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What months of the year are restaurants most likely to change/update their menus?

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I'm doing some research on restaurant operations and am trying to drill in on the months of the year when restaurants are most likely to update their menus, whether for seasonality or other reasons.

There are those restaurants that rarely change their menus aside from price updates (e.g. pizza places, delis), and then there are restaurants that change their menus daily. For the majority of restaurants that fall in between those two extremes, I'm trying to figure out if there is a pattern to when during the year restaurants are most likely to change/update their menus.

Any insights would be greatly appreciated. If related to seasonality, noting what region you're posting from would be helpful.

Thanks in advance for your thoughts!

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  1. Virginia: seasonally. Literally as the seasons change. So right now we have summer squash and green veggies. September will bring better tomatoes and thus more tomato dishes. As the chill sets in we will see more root vegetables. In the dead of winter it will be hard to find anything green. Come spring, we will see more salads and fresh herbs.

    Fish depends on what is fresh and being caught on the east coast at the time. Meats like beef, chicken and pork don't seem to have a season. We get great local meat all year round.

    1. I know places that remake the menu monthly. Others base theirs on the four main seasons - but may well stretch this if there's early or late produce by having some dishes as specials. I assume the link to seasons will apply in many parts of the world.

      1. Depends on how ambitious the chef is. Usually it's seasonal, as it should be, but sometimes monthly or even weekly, to take advantage of the seasonally changing produce and seafood, more than other food products, such as meat and dairy, although a few of those products, chicken and pork, are less expensive during hot weather than in colder months.

        When I was a chef, we changed over in the spring, summer, fall and winter, and offered subtle sub-menu change ups within those seasons as short season produce crops came and went. Menu preparations reflect the climate of the season, beyond product availability; lighter food in summer, more filing and satisfying dishes in the dead of winter. I guess that goes without saying.

        I live in the Northeast, in NYC, where chefs change menus very frequently, from monthly to daily, to reflect the availability of local produce; but not to generalize, though, as there are restaurants in NYC that never change their menus, ever. Sad.

        So there is a definite pattern of menu change and renewal, based generally on four season availability.

        3 Replies
        1. re: bushwickgirl

          If most changes to menus are done in response to what's in season and what's available at market, does it follow that menus are updated more frequently in the spring/summer and less frequently in the winter? Or restaurant operation-wise, do restaurants try to pace menu updates consistently throughout the year?

          I feel like I have this assumption that it's either one extreme with daily menu changes, or that the changes would be made at the same pace throughout the year. Does anyone know of restaurants that update their menus more frequently in the height of the growing season and less frequently in the off-season?

          I live on the east coast now having lived in the Bay Area for 10 years, so I remember well the shock of losing access to all that wonderful produce. I can't personally think of a restaurant that does this, but I also don't tend to dine out regularly enough at any one restaurant to have noticed something like that. If anyone has examples, I would love to hear it.

          1. re: desuka

            Yes, there are likely to be more changes from the start of asparagus through morels, favas, peas, chanterelles, corn, cherries, apricots, berries, zucchini, tomatoes... until the end of stone fruit than there are in the dead months of winter. Winter you get brief bouts of quince and fresh cranberries to liven up November, then December through April is the dead zone. I hate the dead zone.

            1. re: babette feasts

              I hate the dead zone too. I wish I were a bigger fan of apples and winter squash. But I'm just not.

        2. Here in the San Francicso Bay Area menus change almost daily. Chefs go to markets and plan their menus by what is at the markets. Even set menus are added to by daily specials that are developed from available locally seasonal food products.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Janet

            If I was a chef in SF I would follow suit, what with the wonderful produce and seafood available out there. Chefs in NYC also start their day at the Union Square Farmer's Market, a simply fantastic market in Manhattan, to plan or augment the evening's menu.

            A professional chef has to be terrifically excited to have the option to change a menu daily or weekly, or even seasonally, regardless of the work it entails; it tests knowledge, skill and creativity. The same old get real old very quickly; in quick time, cooking the same dishes night after night becomes mind numbing drudgery. What is the most glorious aspect of being a chef is the bounty of the seasons, and not to take advantage of that is to deny oneself the best part of chefing.