Industry News
Menu inspiration: Vacation town eats and summertime treats
Jaclyn Marks
August 1, 2018

With summer in full swing, turn to vacation towns for menu and product line inspiration, as they feature everything from in-season fruits and veggies to regional specialties to restaurant-prepared picnic lunches and dinners complete with wine pairings and baskets (a creative take on takeaway for the on-the-go customer). It’s also never too early to look forward to next summer. One consumer stated in a Datassential survey for Dine Around: Vacation Towns, “I like to try exotic things I haven’t had before” when on vacation, while another said, “I want to eat foods that are local specialties and things I can’t get at home” – think gator meat or cocktails featuring edible gold leaf. Operators can look to capitalize on these desires consumers have while on vacation to try new items that may be “exotic” or not easily accessible at home.

It’s all going to be rosé

You know summer is underway when restaurants and bars start advertising the trendy pink wine known as rosé, referred to as “everyone’s favorite summer wine” by Food & Wine. Rosé has grown 50% on menus over the past four years, according to Datassential MenuTrends (which tracks over 100,000 US menus). In the Hamptons, a well-known summer vacation destination located in New York, Bay Kitchen Bar leverages its scenic locale to promote a Sunset Happy Hour, wherein customers can get locally-harvested oysters for just $1 or a $5 glass of rosé – operators anywhere can similarly look to offer special deals around rosé to draw in customers during the summer. For a spin on the summertime staple, operators can additionally look to showcase frosé drinks (essentially rosé slushies) – at Taco Bell Cantina locations in Chicago and Newport Beach, the refreshing beverage is available until the end of summer, while Chicago-based The Hampton Social features a frosé made with Tito’s handmade vodka, rosé, and a peach purée.

Highlight regional dishes and in-season ingredients

Many vacation town restaurants are found inside hotels and resorts (some even are attached to Airbnb locations like Brushland Eating House in Bovina Center, N.Y., in the Catskill Mountains), and no matter where they’re located, operators are looking to offer consumers authentic experiences of the particular regions they’re traveling in – according to Datassential’s Lodging & Recreation Keynote Report, 74% of consumers want U.S. regional foods at lodging/recreation venues. At the Abbey Resort in Fontana-On-Geneva Lake, WI, guests can dine at aptly-named The Waterfront, a pier-side restaurant featuring both indoor and outdoor seating. It’s known for serving up regional Wisconsin fare like cheese curds made not just with locally-sourced white cheddar cheese but also Spotted Cow beer (available as a drink option, too, brewed locally and something customers can’t get outside the state).

Featuring in-season ingredients is another way operators can draw in customers during the summer. According to Datassential FLAVOR, 71% of consumers love or like seasonal fruit, while 67% of consumers love or like seasonal veggies. One restaurant showcased in Dine Around: Vacation Towns that’s centered around seasonality and hyper-local concepts is SHED, located in Healdsburg, Calif., a city in Sonoma County. Both a la carte and prix fixe menus are available and updated daily to reflect what’s in season, and after getting a taste of SHED’s produce, visitors can purchase heirloom seeds to plant at home. For a refreshing, fruity drink reflective of the season, SHED also has a fermentation bar with shrub drinks, which contain house-made drinking vinegars and serve as a platform for showcasing fresh herbs and seasonal fruits. Upon request, picnics with wine pairings can also be made for customer pick up at SHED, and the hand-woven baskets they come in are meant to serve as a keepsake. Consider how offering a restaurant-prepared picnic (which, according to our data, 46% of consumers are interested in) could be leveraged not just for the dinner daypart but also at lunch, when employees may look for a convenient way to enjoy the nice weather outside. The concept of restaurant-prepared picnics is also highly customizable and can help any operator maximize to-go sales.

Provide a personalized experience

Personalized dining experiences are only becoming more relevant – and not just for operators located in designated vacation towns. Since opening in 2016, Healdsburg-based SingleThread has gone on to earn two Michelin stars and was declared by Forbes to be “arguably the most interesting hotel-slash-dining experience in America.” Before arriving at the restaurant, diners receive an email asking about taste preferences and any dietary restrictions so that the 11-course, prix fixe, kaiseki-style meal they’re served is actually customized to each individual’s liking. With the personalized eating trend growing across the country, operators can look to small things like emailing diners ahead of time to determine dietary restrictions and preferences (such as vegetarian or vegan) to make diners’ visits special and unique to them. Even something as simple as adding diners’ names to personalized menus could help create a lasting impression.

Jaclyn Marks is a publications specialist at Datassential, a supplier of trends, analysis, and concept testing for the food industry. To purchase Dine Around: Vacation Towns or our Lodging & Recreation Keynote Report, contact Datassential managing director Brian Darr at brian.darr@datassential.com.

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