5 Tips for Solid Summer Menu Planning

Spring is here which means it’s time to start planning your restaurant’s summer menu. Creating new seasonal dishes can be exciting but also stressful. There’s plenty to consider when planning your menu, such as food costs, versatility, and ensuring a mixture of classic and unique offerings to entice all palates. 

Summer is a time to be outdoors, enjoying the warm weather and the sunshine, so it’s essential to have food that matches low-key vibe. 

So how do you get started planning your summer menu? We've got the skinny on summer menu tips from tops chefs and a master bartender. Here’s what we found out.  

Keep Dishes on The Lighter Side

When the heat is up, no one wants to devour something hot and heavy. The summer season brings a lighter side to the menu, incorporating juicy fruits, fresh veggies, and light (or raw) fish options. 

“Summer dishes are refreshing, light and higher in acidity for me,” says chef Thomas Chen of Tuome in New York City. “I love pickling ingredients for summer.”

Executive chef Anthony Russo from Lugo Cucina Italiana says shrimp is a big "summer staple" on the menu and it doesn't have to be too fancy. "We marinate (shrimp) in a touch of garlic, lemon zest, parsley, and olive oil. You can put them on the grill or in the oven which ever you prefer, cook just until tender and then serve."

Take Advantage of The Grill

Grilled steak is a must on a summer menu

Nothing says summer like grilled meats and veggies. Whether guests are eating inside or outdoors, a grilled dish easily gets them in the summertime spirit. 

“Every summer menu needs grilled items,” says Executive chef Greg Rubin of American Cut Tribeca. “My favorites and recommendations are grilled swordfish, grilled asparagus, grilled corn succotash, and fava beans. A great summer dish is grilled corn succotash with lobster, and add a little bit of raw sherry to complement the lobster.”

Chef Russo also agrees, saying it wouldn't be summer without some steak on the grill. “We are adding a grilled flat iron steak to the menu just in time for the warmer weather. Flat iron steak is a reasonably priced steak and perfect for outdoor grilling. I like to use the same marinade as the shrimp (because) it pairs well with just about anything.”

Properly Match Cocktails With Food Menu

Summer fare and refreshing cocktails go hand in hand. But in order to do it right Miami-based mixologist, Michael Albuerne from The Local Craft Food & Drink says to keep the booze light.

“Dilution is key when making summer cocktails,” says Albuerne. “You want the drink to be a refreshing and memorable experience, and ideally allowing your guests to want to have a second round.” 

Albuerne also notes that a good summer cocktail wouldn’t be anything without the right ingredients, and when you have the option, better is always best. “Better ingredients added with better spirits makes for better cocktails.”

Ease Into The Menu 

A new seasonal menu doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and patience to organize a summertime menu, which is what chef Chen knows plenty about. “The dishes are tested during spring for summer. When we make the change in the summer, it's typically two changes to the menu each week. We phase in the summer menu (which) gives us enough time for cooks to adapt to the prep and service.”

Use Seasonal Ingredients 

Use fresh seasonal ingredients

Chefs and bartenders alike reach for seasonal ingredients when crafting up a new summer menu. Bonus points if the ingredients are locally-sourced because not only are you giving guests the freshest ingredients, but you’re helping local farmers in the process.

For chef Chen, watermelon is his item of choice to keep his summertime dishes cool. “It’s one of the ingredients that is not available during any other seasons.”

Heirloom tomatoes are what Chef Rubin prefers in his New York City establishment, saying they are the "perfect example" of a summer ingredient especially in the city. 

As for Albuerne, he’s a big fan of using mangos, Miami’s staple fruit, to infuse in his cocktails of the season. “Mangos provide just the right amount of sweetness and are very easy to obtain in large quantities.”