Summer menus take inspiration from three things: hot weather, open pools and beaches, and no school. What does this mean for your restaurant? Light, refreshing seasonal mains, sides, and beverages, and something for the kids—young and old. 

Incorporate the following trends, tips, and recipe ideas into your summer menu planning to heat up seasonal sales.

Highlight Summer Seafood

You don’t have to live on the East Coast to love chowder and lobster rolls. Patio season is the perfect time to crack into crab legs and crawfish along with a cup of New England Clam Chowder and garlic-rubbed sourdough.

Lobster rolls were trending on summer menus last year, according to Datassential, and are sure to make a comeback.1 In fact, lobster is a favorite addition to several summertime dishes. Try serving it on nachos, in mac & cheese, or as a ready-to-eat lobster bisque.

When creating a seafood menu for summer, don’t forget brunch. Dishes such as crab eggs Benedict, smoked salmon bagel, and shrimp and grits are timeless classics.

Feature Fresh Produce

Produce is at its peak of freshness during the summer. Pineapple, watermelon, peach, cherry, strawberry, tomato, and corn are classic summer flavors to incorporate into a summer food and beverage menu.

Whether grown fresh or picked up from a local supplier or market, it’s easy to integrate summer’s bounty into your seasonal menu. Last summer, Picnik in Austin, Texas, featured fresh produce in an Heirloom Tomato & Watermelon Salad with fresh tomatoes, sun-ripened Texas watermelon, honey Labneh, crunchy pistachios, and a tangy balsamic drizzle with aromatic herbs. 

Watermelon is a wonderfully versatile ingredient that can be used in a variety of dishes for a summertime feel. Try adding watermelon to your favorite salsa, like this Jerk Chicken with Watermelon Salsa

Flavor profiles that favor barbecue are also popular in the summertime, according to Datassential. These can include grab-and-go sides such as macaroni salad and coleslaw or produce aisle finds such as corn on the cob, pineapple, and watermelon.2 Put a twist on summer corn with this Cheesy Mexican Street Corn Dip.

Spice It Up

As temperatures rise, so do consumer cravings for heightened spice levels. From jalapeño margaritas to spicy carne asada, summer menus can handle the heat.

Some of summer’s on-trend seasonal peppers include hatch chile, yellow pepper, habanero pepper, and sweet pepper.2

Sauces, wings, burgers, salads, and beverages are easily amped up with fresh, pickled, or roasted peppers. Zoli’s NY Pizza in Addison, Texas, created a seasonal pizza called the Hatch Stinger to honor hatch chili season, which featured mozzarella, pepperoni, roasted hatch chiles, whipped ricotta, habanero honey, and torn fresh basil.

For a widely accessible heat level, try Chicken & Poblano Mac & Cheese, which combines creamy mac & cheese, pulled chicken, and poblano chiles for the ultimate summer comfort food. 

Take Them to the Fair

Summertime drums up childhood memories of eating corn dogs, kettle corn, soft-serve dip cones, funnel cakes, and more. And what could be more nostalgic than food from a county fair? 

Try creating updated versions of childhood favorites and feature them as summer LTOs or weekly specials. Biggby Coffee created a Campfire Latte Sweet Foam Cold Brew topped with graham cracker crumbs last summer, and Hooters offered Funnel Fries sprinkled with powdered sugar and served with chocolate or raspberry sauce.

“We recently developed a Thai Walking Nacho using a Thai Green Curry Sauce as the base and added kettle chips, chicken, red chili, cilantro, and a squeeze of lime,” says Campbell’s Foodservice Executive Chef Gerald Drummond. “The dish has those global Thai flavors and connects with the trends of comfort and nostalgia.” 

Create summer menus easily with Campbell’s® Culinary Reserve. Our diverse portfolio of brands provides labor-saving products and on-trend flavors in a snap.

1 Spice Up the Summer: The Hottest Food Trends to Savor, Datassential Simply Smarter Webinar, 2023

2 Seasonality, Datassential, 2023