Designing an autumn menu for your coffee shop
There’s no doubt that seasonality plays an important role in influencing consumer behaviour. As warmer weather sets in, coffee drinkers tend to opt for colder beverages, whereas the number of hot coffee beverages usually increases during the colder months.
Seasonal signature drinks have also become commonplace in coffee shops across the world. One of the most prominent examples is the pumpkin spice latte (popularised by Starbucks) which is now found on menus in specialty coffee shops throughout autumn and winter.
For many coffee shop owners, including seasonal food and beverages is essential to boost sales and maintain customer interest. But what factors need to be considered when designing a seasonal menu?
I spoke to two coffee shop owners and a head barista to better understand what goes into designing an autumn menu. Read on to find out what they told me.
You may also like our article exploring the syrups & flavourings market in the coffee sector.
Why have a seasonal menu?
A number of studies have found that seasonality has a significant impact on consumers’ purchasing decisions. Geographical location is an important consideration, as winter and summer occur at different times around the globe.
For example, in northern countries such as the US and the UK, autumn and winter run from September to March (although the exact duration depends on your region). However, in southern countries such as Australia and South Africa, summer takes place during the same period.
Colin Brown is the head barista at Bad Habits Coffee in Kildare, Ireland. He tells me that it’s important for coffee shops to change their menus according to the season.
“It helps to keep customers interested as it builds anticipation,” he explains. “It also allows them to try new drinks and flavours that they might not normally experience.”
Research also suggests that seasonal food and beverages promotions tend to be taken up by more consumers than general promotions – meaning there could be a significant increase in sales.
What’s more, seasonal menus can also be more environmentally-friendly as they typically incorporate ingredients that are more readily available on a local level.
Holly Watson is the co-founder of the Zero Waste Company in Tunbridge Wells, UK. She believes that seasonality goes hand-in-hand with sustainability.
“Coffee shops should focus on using seasonal produce all year round and change their menus accordingly,” she says.
Sarah Turner and Eve McPadden are the co-owners of the Hive Coffee Company in Tyne & Wear, UK. They agree with Holly, saying they take a similar approach.
“Seasonality in our menu promotes using products that are the best quality for that time of year,” Sarah explains. “This makes us more aware of what ingredients are available to us, which helps us build our menu.”
As consumers become more sustainability-focused (largely millennials and Generation Z) with their purchasing habits, the seasonal availability of ingredients also becomes a more important consideration for coffee shop owners.
Autumn coffee shop trends
In general, food and beverage trends throughout autumn months largely remain the same, as customers tend to opt for similar menu items.
Beverage company Kerry’s 2021 Art of Taste & Nutrition: Autumn Beverages report found traditional seasonal flavours – such as chocolate, cinnamon, and gingerbread – were the most popular during these months.
Naturally, winter spices in beverages are also popular on autumn coffee shop menus . Some of these flavours include chai, anise, cloves, and cardamom – all fragrant or “warming” flavours.
“These favourite flavours help our shop to transition through the seasons, marking certain annual milestones that consumers expect from us,” Sarah says. “There are certain menu items that people expect from coffee shops at certain times of the year which are essential to provide.”
Holly tells me that colder weather influences the food and beverages that consumers order.
“In autumn and winter, customers want hearty and warming foods,” she says. “We re-introduce soups, stews, chilli, and nachos to our menu, as people want comfort foods that are filling and warm.”
Colin agrees, saying that seasonal menus are often associated with nostalgia and comfort.
“An autumn menu should trigger feelings of warmth and comfort, as well as making customers feel optimistic about the season ahead,” he says. “Our campfire hot chocolate includes a smoked marshmallow which we think triggers memories of fires on winter nights.”
For coffee shops serving alcoholic beverages, apple, pumpkin, cinnamon, and dessert-inspired flavours are notably more popular throughout autumn and winter. Alongside coffee, pairing these flavours with whiskey, wine, beer, and cider can create high-quality seasonal signature beverages.
While more indulgent flavours remain popular throughout autumn, Covid-19 has accelerated the demand for more functional beverages. As consumers had more time to focus on health during the pandemic, interest in functional ingredients during colder months has risen considerably. These include flavours such as turmeric, ginger, cranberry, lemon, chamomile, orange, eucalyptus, and rose hip.
Tips for designing an autumn menu
Although most coffee shop menus will largely depend on the ingredients available to each store, there are a number of ways for owners to design an autumn menu that best suits their business.
“We’re mindful to not have too much choice, as confused customers will be overwhelmed and may not buy anything,” Holly tells me. “Limiting a seasonal menu to only have four or five food and beverage items is important.”
To do this, coffee shop owners can temporarily remove seasonal summer beverages from menus – even if they were popular among consumers.
“Keeping a popular summer item on the menu during winter is an easy trap to fall into,” Holly explains. “As long as there are other alternatives, customers will buy them.
“However, having a dish or beverage on the menu that’s no longer in season often doesn’t make financial sense for a coffee shop owner,” she adds.
Sarah and Eve say that incorporating seasonal flavours into existing menu items can maintain interest from consumers.
“Before designing an autumn menu, we trace everything back to what fruits and vegetables are available,” Sarah says. “We include old favourites with a few fresh seasonal ingredients.”
Holly tells me that monitoring sales of seasonal dishes and beverages is essential in knowing which menu items work well for each coffee shop.
“Data-driven reports will show you which items have sold well and which haven’t,” she explains. “Reports can provide key insights for next year’s menu.”
Colin adds that while sales reports and customer feedback are useful, social media is another great way to help coffee shop owners gauge which menu items are most popular.
Eve agrees, saying: “Social media is a helpful tool to see which coffee beverages create a buzz during autumn.”
In 2021, social media analytics company Sprout Social found that between August and September, pumpkin spice was the most talked about seasonal flavour on social media – despite the fact that Starbucks had just released a new seasonal flavour.
Around 146,000 mentions of pumpkin spice drinks were recorded, compared to 24,000 mentions of their new Apple Crisp Macchiato beverage.
Keeping it simple
As with any big changes to menu items, coffee shop owners should discuss adding any seasonal beverages with their teams first and foremost. By doing so, they can plan how to prepare each item and assess how practical it is to create it.
“Any menu change must be fun, engaging, and easy to make in a busy environment,” Colin explains. “Practicality is key, so don’t take on too many drinks.
“Any drinks you include on the menu must be prepared correctly and they should look like they do on your social media,” he adds. Ultimately, this means that baristas and kitchen staff need to prepare the menu items efficiently, but also to a high standard.
“You need to be considerate of staff and customers when you transition to a new menu,” Holly says. “If the menu item is too complicated or has too many elements, it will slow your service down.
“Staff need to be fully on board with the changes,” she adds.
Lastly, Colin concludes that the menu should be interesting and fun – for both staff and customers.
“The process of drink development is fun, and it’s fun for the customers to try new things,” he says. “Everyone can get excited by the menu changes because they keep the job interesting.”
Designing an autumn menu may seem like a challenging task, but for coffee shop owners, it can be straightforward if kept simple. By sourcing local ingredients, incorporating seasonal elements into existing menu items, and clearly communicating ideas to staff, coffee shops can reap the benefits of an autumn menu.
By leaning on the global success of the pumpkin spice latte and other similar autumnal coffee beverages, coffee shop owners can satisfy customers and ensure their seasonal menus are both profitable and sustainable.
Enjoyed this? Then read our article exploring seasonal coffee blends.
Photo credits: Hive Coffee Company, Bad Habits Coffee
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