Is March 1 circled on your calendar? It should be. That’s Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent—a season that can jumpstart the slower period after the December holiday rush.
The time to start planning for Lent is now. Datassential says 26 percent of consumers observe Lent and 41 percent of those consumers eat fish on Fridays instead of meat. Looking ahead a month or two means you’ll be menu-ready when Lent arrives. Plus, an early start on your seafood menu will appeal to customers looking to eat lighter and healthier at the start of the new year, or those looking for a special treat on Valentine’s Day.
Because observing Lent is a priority for customers, a well thought out plan is important. Seafood sandwiches, fried fish, fish and chips, and shrimp dishes are customer favorites, according to Technomic Inc. These Lent staples may serve you well. But during this time, when diners are committed to eating seafood (especially on Fridays) as part of their Lenten observance, it’s a prime opportunity to expand the seafood menu. From Ash Wednesday until Easter (April 16), you don’t just want to serve your customers seafood, you want them to dine, offering them entrées they will look forward to during Lent and ask for again at other times of the year.
The leading fish dish at Top 500 restaurants is salmon, Technomic says, likely because of its familiarity and health benefits. But there are other fish varieties, preparation techniques and cooking methods that will appeal to customers during Lent and beyond.
Lent has everyone thinking fish, especially on Fridays. Standing out from the rest means offering options that go beyond the traditional fish baskets. Trident Seafoods suggests a number of inspirations that raise the fish and chips game:
Fried fish and shellfish preparations are most popular among entrées at Top 500 restaurants, Technomic reports. This includes breaded, battered or crusted fish. However, healthier preparations, such as baked fish or shellfish that has been steamed or grilled also are popular. Taking a page from the aggressive cooking styles popular on veg-centric menus, glazed, pan-seared, sautéed, wood-grilled, and smoked seafood can be a popular point of differentiation.
Fastest Growing Seafood Varieties Per Menu Mentions
Lent can also be a time to think outside the fish basket. Diners looking for alternatives during Lent can help determine lasting menu popularity. Try adding shrimp to pasta and rice dishes, soups, salads or sandwiches. And don’t overlook indulgent classics like lobster, scallops, mussels, clams and oysters. Although these items aren't seen as often on menus, fresh preparations like cioppino, a seafood boil, clambake or crab beignets may appeal to diners for Lent and beyond.
Whatever seafood selections you serve during Lent, don’t treat promoting them like an afterthought, or you could leave money on the table. Inc.com reports that seafood sales surge more than 20% during Lent and up to 50% on Lenten Fridays. One tool that can help—Menu Studio Plus, which you can use to design table tents and signage to highlight your specials.
Lent can bring a lot of opportunities for operators. Make the most of it by doing your prep and planning now. You’ll appeal to a multitude of customers—those observing Lent, those sticking to their New Year’s resolutions and those craving fresh flavors coming off the indulgent holiday season—and set yourself up for other spring celebrations, including Valentine’s Day, Easter and Mother’s Day.