Creating a spooky-scary menu doesn’t have to be scary or time consuming.
It’s fall and that can only mean one thing. Sure, the leaves are changing colors; the days are shorter, cooler, cozier. It’s sweater season. But who cares? All that matters is Halloween, right?
With retail stores like Target, Michaels, and Wal-Mart filling their aisles as early as August with ghoulish decor, and social media buzzing with spooky fever nearly all year around, Halloween has become the event of the fall season. For the restaurateur, it offers many engaging and fun promotional opportunities that can drive customers to your business all October.
Whether you’re a spooky-scary aficionado or neophyte, you can make this All Hallows’ Eve the best one yet. Here are 10 ideas to make your customers squeal with fright (or delight) this fall.
A Halloween candy charcuterie board could be the perfect start to your October dessert promotions. Swap out cornichons for candy corn and prosciutto for Snickers (or a homemade equivalent). If you don’t offer charcuterie, boards are easy enough to find and cheap enough to buy from Amazon or your local restaurant supply store.
Not only will these themed boards look great on your tables, they also make eye-catching and memorable social media content for any and all of your October promotions. Dress it up with fresh fruit and chocolate fondue, or dress it down with fun-sized candy bars. Either way, a Halloween charcuterie is a diabolical twist on a restaurant staple. Let your patrons know about it in advance with Halloween-themed marketing materials like posters and flyers.
Did you know the first Jack-o-Lanterns were made in Ireland from hollowed-out turnips? Halloween-themed trivia is a great way to start your early October promotions, and it can be hosted weekly for the rest of the month. When it comes to questions, you can find tons of themed lists online covering everything from horror movies, Halloween history, fall food, and more.
Properly promoted with social media, table tents, and fliers, trivia nights are an easy and effective way to fill your house on those slower nights of the week. You can sweeten the deal by offering happy hour specials and discounts. Prizes for the top three teams could include gift cards, percentage-based discounts, or free meals. Partnering with a popular local host can also help spread the word via your hosts social media, potentially introducing you to a large, new audience.
For the full-service restaurant, themed cocktails can warm the heart of even the coldest corpse. These cocktails taste as good as they look, making them the perfect Insta-worthy addition to your social media, where they can remind your followers of all of your spine-chilling promotions.
The lime green witches brew is made from the Japanese liquor Midori, which gives it its ghastly green glow and its sweet taste, making it perfect for Halloween. Drop in a bit of dry ice and watch it boil and smoke like a witch’s cauldron.
You can also try the candy corn martini. It’s a layered cocktail with a whipped cream vodka base, followed by a floating layer of pineapple juice, then a layer of whip cream on top. It’s trick-or-treat in a glass. If you want to go over the top (and who doesn’t on Halloween), try a candy sprinkle rim.
Don’t forget about pumpkin old fashioneds and pumpkin beers to round out your cocktail menu. And no need to stop with just these drinks. There are many themed recipes online. While you’re at it, maybe slip a few plastic spider rings onto your highball and rocks glasses for a festive garnish.
Halloween decor is a must for any restaurateur wanting to get the most out of their seasonal promotions. Decorations help get your customers into the mood to splurge on all of your food and drinks, and they can encourage your guests to create customer-generated content that you can reshare on your own social media.
Create a couple of Insta-worthy moments in your restaurant, small areas where you go all out with your decorations. Offer ring lights, selfie sticks, and other themed accouterments for that perfect selfie. Your guests will do the rest. But don’t forget to promote your Instagram handle, so they know to tag you. If you want to maximize your customer-generated content, you could incentivize it with a Halloween shot or a buy one, get one on appetizers or desserts.
Decorations can be found to fit the audience and brand of any restaurant, whether it’s hay bales and scarecrows for family-friendly vibes, or skeletons and ghosts for something more adult oriented.
Fare is foul, foul is fare
Nothing can get your customers as psyched for fall as a seasonal menu update. Whether you are changing your entire menu, or only a section, there are many hardy fall dishes that can double as Halloween specials. Items like brussels sprouts, butternut squash soup, pumpkin ravioli, and braised lamb will work for Halloween and beyond.
If you want to offer something more sinister, try putting a frightening twist on deviled eggs, or wrap hotdogs or jalapeno poppers in pastry dough to make them look like mummies. You can also make spiders out of black and green olives by halving an olive with a knife, keeping one half for the spider's body while cutting eight creepy-crawly legs out of the other half. Your olive spiders can make a fun addition to deviled eggs, salads, pizzas, and more.
Creating this spooky-scary menu doesn’t have to be scary or time consuming. You can find eye-catching and customizable menu templates online with services like MustHaveMenus that can fit any brand, making your seasonal promotions a cinch.
Screens and screams
And while your customers are devouring your Halloween-themed fare, why not use those digital screens or tvs to show some scary movies. If you don’t have screens or tvs, you can always hang a white sheet and use a projector. If you have a patio, the sheet and projector setup makes for a nice dine-in movie night.
There are hundreds of movies out there to fit your theme and your ideal customer. Try Hocus Pocus, Casper, Frankenweenie, or The Nightmare Before Christmas. These films can be enjoyed by children and adults alike. If you want something scarier, try Halloween classics like Edward Scissorhands, Halloween, The Shining, or Psycho.
It might be smart to stay away from the slashers, for obvious reasons. If you can, it might be a good idea to only show your themed movies in part of your restaurant, maybe the bar or patio area, so diners can have the option to enjoy a terrific meal with or without the sights and sounds of your spooky feature.
Pick one of two Monday nights in October and throw a pumpkin carving event. For some small fee, like twenty or thirty dollars, your restaurant could provide your guests with a pumpkin and all of the tools they need to carve up the perfect Jack-o-Lantern, without the mess at their home.
You could even get your chef or bartender in on the action, cooking up and mixing pumpkin inspired creations while taking your guests step by step through the process of making the perfect creation. If you want, you can turn it into a contest, offering a gift card for the most creative or best Jack-o-Lantern.
It might get messy, so have plenty of trash cans on hand. If possible, use your patio and spray it down afterward. You could even collect the pumpkin seeds, bake them, and send them home with your guests in little goodie bags, letting them enjoy the flavor of your fall promotions for days after.
With a bit of creativity, you can think up some fun and easy contests to run at your restaurant and on social media. Fill a glass pitcher full of candy corn and ask your guests and followers to guess the number of candy. Place a large pumpkin near your hosts stand and have your customers guess the weight. These kinds of contests are cheap and easy promotions that can remind your guests of the season and put them in the mood for your holiday dishes.
You could also host a Halloween scavenger hunt on your social media. Post a list on Instagram of objects you want your guests to photograph. The object could be in your restaurant or around your neighborhood. The guest who finds and photographs the most objects, and tags your restaurant in their post, can win anything from a gift card or a free meal. This contest requires a fair amount of work for your customers. So make sure your prize reflects the amount of work to help you get the engagement you're after.
Trick or treating
On Halloween night, why not invite your guests and their children to stop by your restaurant for some candy? It will hopefully be a busy night for you. Handing out your candy on the sidewalk outside might be a good way to keep from clogging up the entryway of your restaurant.
You can get bonus points with your customers if you, as the owner or general manager, are out there in costume, passing out treats. Don’t forget the adults. Something as small as a bag of salted pumpkin seeds, small slices of pumpkin pie, or a delicious pumpkin cupcake can help you become a valued member of your and show your customers some Halloween love.
Hosting a costume contest is a fun and engaging Halloween event to promote on social media, drive business to your restaurant, and finish off your October promotions. You could offer prizes for the funniest, scariest, or most creative costume. Or you could go all out and offer prizes for all three.
You’ll likely want to incentivize your contest with something big to drive interest and participation, like free meals for a month or a generous gift card. You’ll want to promote it all October, so as many people as possible can join in.
It’s also a great opportunity to get your staff involved. Your chef, bartender, or a few servers could be your “celebrity” judges for the night, along with any other staff members you want to reward for the awesome job they do at your business.
Promote, promote, promote!
Like any of the events, promotions, and specials you host at your restaurant, you’ll want to get the word out to as many potential customers as possible. Pull out all of the stops for the bigger events like your costume party, using email lists, fliers, table tents, posters, and of course social media posts.
Social media is the cheapest and most effective way to spread the news of your Halloween-themed events. If you need ideas or help with your digital promotions, you can find free social media templates online. They are easy to use, customizable, and can help you supercharge your feed.
A multifaceted marketing campaign and a steady stream of social media posts can keep your promotions on your customers’ minds, and keep your restaurant busy all October.
Mark Plumlee is the senior editor for MustHaveMenus, a menu template design service. He writes about restaurant marketing and design.