Is Feb. 10 circled on your calendar? It should be. That’s Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent—a season that can jumpstart the slower period after the December holiday rush.
The time to start planning for Lent is now. Datassential says 26 percent of consumers observe Lent, and 41 percent of those consumers eat fish on Fridays instead of meat. Looking ahead a month or two means you’ll be menu-ready when Lent arrives. And that’s a good thing. Fish and shellfish sales jump by more than 20 percent during Lent, according to Datassential. Plus, an early start on your seafood menu will appeal to customers looking to eat lighter and healthier at the start of the new year, or those looking for a special treat on Valentine’s Day.
Because observing Lent is a priority for customers, a well thought out plan is important. Seafood sandwiches, fried fish, fish and chips, and shrimp dishes are customer favourites, according to Technomic Inc. These Lent staples may serve you well. But during this time, when diners are committed to eating seafood (especially on Fridays) as part of their Lenten observance, it’s a prime opportunity to expand the seafood menu. From Ash Wednesday until Easter (March 27), you don’t just want to serve your customers seafood, you want them to dine, offering them entrées they will look forward to during Lent and ask for again at other times of the year.
The leading fish dish at Top 500 restaurants is salmon, Technomic says, likely because of its familiarity and health benefits. But there are other fish varieties, preparation techniques, and cooking methods that will appeal to customers during Lent and beyond.
Lent has everyone thinking fish, especially on Fridays. Standing out from the rest means offering options that go beyond the traditional fish baskets. Trident Seafoods suggests a number of inspirations that raise the fish and chips game:
Although salmon is mentioned on menus more often than any other fish, Technomic’s MenuMonitor shows that number has declined by 21 percent. The fastest-growing fish on the menu is cod, up 25 percent. Still, salmon is not to be overlooked. It is the top entrée at full-service restaurants, appearing on 31 percent of menus. Tilapia, a low-fat, sweet, and fine-textured white fish, is on 11 percent of menus. It’s tied for second with fish and chips. The fastest growing fish entrées include whitefish (+22%), cod (+11%), and tilapia (+6%).
When it comes to shellfish entrées, shrimp is the most popular, appearing on 55 percent of menus. Lobsters are runner up at 10 percent. Crab cakes appear on only 8 percent of menus, but Technomic shows they are the fastest-growing shellfish entrée in the category, and provide many options for creativity, from crab cakes served with a signature sauce to sliders dressed with customizable toppings.
Fried fish and shellfish preparations are most popular among entrées at Top 500 restaurants, Technomic reports. This includes comforting a craveable breaded, battered, or crusted fish. However, healthier preparations, such as baked fish or shellfish that has been steamed or grilled also are popular. Taking a page from the aggressive cooking styles popular on veg-centric menus, glazed, pan-seared, sautéed, wood-grilled, and smoked seafood can be a popular point of differentiation.
Crispy fried fish surrounded by a mound of french fries is a crave-worthy menu item, but Lent can also be a time to think outside the fish basket. Diners looking for alternatives during Lent can help determine lasting menu popularity. Try adding shrimp to pasta and rice dishes, soups, salads, or sandwiches. And don’t overlook indulgent classics like lobster, scallops, mussels, clams, and oysters. Although these items are declining on menus, fresh preparations like cioppino, a seafood boil, clambake, or crab beignets may appeal to diners for Lent and beyond.
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