Emerging Summer Menus: How Brands are Appealing to Consumers this Season

The development of a menu relies on a few factors, including the ingredients available that season, current consumer trends and the brand or restaurant’s creativity.

According to the National Restaurant Association, locally sourced meats and seafood and house-made/artisan soft drinks are at the top of the 2016 food trends list.

So, how are brands in all segments incorporating these type of items? And what are they emphasizing this summer to attract consumers?

Summer brings so much more than sunny rays, it also brings a slump in restaurant sales. This is frequently the hardest season for industry.

Nonetheless, restaurants are coming up with clever ways to bring their customers into their stores. This often includes introducing new menu items that channel the spirit of the season.

With fan-favorite fruits, refreshing cocktails and over-the-top food items, let’s take a look at what restaurant brands are bringing to the table this summer.

Quick-serve Introduces Unusual Menu Offerings

Fast casual has proven to be a threat to quick-serve and many fast food chains have had to adapt to survive. Pretty much every quick-serve chain has rebranded itself, including Taco Bell, Wendy’s, Arby’s and McDonald’s.

Mac n’ Cheetos at BK | Burger King

Mac n’ Cheetos at BK | Burger King

Besides that, these brands have been introducing unusual menu items to get their customers to return to their stores. Since summer is the season known for fun, there is no better time for these chains to offer over-the-top options to entice consumers.

Starting on June 27, Burger King will be offering the “Mac n’ Cheetos,” these are deep-fried mac and cheese bites topped with Cheetos-flavored dust.

“For anyone who ever wished they could eat warm mac n’ cheese like they do a bag of chips, Mac n’ Cheetos™ make the previously unthinkable a reality. Now with this cheesy treat, everyone can snack on-the-go whether en route to the beach or during a summer road trip,” said Burger King in a press release.

This latest snack food mashup will be $2.49 for a five piece.

Lobster roll now available at McDonald's stores in NE | McDonald's

Lobster roll now available at McDonald's stores in NE | McDonald's

BK’s major competitor, McDonald’s is also reintroducing an unusual menu item this summer, the New-England lobster roll returns for a limited time.

“It’s exciting to see a high demand for regional flavors at McDonald’s,” said Michael Haracz, manager of culinary innovation at McDonald’s USA in a press release. “Our Lobster Roll is made with quality ingredients, freshly prepared in our kitchens and exactly what our customers enjoy from McDonald’s. This sandwich is the perfect blend of ingredients to give you a great-tasting summer sandwich from McDonald’s.”

With limited time menu item is available in only 600 locations, specifically in New England area and it is priced at $8.99.

The fast food mogul will also been serving more traditional summer treats, like strawberry-themed smoothies and ice cream floats.

Fast Casual Gets Fruity and Fresh

Since quality ingredients are part of the fast casual segment’s DNA, it’s fitting that these brands would offer summer-themed menu items with seasonal, fresh ingredients.

QDOBA'S MANGO SALSA | BUSINESSWIRE.COM

QDOBA'S MANGO SALSA | BUSINESSWIRE.COM

Summer is also a popular time for brands to reintroduce previous fan-favorites.

New menu items from Chicken Salad Chick | Chicken Salad Chick

New menu items from Chicken Salad Chick | Chicken Salad Chick

Chicken Salad Chick is bringing back their Strawberry Pecan Salad, Lime-lime Pie and the Dill-icious Diva chicken salad. Back by popular demand, this is the second year that these items will be available at the chain.

The fan-favorite fruits cucumbers and strawberries featured on Chicken Salad Chick’s limited-time summer menu, will be making an appearance at many restaurants in all segments this season. Summer is strawberry season for the west coast and it is also consistently no. 1 on consumer’s favorite fruits lists.

Cucumbers have also made their way onto Qdoba’s summer menu. The brand brings back the Mango Salsa, which features mangos, cucumbers and red bell peppers.

“Mango is once again making its mark at Qdoba. Its bold, refreshing flavor is exactly what summer needs,” said JP Patrick, Culinary Director at Qdoba in a press release.  “Every year, our guests rave about the return of Mango Salsa. We always want our guests to mix and match their favorite mouthwatering flavors, and now they can add Mango Salsa to any entree, at no extra charge.”

70% of total mango distribution occurs in the spring and summer season.

Casual-dining Goes Big

Several casual dining chains are anticipating that customers are going to want to treat themselves to celebrate summer.  

Loaded Bloom | Outback Steakhouse

Loaded Bloom | Outback Steakhouse

Red Robin has brought back it’s MadLove Burger until August 21. This beast of a burger features a half-pound Black Angus beef patty topped with both melted Swiss and provolone cheese, parmesan and Cheddar cheese crisp, candied bacon, avocado slices, jalapeño relish, citrus-marinated tomatoes and onions and romaine lettuce toasted on a Ciabatta bun. It is also paired with Bottomless Steak Fries, whereas guests can get as many fries as they wish. The burger chain is also offering the Jala-Piña Rita, Barely-Battered Broccoli and NachO.M.G on this limited time menu.

Outback Steakhouse is also going big this summer with its “Big Australia” menu featuring super-sized menu items, including the 18 oz. Center Cut Sirloin, Giant Crab Stuffed Lobster Tail and the Loaded Bloom, an appetizer that combines the chain’s beloved Bloomin’ Onion with its Aussie Cheese fries.

Not all casual-dining chains are promoting calorie-packed items, California Pizza Kitchen has introduced the California Fields Salad, “with fresh strawberries, juicy watermelon, fresh basil, pistachios, feta and champagne vinaigrette atop crisp field greens. Under 650 calories, the California Fields Salad is deliciously light and refreshing on a warm summer day,” said Brian Sullivan, SVP of Culinary Innovation at California Pizza Kitchen in a press release.

Fine Dining Gets More Simple and More Approachable  

The unique value proposition of fine dining restaurants has always been the food quality and the impeccable service.

But, the spring and summer seasons have always been a time for concepts to reinvent themselves.

Recently, Alinea, the award winning Chicago restaurant featuring creative tasting menus by Chef Grant Achatz, has been transformed. The restaurant’s once dark interior is now light, cozy and modern. The menu focus is now on refined, simple, yet bold flavors and ingredients.

There are also different price-point levels, including a more affordable option of a 10-14 course at $165.

Fine dining restaurants as a whole are adapting and incorporating more simplistic menus, while also doing away with its stuffy atmosphere.

Since the summer season is often a slower season, it’s not uncommon for restaurants to do renovations during this time or test new concepts and menus like Alinea is doing for the next few months.