Preparing for Summer: Food, Drinks, Events, and More

It doesn’t matter which region you’re in — the warm summer weather provides restaurateurs the opportunity to develop seasonal flavors, all while providing them the ability to fill their seats (and patios) to drive new revenue channels.

To execute a flawless summer program, it’s important to start planning as early as possible, preferably 2-3 months prior to the start of summer. Developing a summer program this early will allow a venue to determine cash-flow needs, staffing requirements, inventory levels, and any additional training requirements to ensure a smooth operating season.

As with any seasonal or marketing related program, it’s imperative to use a SMART mindset towards your planning; one that is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. Secondly, it’s a fantastic opportunity to utilize your staff to brainstorm menu items, themes, and other special events. Finally, one should also use this time to review previous years’ seasonal data to set new, attainable financial goals.

The goal at the end of the day is to generate awareness, repeat business, and an increase in revenue over the course of three months. Here are nine ways to get started with summer planning, regardless of your concept type.

1. Drive energy.

The warm weather attracts tourism and gets locals looking to re-explore their outside surroundings. The restaurants or bars that provide the right mix of energy are the ones that will attract a consistent level of guests throughout the season. Look for ways to utilize live music, themed parties, and interactive games (inside or outside) on a daily or weekly basis throughout the summer. A fully pre-planned calendar of events will drive energy, create excitement, and develop repeat business!

2. Create event buzz.

To maximize an event’s reach, it’s best to use a three-tiered approach to creating event buzz. Have a plan in place to promote your seasonal events. You’ll need to one prior to the event, one during the event, and one afterwards, recapping the event. This will ensure you’re promoting the event, giving guests a means to engage with your brand. You’re also giving an opportunity for others to see what they missed out on, making them intrigued to not miss your next event!

3. Connect with your farmers market.

Consumers are looking for new flavors and innovation, as well as creative summer-like takes on traditional menu items. There is no better way to stay ahead of this need than by utilizing and building stronger relationships with local farmers market. Provide your culinary team with the means to develop unique, limited-time offers with not only seasonal produce, but a variety of barbecue-related flavours as well.

4. Put a little "theatre" in drinks.

Innovation shouldn’t stop with just the kitchen-related menu items; beverages need to be included into the mix, too. (It is hot out, after all). The “garden-to-glass” trend continues to grow and new, refreshing spirits are becoming readily available to develop unique flavorful drinks with a memorable presentation. Beer and cocktails with low-levels of alcohol should also be featured, plus creative mocktails and house-made spritzers should highlight one’s summer menu offerings.

5. Utilize video and storytelling.

These two elements are really required for any time of the year, but to promote your events, your limited-time offers, and summer drink menu, there is no better way to amplify the message than through video. Use this opportunity to showcase service staff planning an event, cooks building that signature summer burger, or bartenders pouring that refreshing beverage. Remember, with today’s smart phones, you no longer need to break-the-bank on video production!

6. Tap social circles.

Summer is a great opportunity to reach out to sporting teams, bike clubs, and other outdoor enthusiasts. Can your venue host after-parties? Can your venue host a social-media-only party or tasting event? Don’t be afraid to reach out and partner with other local businesses and organizations. Every campaign should have a social media and/or community-driven strategy behind it.

7. Convince guests to return for three visits.

Each seasonal program and its associated campaigns should have the goal of guests returning at least three times. Understanding your target market, is it realistic to see a guest return three times per week, three time per month, or once per month over the summer? Once you truly understand their lifestyle and spending habits, you can develop events and campaigns to drive summer loyalty and a personalized experience.

8. Use quality designs.

When a venue gives itself the opportune time to plan, a sense of higher quality often comes with it. Budget for and take the time to create high-quality designs for posters, ads, video, and social media posts. This will speak volumes to potential guests while providing a perception of value to not only your new summer menus, but also your events and overall venue.

9. Remember, it’s all about finesse and balance.

Absolutely, the summer provides an opportunity to think outside the box, but don’t go overboard with menu changes and special events. Know your target market, know your concept, and know your financial budgets. Develop a program that is simple but memorable, profitable, and effective, and without placing additional stress on your kitchen, bar, or service staff.

In summary, concentrate your summer plans on presentation, energy levels, storytelling, and developing a personalized guest experience. Doing so will develop a sense of community and culture, setting your venue up for success, even as the weather (and often sales) begin to cool down!