Five Ways to Drive Seafood Sales this Season

Five Ways to Drive Seafood Sales this Season

As the temperature dips, consumers look to restaurants for unique offers, and also a dining experience that is both tasty and familiar.

Fall and winter menus are not just about pumpkin and peppermint. The menuing of a treasure trove of seasonal flavors and ingredients — seafood in particular — can inspire restaurant customers to break from their dining routine and to order something different and new. At the same time, the coming of the cold weather can inspire chefs to elevate their favorite comfort food recipes with seasonal twists to set them apart from the competition.

The end of the year is typically a slow season for restaurants, as the weather changes and people are less likely to go out to eat. According to data reported by Dallas-based TDn2K through The Restaurant Industry Snapshot, 2016 ended on a low note, with a -4.3 percent sales decline for December, and fourth quarter same-store sales down -2.4 percent.

One way to encourage people to continue to dine out to eat in the fall and winter is to offer foods that they crave. According to Datassential, in its Keynote Report: The New Healthy 2016, consumers are especially interested in certain attributes in their food. Comfort food was one of the top attributes, with 45 percent of consumers saying they are interested in comfort foods. Also according to Datassential, 41 percent of consumers would buy comfort foods if they were prepared in a healthier way.

For many, the healthier way to prepare longtime favorite foods is with seafood. Here are five ways to drive seafood sales during the fall and winter months.

1.Cater to the Demand for Comfort Food

One way to encourage diners to bear the cold is to menu familiar comfort food dishes with a seafood twist. At Ulele, in Tampa, Fla., one of the most popular dishes is Seafood Pot Pie. “It’s good comfort food,” says executive chef Eric Lackey. “It’s creamy. It’s rich. It’s decadent. It’s like a great chowder with pastry on the side so that they don’t get soggy.”

Lackey says the pie features a white wine vegetable cream base, a little bit of pulpo (octopus), petite shrimp and bay scallops. The seafood is sautéed with garlic and white wine and roasted in the oven with a panko/Parmesan/Romano crust on it. It is served with a side of puff pastry and rice with vegetables. “I think it’s just a good twist,” he says. “People love pot pies because they’re comforting. But this way, by having the pastry on the side, it’s not all the crust you would typically get in a pot pie.” 

The pot pie is also a good way to get people into the restaurant. “We were going for something with seafood that had that southern flair and that comfort factor,” he says. “When people go out they want that burger, that meatloaf, that thing they remember eating as a kid. Doing it with seafood might be something someone wouldn’t make at home.” 

Fried dishes can also give customers the warm, savory satisfaction they crave during the winter months. At GB Fish & Chips, with four locations in Denver, the bulk of the menu consists of flavorful, fried seafood selections such as tilapia, prawns, cod, squid and others. Customers can enhance the fried fish with vinegar or curry sauce. 

“There always will be a need for comfort food,” says owner Alex Stokeld, adding that his restaurants are especially busy in the fall as consumers shift their comfort food cravings from barbecue to seafood.

2. Serve Up Sustainability

Seasonality of fish is also an environmental issue. Thach Tran, executive chef at Ace Eat Serve in Denver relies on to identify sustainable seafood. “We have to be flexible with our seafood choices this fall to bring in the most sustainable, humane and cost-effective product,” he says. This year he plans to rotate several options on the fall menu, including a pan-seared cobia, which he sources from Open Blue Cobia and is raised free of chemicals and hormones. 

“I’m inspired by cravings for different great-tasting fish and the concern for the ocean,” Tran says. “I would like to see fish habitat protected and thriving so that we can continue to have delicious species of fish to consume in the future. Sustainable trends are better for all of us.” 

At the 10-location Slapfish Restaurant, based in Huntington Beach, Calif., chef and co-founder Andrew Gruel offers elevated comfort foods, such as the Grilled Cheese Clobster, which is a half lobster, half crab sandwich with cabbage and “awesome sauce.” The eatery offers socially responsible, chef-driven seafood recipes at affordable fast-casual prices, and is committed to using sustainable seafood.  

3. Amp Up Hot Flavors for Cold Weather

According to the National Restaurant Association’s What’s Hot 2017 Culinary Forecast, the top global flavor trends are authentic ethnic cuisine, African flavors, ethnic fusion cuisine, Middle Eastern flavors and Latin American flavors.

Bold flavors are on the fall menu at Pearl’s Oyster Bar in Oklahoma City, part of Pearl’s Restaurant Group. The restaurant offers entrées such as the Tilapia Orleans, which is blackened tilapia with a shrimp and scallop brown-butter sauce, served with red beans and rice. For the season Pearl’s Oyster Bar features a Wild Hawaiian Mahi Mahi that is chili seared and topped with a charred Hatch green chili beurre blanc.

According to Datassential Menu Trends 2017, the fastest-growing flavors over the past year include such global ingredients as Dukkah, Espelette Pepper, Zhug, and Zaatar. At PB Catch in Palm Beach, Fla., fall/winter menu items get a kick of flavor with heat and acid. “From a cooking philosophy, we’re focusing more on well-balanced simplicity in technique using a single ingredient as a focal point,” says chef Aaron Black. He plans to enhance grilled fish with dark and earthy ground chiles such as Urfa biber, Aleppo pepper and Espelette pepper, while the crudo will get its brightness from aguachile, a highly acidic and aromatic broth.

4. Go Local and Seasonal

Some operators focus on local, seasonal ingredients when they menu seafood items in the fall. At Southpark Seafood in Portland, Ore., the menu changes daily to reflect the freshness of the local ingredients. Meanwhile, there are also seasonal specials to feature some of these foods. “Being in the Pacific Northwest comes with great opportunities to showcase the bounty of the fall season,” says general manager Jason Gerlt. “One fall-inspired dish that is especially significant for the season and our part of the world is our Columbia River Salmon, wild caught by local tribal fishing operations.” The restaurant will serve the salmon with braised leeks, shaved Brussels sprouts, kabocha squash and a bordelaise sauce made from roasted fish stock.

5. Drive Traffic with Seasonal Specials and Promotions

Some seasonal seafood specials build upon longtime favorites that also prompt customers to try new, flavorful menu items. Orlando, Fla.-based Red Lobster once again offered its Endless Shrimp promotion this year, which invites guests to mix and match their shrimp preparations. This year the promotion featured two new flavors — Nashville Hot Shrimp and Mediterranean Shrimp, together with longtime favorites such as Garlic Shrimp Scampi. Nashville Hot Shrimp featured panko-crusted shrimp, fried and tossed with a mixture of brown sugar, cayenne, paprika and black pepper, and topped with a honey drizzle. Mediterranean Shrimp featured a skewer of grilled shrimp with fresh grape tomatoes and green onions served with a white wine, garlic and lemon-butter sauce.

Seafood is making more frequent appearances as comfort food on menus. According to Datassential, fish tacos have increased 49 percent on menus over the past decade, and shellfish tacos (usually with shrimp) have increased 76 percent for the same time period. Meanwhile, lobster macaroni and cheese is also gaining momentum, as is shrimp and grits and eggs Benedict with seafood.

Whatever the preparation, seafood has proven to be a versatile, crowd-pleasing protein year-round, whether appearing as an elegant fine-dining signature or a tried-and-true comfort food. At the same time, it allows chefs and operators to showcase their creativity by focusing on seasonal ingredients and flavors that help to drive sales, cater to environmental concerns and, most importantly, drive sales during the otherwise slow fall and winter seasons.

Allied content by Penton Restaurant Group