6 ways coffee shops and cafes can run seasonal specials more effectively

Editorial Team

6 min read
Two baristas in cafe

Seasonal drinks and snacks can be a great way for coffee shops and cafes to engage with new customers and to drive upsells and repeat purchases with regulars. Customers are often intrigued by seasonal specials but what makes the difference between curiosity and a sale? What makes a new recipe a success?

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When done well, seasonal specials provide an opportunity to boost profits, reduce waste, build your brand and engage with your customers in new ways. When done poorly, specials can confuse staff, disappoint customers, and waste company resources. From creating killer recipes and making sure they are rolled out smoothly, to engaging with your customers and getting the word out, this article walks you through 6 things to keep in mind while strategizing an effective specials program for your cafe.

1. Know your customers 

First, identify what your customer base is looking for. Do they tend towards nitro-cold brew and espresso tonics, or Starbucks-style colorful iced teas and sweet drinks? Adapting your specials to what is already popular means that people will be more likely to get hooked. 

Communities down to chat might have the patience for a creme brulee latte incorporating blowtorched sugar topping that takes extra time to prepare. But if your customer base is primarily on-the-go, they might be frustrated by longer wait times and more open to trying a monthly flavor special or special to-go snack pairings.  

Specials can also help you connect to different niches in your customer base. Game-day exclusives can be a fun treat for fans in a big sports-oriented area. Late-night super-caffeinated milkshakes during finals week in a college town can encourage sales from students in need of a place to study (and stay awake). 

2. Incorporate current trends

Once you know who your cafe is catering towards, do some research on product trends that might interest your clientele. Lavender, cold foam, matcha, refreshers, and boba have all been (or are still) trendy drink options. Whether trends originate from social media or from some of the bigger chains, customers might be excited to finally try something they’ve been seeing or hearing about on the internet. Hopping on trends also gives your business a chance to benefit from the halo effect of marketing campaigns by the “big guys”.

3. Use recipes and ingredients you already have in new ways

Specials can also offer an opportunity to reduce waste and use up ingredients you already have. Remember, if one special is a flop you can always recycle the leftover supplies in new and creative ways. Italian soda (sparkling water mixed with flavored simple syrup) or flavored iced teas can be a great way to use up any novel syrups you have in stock.

Seasonal specials can also be a great time to offer a new twist on a crowd favorite. For example, your cafe’s uber-popular house-made chai concentrate makes a great latte, but it could also taste great mixed with hot apple cider and garnished with cranberries in the fall, or blended into a cold, refreshing treat in July. Using ingredients you already have reduces the need to find new storage space or prep extra ingredients. It also offers a great opportunity to charge a little extra for the special and grow your profit margin on that item. 

Creating strategic recipes in this way ensures your specials are growing your profit margin rather than shrinking it. 

4. Take your employee’s skill set into account

Just as every cafe has a different niche and customer base to focus on, their employees also have special strengths. Changes to operations in any way can throw off staff workflow and leave the employees feeling unprepared. Taking the time to make sure all employees are up to speed on new techniques, equipment, and recipes can make the difference between employees being reluctant to suggest specials to customers and employees who are excited to upsell their awesome new concoctions.

Making sure that new recipes already fit into your employee’s comfort zone is especially important if you’re operating on a time crunch. Learning new skills is valuable, but as a business owner, you want to make sure your employees always look confident in front of the customer. Customers need to know that whether they end up liking the drink or not, they are getting something made with expertise and care. 

5. Timing is everything

One of the main challenges with any seasonal specials is timing. 

If your customers take longer to warm up to new products, a quarterly schedule can allow them time to try and then get hooked on your special creations. Maybe they react well to the thrill of limited quantities. In that case, monthly specials or specials of the week could encourage customers to swing by frequently to see what’s new.

Experimenting with what structure works for your cafe can take time but will be worth it in the long run, especially if you keep notes on what worked and what didn’t. This will also help you make sure you have enough ingredients to fulfill demand but not enough to have a lot of waste when the special ends. Clover makes it easy to add new items to your menu and then track their sales in Reporting. You can add enticing images for each new menu item in Clover Online Ordering too. 

6. Advertise, advertise, advertise 

Advertising can make or break the success of any new product. Especially if your cafe is new to offering specials, making sure customers know about them is key. 

Consider using the Clover Customer Engagement Suite to send promos or new product announcements to customers. (It’s free and already pre-installed in your Clover dashboard – read on for more info.)  Consider adding a specials board to your cafe menu that places your new offerings directly in customers’ line of sight. 

Finally, don’t underestimate the power of a pretty photo for your social media channels. If customers already have positive thoughts about your specials in the back of their minds, it will be much easier to push the sale once they are in the store. 

Continuously creating effective seasonal menus can seem like a daunting task but with the proper planning, they can shift from intimidating to profitable. 

To learn more about how you can manage your cafe or coffee shop with Clover, contact a Clover Business Consultant today.