Several decades ago, restaurants were reliant on the seasonality of produce, creating their dishes when fruits and vegetables were in season.
Later on, technology and transportation meant that fruits and vegetables were available all year round. We could have strawberries at Christmas if we didn’t mind paying a little extra for the privilege.
We are now seeing a move back to restaurants providing seasonal dishes.
In this article we will look at the benefits of seasonal food, and how to create a show-stopping seasonal menu for your restaurant.
What are the benefits of seasonal food?
When food is out-of-season in the UK, it is grown in other countries – sometimes in heavily-managed conditions. These costs, as well as the costs to import food to the UK, are passed onto the consumer.
It’s more reliable
The UK has become more reliant on imports from countries that are vulnerable to climate change. Imports of fruit and vegetables from climate-vulnerable countries have increased from 20% in the 1980s to 32% in the 2010s.
Increased reliance on produce from other countries could cause problems in the future if temperature changes mean fruit and vegetables can no longer be grown.
It’s more environmentally friendly
Out-of-season food has a larger carbon footprint than seasonal food grown in the UK.
11% of carbon dioxide emissions in the UK are linked to transporting food. With the UK aiming to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, it’s critical to reduce the number of ‘food miles’ we generate.
As out-of-season food must travel further, it can spoil during the transportation process. Some fruits and vegetables may even be modified to survive the journey (for example, crossbreeding them to have thicker skins).
Seasonal produce does not have this issue, meaning it tastes fresher, looks more vibrant and is more nutritious.
Changing your menu regularly can help grow business
Using seasonal fruit and veg means that you are changing your menu regularly – at least once a season. This gives customers a reason to come back regularly and try your brand-new dishes.
Seasonal food also creates a sense of urgency. If it’s around for a limited time, customers will want to move quickly to try it.
What is seasonal in the UK in March?
There are lots of great fruit and veg that are in season in the UK now:
- Spring onions
It’s not just fruit and veg that is seasonal too. Seasonal fish and shellfish include:
Has climate change affected what is in season in the UK?
Previously we mentioned that we import produce from countries vulnerable to climate change. It is having an impact on the UK too.
In the 19th century, England’s growing season was about 244 days. By 2015, it was 280 days – five weeks longer than it was initially.
This is having a gradual impact on what is available when.
Has COVID-19 affected what is in season in the UK?
The pandemic did cause issues initially. With lockdowns and restrictions on movement, some produce was not available from overseas. This caused shortages in supermarkets.
It also had an impact on seasonal produce in the UK. The UK usually relies on 75,000 agricultural workers to pick fruit and vegetables. These workers predominantly come from the European Union and were unable to travel to the UK in 2020. Despite furloughed and unemployed workers in the UK helping the farms, a lot of produce could not be picked.
Has Brexit affected what is in season in the UK?
At the end of last year, there were concerns that a no-deal Brexit would cause produce shortages as agricultural workers would not be able to come to the country.
The Government has extended the Seasonal Agricultural Workers pilot to 30,000 applications for this year, meaning that there should be enough labour to pick and pack UK crops.
Defra is also leading a review into horticultural automation to identify ways to reduce reliance on seasonal workers.
How to create the perfect seasonal menu
If you want to create a delicious seasonal menu for your restaurant, here are our top tips.
You will need to plan your seasonal menus as far ahead as possible. Start thinking about what is in season and how you can use produce in each of your dishes ahead of time.
You’ll also need to think of where you are going to get your produce from. Will your existing suppliers be able to get fruit and vegetables for you and if so, at what cost?
You’ll also have to have a contingency in place. If the produce you want is not available, can you substitute it for something else in the dish?
If you don’t want to commit to a whole seasonal menu, taking small steps towards seasonality will be appreciated by your customers.
For example, you could introduce a vegetable soup as a starter. It’s easy and cheap to make, and you can use whatever seasonal vegetables you can get hold of.
If you offer a chicken dish, change the sides depending on the season. For example, you can serve it with asparagus from May to June and then switch to courgettes in July and August.
Get the whole team involved
Although the chefs are involved in building the menu, getting buy-in from the whole team will allow you to promote your new seasonal menu to its full potential.
Organise a tasting night so servers can try the dishes that they will be recommending to customers. If you use local produce, let the staff know where each element of the dish comes from.
Get your bar staff involved so they can recommend drinks that complement your dishes perfectly. They may even be able to make a stunning cocktail from the fruit that is in season too!
Promote the fact that your menus are seasonal
59% of people say they’re more likely to order a dish at a restaurant if it’s described as seasonal.
Take the opportunity to promote your seasonal menus on social media, with lots of appetising photos.
Popular hashtags on social media include:
Offering a seasonal menu takes a little planning, but it will be greatly appreciated by customers old and new.
Take the time to see what is available month-by-month and discover the delicious dishes you will be able to make.