It’s Friday and you’re prepared for the start of the weekend rush. Fully staffed, both front of house and back. The kitchen is prepped and ready with all of your signature menu items and bestsellers. Everything’s perfect—until the Friday dinner traffic just trickles in. Your regulars arrive, but where’s the crowd?
Don’t let this scenario happen to you during Lent, which begins Feb. 10. Datassential says 26 percent of consumers observe Lent, and 41 percent of those consumers eat fish on Fridays instead of meat. If seafood and other meatless offerings aren’t on your Lent menu, you could miss out. Adding the right items and then marketing them are ways you can appeal to all customers—your regulars, occasional diners, and walk-ins.
Whether it’s promotions or limited-time offers (LTOs), make sure your message gets out and your menu is on-brand. If you have a sandwich menu, consider a fish burger or fried-fish sandwich. If your specialty is Italian, shrimp scampi or clam risotto may be a solid Lent option. The point is to enhance your menu, appealing to customers who observe Lent while also maintaining the signature foods you’re known for.
Although fish-fry dinners, fried shrimp, and salmon dishes are customer favourites (Technomic 2015), there are lots of creative ideas you can apply if it’s better suited to your restaurant. Don’t overlook crabcakes, lobster, crayfish, or even sushi if it matches your brand and your kitchen’s comfort zone.
But don’t just offer seafood, sell it by getting the word out early and often. Start with menu inserts, table tents, or window signs that build an appetite for your upcoming Lent specials. You could even distribute menus to local churches or place ads in their weekly bulletins to create anticipation.
Then, turn to social media to create a buzz. Catchy hashtags (#jointhegrouper, #hightide, or #oceancatch), a text-message campaign, or an email blast can remind customers who have visited before to come in and try your Lent specials. Remind them that this is the one time all year you’ll be offering a certain dish, building sense of urgency that build business.
And once they’re seated around your tables, appealing menu language can seal the deal. Mentioning globally-inspired flavours, wild-caught varieties, or bold cooking styles (pan seared, cold smoked, or fire roasted) appeals to a sense of adventure.
Datassentials research estimates that seafood sales jump by more than 20 percent during Lent. It’s something that customers expect. In fact, 74 percent of those who observe Lent say it’s important that restaurants offer specials on Lent meals. That makes it a prime time to add seafood to the menu, or to try out new offerings that may appeal during Lent and beyond.
One way to build a long-term connection is by appealing to healthier eating. Many people choose the start of a new year as a time to commit to better eating. LYFE Kitchen (LYFE stands for Love Your Food Everyday) notes that 45 percent of all consumers eat to enhance their well-being, so telling them about your seafood menu in those terms could drive success. LYFE offers mahi fish tacos, blackened mahi, grilled salmon and more for diners looking to eat healthier.
And authoritynutrition.com backs this up with 11 Evidence-Based Health Benefits of Eating Fish, and the Journal of the American Medial Association says eating 8 oz. of seafood at least once a week reduces the risk of heart disease by 36 percent.
Customers are not only concerned about their health, but also the health of the planet. If it applies to your seafood menu, mention sustainable food sourcing, local sourcing, or your commitment to sound environmental practices. Using phrases like “wild-caught, “local,” “certified,” or “pure water/pristine environment,” you can assure customers of your commitment to sustainability and great dining.
Once you have them hooked on your Lent specials, customers will visit again—perhaps to sample your meatless Monday offerings or to try other sections of your menu. Those foods you introduce or promote during Lent can pay dividends all year long.