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A lot of nice pumpkins

Cynics are quick to decry the end of the pumpkin spice craze (Et tu, Martha?) But good news for restaurant owners- Consumers are still eating it up.

Statistics on Pumpkin Restaurant Sales

According to Uperve’s data on hundreds of restaurants from 43 states, when menus increased their number of pumpkin products by 60 percent, pumpkin sales increased more than 80 percent. The same happened in 2015:

An 84% increase in the number of pumpkin products accounted for an increase in pumpkin sales of 117%.

Data shows that, when comparing the same week in September from 2016 to 2017, the total number of pumpkin products has increased 15.3 percent.

And–good news for those who want to indulge without breaking the bank–the price of these products has decreased. When looking at the same seven-week period in both 2016 and 2017, the average price of a pumpkin item has dropped 15.1 percent, from $9.20 to $7.81. (So go ahead, order seconds.)

Great pumpkins this fall

Most popular pumpkin selling day

Saturday was also found to be the most popular day for selling pumpkin items, evidence of some weekend indulgence and fall-flavored cravings as consumers break out the flannel and descend on apple orchards and foliage tours. Last year, 40 percent more pumpkins were sold on Saturday as compared to Friday, the second best day. And so far for 2017, Saturdays account for more than 50 percent of all sales.

When to add pumpkin spice everything to your restaurant menu

Peak Times to Add Pumpkin to your Restaurant Menu

  1. “Peak Pumpkin Times” start as early as June, according to data we pulled from thousands of restaurants, nationwide, using the Upserve + Upserve POS customer base.
  2. End of August appears to be when the spike begins, which makes sense seeing as that is when Dunkin Donuts launched their #PSL this year (8/29) and other brands followed suite.
  3. We weren’t surprised to see that the last two weeks of October are where the peak pumpkin times are, year over year, but we were surprised to see that pumpkin is still very much so “on the menu” and ordered well into December.

Surprised to learn that you should get it on the menu in August and keep it on until mid-December?

Starbucks has made the #PSL a nationwide phenomenon, people literally crave that “pumpkin spice” flavor. It’s synonymous with fall, the leaves changing colors, and summer ending.

Four creative ideas to capitalize on that “pumpkin spice frenzy”

  • Be creative: You don’t have to have a #PSL on your restaurant menu, but you can do some really awesome things with the pumpkin spice flavor. Think pancakes, pies, drinks, and even breads.
  • Don’t jump on the bandwagon too soon: No one wants to have leftover pumpkin spice into January (or do they?)
  • Get social: Your “pumpkin spice” menu specials will be a draw for both loyal regulars and new guests. If you’re doing something creative, let the world know. Think Instagram posts that use the hashtag #PSL #pumpkinspice #pumpkinseason and think cinnamon sugar rims on ALL the drinks.
  • Beat them to the punch: If you’re really looking to beat the crowds, why not add it to the menu in September like Dunkin Donuts did and brace yourselves for the excitement.

Adding Pumpkin to Your Restaurant Menu

Pumpkin daytime meals

Since pumpkin coffee and lattes are a popular choice of seasonal foodies, pumpkin muffins and pancakes are great options for breakfast. Loui’s Family Restaurant in Providence, Rhode Island offers pumpkin pancakes individually or by the stack. Fruit and granola can be added to enhance the experience.

pumpkin on a restaurant menuNeed more breakfast inspiration? How about these amazing-looking pumpkin pie crepes  that Cafe Water Street in Warren, Rhode Island told us about. “Our sweet crepe [is] filled with a pumpkin pie mousse, topped with cinnamon and powdered sugar and finished with a dollop of whipped cream.”

One of the most unique pumpkin dishes I’ve seen is offered at Three Stones Restaurant in Brattleboro, Vermont. The dish is a pumpkin seed specialty/onzicil and as the menu states, “The Mayans never waste anything. Even the seeds of pumpkins are toasted, ground and made into delicious delicacies.”

The Onzicil tortilla is topped with sautéed zucchini and loaded with tomato-pumpkin seed salsa.

For those crisp days when something hot is desired, the Eastern Standard in Boston, Massachusetts offers a pumpkin soup appetizer with crispy chestnuts, apple and brown butter. Pumpkin serves as a great medium for soup because its flesh is turned into a puree, allowing it to be rich and creamy.

Pumpkin for dinner

Now we’re moving on to some heartier dishes created with pumpkin as a main ingredient. And when it comes to hearty, pasta always comes to mind as a choice. At Bella’s Bistro Market in Putnam, Connecticut you can get pumpkin ravioli. This dish incorporates pumpkin in a few ways, having roasted pumpkin as an ingredient in the sauce. Grapes, walnuts, spinach and herbs are also added to the creamy ricotta sauce, which is served over pumpkin tortellini. If you’re a strong supporter of pumpkin in everything, this is a great dish to satisfy your taste buds since pumpkin is used in the pasta and the sauce.

Frozen pumpkin treats

The days are still warm enough for some cold treats. GoBerry in Amherst, Massachusetts is offering a seasonal pumpkin chai flavor of frozen yogurt. Herrell’s Ice Cream in Northampton, Massachusetts offers some more decadent flavors of pumpkin-infused ice cream, including pumpkin toffee, pumpkin cheesecake, and pumpkin salty caramel. For those avoiding dairy, there’s a Pumpkin Walnut NoMoo option. “We love Pumpkin. [We] even have people that fly in from overseas to get Pumpkin with Hot Fudge Sauce during the season,” Herrell’s told us.

Side note: Herrell’s offers other seasonal flavors that don’t include pumpkin, like cinnamon nutmeg, butternut and cider sorbet.

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Pumpkin for dessert

Pumpkin is a versatile food and it can be used in dishes for every meal, including dessert. You’ve probably had pumpkin pie, the staple of pumpkin desserts, but there are other delicious options, like The Night Kitchen at Montague Mill in Montague, Massachusetts has a chai spiced pumpkin crème brulee.

The Eastern Standard offers a pumpkin cremeux, which is a creamy dish with maple, goat cheese and pomegranate. The flavors and textures of this dish truly bring a new idea to how pumpkin can be used during prime season.

What type of pumpkin-inspired dishes are you serving, or considering serving? We’d love to hear all about it before pumpkin season passes us by.

Pumpkin as a drink (the PSL)

Believe it or not, the “pumpkin spice” craze has really only skyrocketed in the last few years. In fact, Fortune shows us that the signature drink used to debut as late as September 23 back in 2013. This year, Dunkin and McDonalds had it on the menu in AUGUST. 

Pumpkin Spice Latte

Did you know that since 2003, Starbucks has sold over 200 million PSLs?

How Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Lattes are the perfect blue print for seasonal selling:

Scarcity Drives Demand

You can’t get a pumpkin spice latte in May, and that’s on purpose. Starbucks knows that they can make the beverage more desirable by offering it for a limited time only.

Try this tactic: Have you thought about taking one of your most popular menu items, giving it a seasonal twist, and making it available for a limited time? Try it, you might be surprised what happens.

Build Anticipation

Thanks to the consumer marketing that dominates television and online media your customers are conditioned to anticipate the next season well before it arrives; think Halloween candy crowding drugstore aisles in September. Have you seen the stickers on Starbucks’ locations letting customers know when pumpkin spice is coming? We have and we’re not the only ones.

Try this tactic:  Think about your bar marketing tactics. When it comes to seasonal brews, start a “coming soon” campaign on your specials boards and across social media a week or so before they hit your taps and see if you can build anticipation for seasonal offerings.

Appeal to our Nostalgic Noses

It’s not by accident that even though pumpkin spice lattes don’t really taste like any actual pumpkin we’ve ever eaten (let’s be honest) putting the word front and center in the name immediately makes us all think about the classic Thanksgiving dessert that we associate with home and the holidays.

But why didn’t Starbucks make the latte taste like pumpkin? Because cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg are much more aromatic and therefore have stronger emotional triggers for consumers.

Try this tactic: Choose aromatic ingredients to lead the charge in evoking seasonal memories. Then, make sure you’re including these ingredients not only in your recipes, but featuring them in your menu descriptions and dish and cocktail names as well.

Be consistent year over year

The pumpkin spice latte was pretty much an overnight hit, but even if it hadn’t been, offering it annually was always built into the plan for success. It let’s people come to rely on your business and associate it with seasonal activities.

Try this tactic: Put a branded spin on whatever seasonal offerings or promotions you come up with. It’s not an annual pumpkin brew-fest it’s “___INSERT YOUR BUSINESS NAME HERE___” annual pumpkin brew-fest. Catch our drift? You want people to consider your business a destination and part of an annual tradition vs just a random outing.

Pumpkin soup on a restaurant menu

Takeaways on pumpkin trends

  • Consumers bored of existing offerings are welcoming more creative interpretations.
  • Restaurants can stand to capitalize on this trend all autumn long, peaking in late October, but continuing into December!
  • Restaurants should diversity their pumpkin spice portfolio since data shows that for each additional pumpkin item added to a menu, there is an even larger increase in sales.

Written by   |  
Vania Silva is an independent writer and self proclaimed professional eater. Her experience includes technology, international business, and restaurant management. She's also the proud mom to a hungry daughter who loves eating out.
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