By Mark Plumlee
Fall’s in full swing, and creating a seasonal menu can help attract attention for your restaurant, get guests excited to visit, and draw in a new crowd of customers. Nothing says fall like pumpkin on your menu! It isn’t just a flavour for spiced lattes, it can spice up every section of your restaurant’s fall menu or holiday offerings, ranging from the salad course and savoury dishes to cocktails and dessert.
Not only can seasonal specials help attract customers initially, but they can potentially boost sales all season long. Ready to get cooking? Here’s some inspiration when you’re looking to add pumpkin to your restaurant’s seasonal menu:
Sometimes just the suggestion of pumpkin makes for some seriously cozy cocktail concoctions. Consider these two approaches:
Pro tip: you don’t always need to include actual pumpkin in a cocktail to give it that PSL vibe. Simply adding pumpkin pie spice (usually a mix of cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and nutmeg) to a cozy cocktail like a Manhattan or an Old Fashioned can give it a crave-worthy fall flair.
Of course, cocktails made with pumpkin are also an option. One approach? Mix it into creamy, pumpkin pie-inspired beverages. This recipe for pumpkin pie martinis includes purée, cream, aromatic spices, and rum and vodka — per the creator, it tastes like a “boozy, bodacious pumpkin pie.”
Or consider something like the bourbon pumpkin smash cocktail. Featuring simple syrup made with purée and a spice rim, it’s a sweet but sophisticated sipping drink for sweater weather.
Pumpkin isn’t just for sweet dishes — it makes for gourd-geous savoury dishes too. Here are some ideas to add fall flavor to your restaurant’s fall menu:
Roasted pumpkin has an earthy, neutral flavour, which means it can pair beautifully with a variety of other flavours in salads. For example, this roast pumpkin and feta salad combines the earthy ingredient with salty feta and a sweet vinaigrette for a pleasing combination of textures and flavours. Alternatively, this roasted pumpkin salad includes pomegranate arils, walnuts, and blue cheese — a refreshing and flavorful way to kick off a meal.
Roasted pumpkin is somewhat hearty, so it doesn’t take much to upgrade a salad into vegetarian or vegan entrée territory. For example, this roasted pumpkin quinoa salad, made with coriander, cumin, and fennel and tossed with quinoa scented with lemon and mint, is substantial enough for a main dish.
Don’t forget the seeds! Pumpkin seeds (also known as pepitas) are a fantastic addition to fall salads. They add crunch and flavour to every bite! But they’re way more than just a salad ingredient. Pepitas can also be used as a garnish for just about any fall recipe, sweet or savoury. Additionally, when toasted and salted, they also make for a great bar snack.
The earthy flavour and creamy texture of pumpkin purée makes it a natural pairing with pasta. Here are just two ideas for delicious pumpkin pasta:
Pumpkin purée is a natural for filled pasta, either in addition to or instead of cheese. For example, customers line up at Chicago’s Sapori Trattoria for their cappellacci di zucca, featuring stuffed pasta with burnt butter sauce, butternut squash, sage and pine nuts. For a simpler approach, consider adding some pumpkin to filled pasta items such as ravioli or tortellini.
The purée can also be combined with other ingredients to create a memorable sauce. This recipe combines pumpkin purée with cream cheese, sage, and aromatic spices to create a creamy, velvety pasta sauce that pairs beautifully with fettuccine.
You’ve heard of stuffed peppers … how about stuffed pumpkins? The idea is simple: scoop out the fruit (yes — pumpkin is a fruit!), combine it with savoury ingredients, and bake it all up right in the hollowed-out gourd. Not only does this preparation help flavours meld together in a pleasing way, but it makes for a truly Insta-worthy presentation that your customers will love to share.
Meat-filled stuffed pumpkins make for a satisfying seasonal meal. For example, these savoury stuffed pumpkins include ground beef, creamy mushroom filling, and spices that are perfect to stave off the chill of fall. Alternatively, stuffed pumpkins with sausage and gruyère make for a cozy fall meal that pairs nicely with a pumpkin beer.
If you’re looking for a novel appetizer to add to your restaurant menu, give mini stuffed pumpkins a try – they make for an adorable and tasty plant-based offering.
Don’t forget about dessert! Here are just a few to consider:
Pumpkin’s earthy flavour makes for a beautiful pairing with tangy cream cheese. For an extra-special and visually pleasing dessert menu offering, consider making a decadent two-layer cheesecake served atop a rich graham cracker crust.
Pumpkin and ice cream are definitely better together. A healthy dollop of pumpkin purée and some spice can transform homemade ice cream into a fall-themed delight. If you feel like getting fancy, consider adding candied ginger, cookie bits, or even a caramel swirl.
Alternatively, you could add a boozy pumpkin pie milkshake to your menu — all you have to do is blend ice cream with a slice of pie and a healthy swig of bourbon. It’s simple but bound to leave diners feeling happy!
There’s a reason why pumpkin pie is a classic: it’s delicious and it’s a cinch to make. While you can’t go wrong with a classic recipe, there are easy ways to jazz it up. For instance, why not try a pie with a chocolate chip cookie layer?
Despite the name, whoopie pies are really more like cakey cookie sandwiches, featuring two soft, pillowy cookies sandwiched with decadent creamy filling. This recipe is based on the top-selling pumpkin version sold at Baked, a popular bakery in Brooklyn.
Celebrate the season
Seasonal menus allow you the opportunity to market a different menu, get attention for your restaurant, and celebrate fall flavours with your customers. As you can see from these menu ideas, pumpkin is an incredibly versatile ingredient that can add fall flair to any and every part of your restaurant’s menu. Why not give a few of them a try? You may just find that your customers fall in love with these seasonal specials!
Mark Plumlee is the Sr. Editor for MustHaveMenus, a DIY design and digital marketing service for restaurants, and has written for CRFN and many foodservice publications on food industry trends and technology.