Seasonal drinks can draw the attention of new and returning customers alike, offering them the chance to try something unique and exciting. Whether it’s warm tea blends during winter or a refreshing range of lemonades for hot summer days, this is also an opportunity for restaurants, hotels, and coffee shops to reinforce their brand or even reinvent themselves.
However, designing a seasonal drinks menu can be daunting. We spoke to Dan Fellows, who won the title of World Coffee in Good Spirits Champion in 2018 and 2019 for his creative coffee cocktails. He agreed to share with us his advice for creating seasonal drinks and keeping them profitable.
Why Expand Into a Seasonal Drinks Menu?
Dan tells us that seasonal and signature drinks can be a menu’s “hero products”. Since they aren’t available elsewhere, they can attract customers to the specific coffee shop or restaurant that serves them. “[These] businesses become destinations,” he stresses.
As temporary menu items, they also create a sense of curiosity and urgency. Loyal customers will want to try these items before they miss the chance. Drinks such as holiday hot chocolates and autumnal lattes can even result in an increase of traffic, as customers flock to the premises for a drink they’ve been looking forward to potentially all year long.
However, customers will expect these new drinks to be as good as, if not better than, the regular menu items. The process of launching a new drink has to involve careful planning, testing, and training.
Credit: Ana Valencia
Step 1: Outlining Aims and Establishing Processes
There is a plethora of potential menu items that businesses can offer, but not all drinks will be suitable for all brands.
“It is first important to understand what you are trying to achieve,” Dan says. “This may be to tell the story of a particular product or producer, to create drinks fitting for the outside conditions and seasons, or simply to create tasty drinks with high margins.”
When considering the seasons, it’s worth looking beyond the beverage’s temperature. Citrusy coffees can be a great choice for summer, while coffees with chocolate or spice notes naturally have a wintry flavour.
This can also be an excellent opportunity to use seasonal fruits and herbs from nearby farms, which will resonate with customers concerned about the environment or the local economy.
Once the aims have been outlined, businesses “can begin designing recipes and tweak these to ensure the drinks are balanced, have a good background story, and fulfill the objectives outlined,” Dan continues.
Changes might be needed to make sure a beverage is feasible. For example, perhaps a summer drink calls for fresh mint and strawberries. Mint is relatively easy to store – but is there space for the strawberries? Will they spoil or become bruised too quickly? Do the baristas have time to wash and chop them as they make the drink?
Syrups and concentrates are often a good alternative to storing bulky and quick-spoiling ingredients, creating that seasonal feeling without taking up too much space. This will also make processes quicker and reduce costs: the syrups can be made ahead of time and staff can then simply add cold or sparkling water with the Marco FRIIA.
Once the business is happy with the recipe, they should think through how it will be made in service. How long will it take? What items will be needed? Will preparing it slow down customer service, perhaps creating a knock-on effect on other beverages?
“High-quality equipment is critical to delivering delicious drinks consistently,” says Dan. “This, paired with detailed staff training on how to achieve the best results with such equipment, can allow teams to create efficient processes and systems to deliver the highest standard of drinks quickly and consistently.”
The right equipment will improve quality and keep processes smooth. Businesses should be wary of investing in too much equipment: this will not only increase costs but also take up space behind the bar and potentially confuse staff. When baristas can’t remember which tool they need or how to operate it, efficiency and quality are bound to fall.
The best equipment will be suitable for multiple beverages, since this will reduce the cost per transaction. It should also be simple, efficient, and of the best quality so businesses can provide excellent service.
Space-saving products such as the MIX, which provides water at three different precise temperatures from one font, and the FRIIA, which supplies hot, cold, and sparkling water, can make it easier for baristas and kitchen staff to quickly switch between different drink recipes. Undercounter boilers such as the Über, which has an in-built drain, scales, and timer, can also save space.
Trials and Staff Training
On paper, a beverage might seem profitable, popular, and easy to make – but until trials and training have been conducted, it’s impossible to know for definite.
It’s worth making the drinks in a service environment for a small group of taste-testers, whether they’re staff members or personal contacts of the business owner or manager. After this, further tweaks can be made or the launch date can be determined.
Dan believes that involving staff at this stage is key. “Not only does this ensure team members take pride in the drinks they serve, as they have played a part in the development of them, but also it is good to have outside viewpoints on the drinks before launching on a menu,” he explains. “Team menu tastings… increase knowledge [of the drinks] but also support a positive culture.”
From a practical perspective, he also stresses that “service stations must be intelligently set up to deliver the drinks efficiently and cleanly” and “it is very important to ensure that the team is able to talk about the drinks confidently”. The training and trials period is the ideal moment to double-check both these points.
Credit: Neil Soque
A successful launch is all about communication. A strong social media campaign will drive up excitement, while window graphics and a board pavement sign can attract the attention of passers-by. Trialing different social media messages can give insights into what resonates with potential customers.
Free samples can also draw attention, but to be financially viable, they need to have a good conversion rate. It’s important to target these well.
Dan recommends reviewing the menu design. “I have known businesses to use outlined boxes to highlight featured products, which they have found to increase sales significantly,” he says.
Different colours, bold font, and even a text bubble stating that the drink is new can also draw the customer’s attention – providing the style remains on-brand, of course.
Dan also highlights the importance of team buy-in. “If baristas and bartenders are excited about the drinks they serve and feel ownership over their quality, they will be much more likely to recommend them to guests.”
Credit: Neil Soque
Seasonal drinks can attract new customers and cement the loyalty of returning ones. If done right, they can also represent opportunities for strong profit margins and team spirit, as well as reinforcing a brand. The keys to success are good planning, a well-thought-out launch process, and team buy-in.