Looking for ways to keep your kitchen busy in the winter months? A limited-time winter restaurant menu is a great way to generate interest and increase sales from new and existing customers.
Keep reading to find insights on winter food trends, how to optimize your menu for the colder months, and tips for restaurants to prepare for the winter season.
5 winter restaurant menu ideas to drive sales
1. Lean into comfort foods
As the days get shorter and temperatures drop, diners are eager for hearty meals that warm them up. When designing your winter menu, consider adding comforting crowd-pleasers — such as mac and cheese, ramen, chili, warm grain bowls, lasagna, dumplings, shepherd's pie, and curries.
People are gravitating to more comforting, wholesome, nostalgic food – food that reminds them of home.
Chefs can also put a unique spin on traditional favorites. Family-owned Caribbean fast casual restaurant Golden Krust introduced a jerk turkey for Thanksgiving and encouraged orders by sharing photos across their social channels.
2. Showcase local, in-season ingredients
Even in temperate climates, people associate winter with warm, heartier dishes and a rich complexity of spices. Celebrate these cold-weather flavors by looking into in-season, local ingredients and brainstorming ways to incorporate them into your menu. Buying seasonally may also help reduce restaurant costs since you can purchase ingredients when they’re plentiful, and at the right price. Guests will also appreciate that you're supporting local farms, so be sure to highlight where your ingredients come from on your menu.
Offering bold flavors on your winter menu will get customers excited to dine at your restaurant. Some winter menu ideas include topping salads and flatbreads with greens like kale and Swiss chard, or roasted vegetables like parsnips, Brussels sprouts, beets, broccoli rabe, or sweet potatoes. Citrus fruits, pears, and persimmons shine in the winter months, as do game meats like venison, rabbit, pheasant, and wild boar. A seasonal menu also creates an opportunity for a limited time offer to drive sales, as customers may feel a sense of urgency to order it before it's gone.
3. Offer festive wintry beverages
Another winter menu idea for restaurants is seasonal beverages — from cozy cocktails like hot toddies, Irish coffee, and cinnamon-spiced old fashioneds; to trendy shrubs with seasonal flavors like rosemary-cranberry and ginger-pear; to family-friendly mulled apple cider and homemade eggnog. These drinks will keep diners warm and in the spirit of winter. And if your city and state allow it, adding alcohol to your delivery menu is an excellent way to drive additional sales.
Dry January, a pledge to abstain from drinking alcohol for the month, is becoming increasingly popular. In general, demand for non-alcoholic drinks is growing as consumers seek to cut back on or give up booze altogether: according to Forbes, the non-alcoholic drinks market surpassed $11 billion in 2022, driven by consumers who are sober-curious or looking for a healthier lifestyle.
“It's not just about abstinence from alcohol. This movement is also about people who just don’t want to drink as much. They want to enjoy some of the same flavors from alcoholic beverages, but without the hangover or other negative side effects.”
A variety of brands have emerged in response to this trend, such as low- and no-ABV wines, spirits, and beers — and even canned non-alcoholic cocktails. Consider stocking these items to create an inclusive winter restaurant menu.
4. Create inventive plant-based dishes
Operators looking to cater to consumer preferences and reduce costs can supplement or substitute meat items with plant-based ingredients on their winter restaurant menu. 37% of consumers are looking to reduce their meat consumption to save money and combat inflation.
One meat alternative idea for your winter restaurant menu is oyster mushrooms, which have gained popularity. This ingredient can be seared in coins as scallops, peeled and sauteed to resemble pulled meat, or even breaded and fried in the place of chicken like at Olivia Restaurant in Los Angeles.
You can also consider high-protein foods such as beans, quinoa, lentils, chickpeas, and tofu — which work great in veggie burgers, salads, grain bowls, and tacos. Briana Valdez from HomeState in Southern California introduced vegan menu items, such as their new black bean taco and oat milk-based beverages, to reduce food costs and appeal to diners focused on healthy living and sustainable food practices.
We just changed our cookie milk to be oat milk-based, then shared it on Instagram. It got people interested in ordering a lower-cost beverage and also got people excited because our menu doesn't change that often.
5. Let guests indulge with desserts
During the winter months, diners save room for dessert. Beyond showcasing your restaurant's brand identity, the best dessert menus prioritize profitability to make a meaningful impact on your bottom line.
Restaurants can offer desserts that pair well with the rest of their winter menu and explore a variety of flavors — from chocolate to fruity, creamy, or cozy winter spices. Focus on classics like pumpkin pie, creme brulee, or even a simple warm chocolate chip cookie. Or if you're feeling adventurous, TikTok provides endless inspiration for desserts. Put your spin on viral recipes such as crinkle cake, white chocolate hot cocoa bombs, honey lavender ice cream, and vegan matcha cheesecake.
For delivery menus, consider adding a sweet option that travels well — like cheesecakes, cupcakes, or pots de crème — so you won't worry whether the dishes will melt en route or arrive too cold. When DoorDash customers are finalizing their orders, our app's built-in upsell feature automatically suggests desserts or sides in a "People also ordered" carousel to help restaurants increase their order size.
How to package your winter restaurant menu offerings
During the colder months when customers often opt to stay in, restaurants can package their winter menu items in creative ways to drive off-premise sales and increase order size. Consider incorporating the following winter menu ideas into your restaurant's delivery and pickup offerings:
Offer take-and-bake meals: These pre-packaged dishes are typically fully cooked and just have to be heated up in the oven or microwave, allowing customers to enjoy a restaurant-quality meal without the hassle of cooking. Be sure to include instructions on how to store (e.g., in the freezer or refrigerator) and heat the meals.
Provide meal bundles: If customers are looking to order for a group, bundled options make their ordering experience much faster and less complicated. Whether it’s dinner for two, a full family-style meal for 6, or a promotional package (like five pizzas for the price of four), bundles simplify group orders for customers and kitchens.
Promote online ordering: Make it easy for customers to place online orders for pickup or delivery. In addition to adding a prominent "Order Online" button to your website, you can also drive sales by adding your online ordering link to social media profiles and posts, Yelp page, and Google My Business profile.
Sell pantry staples: Bottle and sell your popular specialty items — such as sauces, salsas, dry pastas, and spices — that people can add to their delivery order and enjoy at home or give as a gift.
Having customers stock their pantry full of items from your restaurant is a new way to stay involved and engaged with your customers.
How will you warm up your restaurant menu for winter?
Whether you opt to adopt just one, a few, or all of these winter menu ideas for restaurants, seasonal changes to your menu can help drive awareness and sales. Once you've solidified your winter menu, make sure your customers know about it by putting together a comprehensive winter marketing plan.
Already a DoorDash partner? Visit the Learning Center's Menu Setup section to see how DoorDash partners can easily make changes to their delivery and pickup menus.