Marketing your restaurant’s Lent menu

Many of your customers observe Lent; make sure they know you do, too.
Seafood special sign

It’s Friday and you’re prepared for the start of the weekend rush. Fully staffed, both front of house and back. The kitchen is prepped and ready with all of your signature menu items and bestsellers. Everything’s perfect—until the Friday dinner traffic just trickles in. Your regulars arrive, but where’s the crowd?

Don’t let this scenario happen to you during Lent. Lifeway Research found 24 percent of consumers observe Lent. If seafood and other meatless offerings aren’t on your Lent menu, you could miss out. Adding the right items and then marketing them are ways you can appeal to all customers—your regulars, occasional diners and walk-ins.

Whether it’s promotions or limited-time offers (LTOs), make sure your message gets out and your menu is on-brand. If you have a sandwich menu, consider a fish burger or fried-fish sandwich. If your specialty is Italian, shrimp scampi or clam risotto may be a solid Lent option. The point is to enhance your menu, appealing to customers who observe Lent while also maintaining the signature foods you’re known for.

Keep fish and other Lent seafood specials top of mind

Although fish-fry dinners, fried shrimp and salmon dishes are common customer favorites, there are lots of creative ideas you can apply if it’s better suited to your restaurant. Don’t overlook crab cakes, lobster, crayfish or even sushi if it matches your brand and your kitchen’s comfort zone.
But don’t just offer seafood, sell it by getting the word out early and often. Start with menu inserts, table tents or window signs that build an appetite for your upcoming Lent specials. You could even distribute menus to local churches or place ads in their weekly bulletins to create anticipation.

Then, turn to social media to create a buzz. Catchy hashtags (#jointhegrouper, #hightide, or #oceancatch), a text-message campaign or an email blast can remind customers who have visited before to come in and try your Lent specials. Stress that this is the one time all year you’ll be offering a certain dish, generating a sense of urgency that builds business. 

And once they’re seated around your tables, appealing menu language can seal the deal. Mentioning globally inspired flavors, wild-caught varieties or bold cooking styles (pan-seared, cold-smoked or fire-roasted) appeals to a sense of adventure.

Healthy for customers, healthy for your business

Datassentials research estimates that seafood sales jump by more than 20% during Lent. It’s something that customers expect. In fact, 74% of those who observe Lent say it’s important that restaurants offer specials on Lent meals. That makes it a prime time to add seafood to the menu, or to try out new offerings that may appeal during Lent and beyond.

One way to build a long-term connection is by appealing to healthier eating. Many people choose the start of a new year as a time to commit to better eating. LYFE Kitchen (LYFE stands for Love Your Food Everyday) notes that 45% of all consumers eat to enhance their well-being, so telling them about your seafood menu in those terms could drive success. LYFE offers mahi fish tacos, blackened mahi, grilled salmon and more for diners looking to eat healthier.

And backs this up with 11 Evidence-Based Health Benefits of Eating Fish, and the Journal of the American Medial Association says eating 8 oz. of seafood at least once a week reduces the risk of heart disease by 36 percent.

Mention sustainability, when applicable

Customers are not only concerned about their health, but also the health of the planet. If it applies to your seafood menu, mention sustainable food sourcing, local sourcing or your commitment to sound environmental practices. Using phrases like “wild-caught, “local,” “certified” or “pure water/pristine environment,” you can assure customers of your commitment to sustainability and great dining. 

Once you have them hooked on your Lent specials, customers will visit again—perhaps to sample your meatless Monday offerings or to try other sections of your menu. The seafood and fish you introduce or promote during Lent can pay dividends all year long.

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