interested Year After Year?

What is the appeal of the pumpkin flavored dishes and beverages? Yes, Pumpkin Spice Lattes are tasty but this trend is not only about the taste of the ingredients- it is much more than that. Most of the items are only available for a few months, if that. This creates a sense of urgency for consumers and they don’t want to miss out. Consumers, especially millennials are going to be sharing their pumpkin flavor items on social media and this contributes to the autumn frenzy. They don’t want to miss out on Dunkin’ Donuts’ Pumpkin Pie Donut, when they have seen it pop up on their newsfeed since the season started. Can they wait until next year? Probably not. Limited time menu offers are effective promotions for brands because they bring in new business, they offer regular customers something new, and they initiate end of quarter highs.

The appeal of these flavors is also about how they make the consumer feel. These items are symphonious with holidays, such as Halloween and Thanksgiving. They are comforted by these celebrations and every year they return and invoke memories from previous years. The taste of pumpkin reminds them of going to the pumpkin patch with their family and consumers can’t help being nostalgic– it is just human nature.  

Quick Serve

So how are these ingredients being featured on quick serve menus? 11 years ago Starbucks started serving their Pumpkin Spice Latte and it still a customer seasonal favorite. The brand has its own twitter handle for the beverage (@TheRealPSL) and they almost have 100k followers. The price for a small latte is roughly $3.95 to $4.15, depending on the market.

The brand is also inviting you to “celebrate the season” with two other autumn beverage offerings, the Salted Caramel Mocha and Teavana Oprah Chai. These feature the other consumer favorite autumn flavors, caramel and cinnamon. As for food options, Starbucks is are offering pumpkin scones and pumpkin cream-cheese muffins.

McDonald’s has also jumped on the pumpkin bandwagon. However, the brand is only selling their McCafe pumpkin latte in certain regions. A small costs roughly $2.29. McDonald’s has been ramping up their coffee offerings and first launched its McCafé line in the U.S. in 2009. The brand offered their second Free Coffee program in September. Selected McDonald's chains will be offering a White Chocolate Mocha, White Chocolate Latte and Hot Chocolate later in the season. Do you think the brand can compete with beverage moguls, such as Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts?

Fast Casual

Einstein Bros Bagels is getting very festive by serving a ton of pumpkin flavored options including Pumpkin bagels, Pumpkin Muffins, Pumpkin Scones, Pumpkin Bagel Clusters. Pumpkin Lattes, and Pumpkin Walnut Crunch bagel, served with orange pumpkin shmear. The signature pumpkin bagel has been a guest favorite since being introduced in 1997.  

Another fast casual bakery, Au Bon Pain is also trying to compete with a fall menu. Their fall menu does not only feature pumpkin flavored options such as their Pumpkin CroisBun, Pumpkin Croissant, and Pumpkin Pie Latte but also non-pumpkin flavored products, such as the Caramel Apple Bar. They are channeling thanksgiving flavors with their Oven Hot Turkey & Cheddar on 9-Grain Cranberry Ciabatta sandwich.

Casual Dining

This trend is not only appearing on restaurant menus in the quick segments but casual dining brands, such as Red Robin, have added autumn flavors to their seasonal offerings.  A new offering this year is the boozy milkshake, the Beam-N-Bacon Shake and their Southern Charm Burger which features candied bacon. Some other fall menu items this season are the Spiced Pumpkin Pie Milkshake which returns after first being introduced by the brand last year, a seasonal cocktail called FIREBALL Peach Smash, and the dessert Sweet-N-Stout Bite-Tin.  

The Cheesecake Factory brings back their pumpkin cheesecake and Pumpkin Pecan Cheesecake starting this October until the end of the holidays and Olive Garden adds a grilled chicken breast with butternut squash dish to their menu for fall.

Fine Dining

In the fine dining segment you will see festival bar, dessert and brunch menus. At Miami’s Yard Bird, they are offering the dessert Oven Roasted Pumpkin spiced maple pecan drizzle and for bunch pumpkin pancakes and pumpkin beignets. This season, New York City’s Perilla offers Vanilla Scented Doughtnuts on their brunch menu and Butternut Squash Custard for Dessert. Atelier Crenn, in San Francisco offers strictly an autumn menu with an option to order signature courses or the Chef’s Grand Tasting Menu. It is a common theme in the fine dining segment to change the menus either daily, weekly, monthly and to feature primarily flavors from the season and autumn gives these restaurants a lot of ingredients to spice things up with!

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Bar Programs Explode with Fall Flavors

There has already been a demand for craft beer. Craft beer production has gone up 9.6%, while overall beer production has actually gone down by 1.4%. Consumers are expecting bar programs to have seasonal brews. Pumpkin brews are tremendously popular and there are festivals all over the world dedicated to these seasonal brews. You will see more pumpkin ales, stouts, and wheat from local smaller breweries appearing on restaurant bar menus  this fall , along from the brew moguls.

Is it Worth the Hype?

The sales of pumpkin flavored foods as a whole increased by 14 percent last year alone. But are consumers going to get sick of the trend, already? Brands launched these seasonal products in early September so they have been heavily marketed and available for almost two months now. Does this just mean that restaurants and brands are just going to have to get innovative with their offerings to keep the craze going? Are you already sick of these menu items?