The Significance of Seasonality

If you follow the numerous annual reports from restaurant watchers on important trends for 2013, you already know that seasonality continues to be a significant factor at every level of dining, drinking and hospitality.

Take seasonal beers. For off-premise beverage alcohol retailers, one of the most significant factors in building a reliable and satisfied customer base these days is a commitment to stocking a beer section with as many seasonal brews as possible. Many of them report that, via Facebook or Twitter or other forms of social media, the announcement of the arrival of these brews creates a buzz among their customers; many of those customers have come to rely on the retailers to keep them informed when the latest seasonal brew arrives, and they like to stock up when the end of the cycle nears.

Compare that approach to the difficulty in managing a chain beverage program with seasonality in mind, and you can see one problem; customers who have become accustomed to getting what they want when they want it are harder to impress on-premise.

“On pretty much every dimension, casual restaurants are not doing as effective a job as fine dining restaurants or bars in leveraging the growth in craft beers,” says Bill Pecoriello, CEO of research firm GuestMetrics in a recent release. “Based on our data, craft beers accounted for 20% of beer sales in casual restaurants, versus the 22% in bars and 28% in fine dining restaurants. Additionally, the average price being charged by casual restaurants for craft beers is only $5.09, compared to $5.53 in bars and $6.16 in fine dining restaurants. This is a function of differences in brand mix, promotional levels and as well as pricing architecture across the sub-channels. While it may not be feasible for casual restaurants to charge the same amount as fine dining, there should be room for closing the price gap relative to what bars are realizing.”

Closing the price gap is only the start; how about responding to the attitudes about drinking beer that are being breed into young legal drinking age consumers? With beer it is most obvious that seasonality matters, as craft brewers keep churning out interesting fare meant to be on the market for a limited time. But craft cocktail bartenders, like fine dining chefs, have started to influence the way people think about drinking spirits as well, and not incorporating some form of seasonal offering – peaches and melons in summer, for example – into an operation’s drink menu is the sort of negative message that seeps in slowly to a customer’s mind, and stays there.

Taking note of how peoples drinking patterns change has always informed menu creation, but simply adding lemonade-based drinks won’t do it anymore. Seasonally popular beers, wines and cocktails will need to be menued more and more as the popularity of eating and drinking locally, sustainably and seasonally penetrates deeper into consumer expectations. If your operation doesn’t do it, someone else’s will.

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