On summer menus: s'mores, confetti and plenty of Barbie


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Aug 06, 2023

On summer menus: s'mores, confetti and plenty of Barbie

Time-honored rites of summer include baseball games and beach parties, outdoor grilling and dining, picnics and concerts al fresco. Restaurant menu rites of summer typically lure vacation-minded

Time-honored rites of summer include baseball games and beach parties, outdoor grilling and dining, picnics and concerts al fresco. Restaurant menu rites of summer typically lure vacation-minded consumers with limited-time offers that emphasize the fun factor.

The summer before the Covid shutdown, for example, saw rampant adaptations of the classic vanilla-ice-cream-and-orange-sherbet Dreamsicle/Creamsicle ice cream bars. Everywhere you looked there were orange-vanilla milkshakes, doughnuts, coffees, and even CBD-enhanced orange-vanilla smoothies. A not-so-secret menu hack saw McDonald’s patrons topping a cup of vanilla ice cream with a splash of orange soda.

Last summer, deep-fried, Spanish-accented churros were all the rage, and they left no portion of the menu untouched. Customers were treated to churro-based sandwiches and waffles, ice creams and cream puffs. Liquid versions included lattes, macchiatos and, yes, alcoholic churro shots.

What’s on the menu this summer? It’s no surprise that variations on the above, customer-proven treats continue to crop up. TV personality Guy Fieri’s entry in the fried-chicken-chain derby, Chicken Guy, is cooling things down with the Dreamsicle-inspired Sunshine Shake, in which vanilla soft serve is spun with Florida orange juice and topped with whipped cream; and Fazoli’s has partnered with The Cheesecake Factory for the special Orange Cream Cheesecake topped with whipped cream and white-chocolate shavings.

Churros keep on keeping on, too. Church’s Texas Chicken is offering Mini Churros with a side of chocolate dipping sauce, while at the other end of the dining spectrum, Spanish steakhouse Asador Bastian in Chicago menus a very popular Caviar Churro as a starter.

Menu developers are definitely in the pink. Current seasonal bills of fare are awash in a wave of pink Barbie-themed items driven by the barn-burning success of the movie of the same name. But while the release of blockbuster movies has become another summer tradition that generates menu tie-ins, SpotOn, which provides restaurant POS systems, reports tracking more than 200 Barbie-themed items, a menu phenomenon of truly blockbuster proportions in its own right.

RB reported last month on Pinkberry’s Barbie Land Berry Pink Swirl frozen yogurt and Cold Stone Creamery’s Barbie-inspired Pink Cotton Candy ice cream. The latter stars in that brand’s All That Glitters Is Pink Pie and Best Day Ever! Cake, and both are festooned with dance-party sprinkles.

Going all in on the phenomenon, the Dunkin’ location nearest the theater that hosted the film’s premiere in Los Angeles was seriously Barbie-fied: The all-pink makeover included employee uniforms and the menu board.

Menus are positively blushing. Burger King Brazil made international headlines with a Barbie-themed combo comprising a cheeseburger dressed with a bright pink sauce and a pink vanilla milkshake crowned with a pink frosted doughnut. Sides included Ken’s potatoes, French fries in a promotional container.

No less a beverage authority than the buttoned-up Wine Enthusiast created the Barbie Cocktail, which combines rose-petal infused gin with cranberry juice and sparkling wine, among other ingredients, for a pink-hued quaff the publication dubs “pure Barbie-core.”

And as an aside, Eater recently reported that worldwide Barbie mania has created a run on beets, with TikTokers using the humble root vegetable in Barbie hummus, tzatziki, dumplings, juice, cottage cheese and even, shudder, mustard, all of which have provided an unexpected boost to an underutilized veg.

But it’s not just all Barbie, all the time. Midway-inspired foods crop up this time of year, and cotton candy is having a moment beyond Barbie. Pretzelmaker celebrates summer with Blue Cotton Candy Lemonade. In a similar vein, Scooter’s Coffee created a Cotton Candy Lil’ Smiley Smoothie, a cotton-candy-flavored blue raspberry refresher.

Confetti is brightening up menus, too. Handel’s Homemade Ice Cream has whipped up Confetti Brownie Batter, which is chocolate-cake batter ice cream with brownie pieces and mini chocolate rainbow chips. The chain also features a Cotton Candy Ice Cream with confetti on top. And Friendly’s weighs in with a Rolled Over Confetti & Friends Super Sundae. The friends in this case are Fruity Pebbles cereal, in which vanilla ice cream is rolled, then covered with whipped cream, a cherry and more Fruity Pebbles.

In New Orleans, local favorite PJ’s Coffee lets the confetti fly as it celebrates its 40th anniversary in style with a trio of cold beverages. Confetti Cake Protein Velvet Ice, Confetti Cold Brew Iced Latte and Confetti Velvet Ice beverages derive their unique flavor from notes of vanilla, butter and powdered sugar.

S'mores continue to be popular on menus, such as BJ's Restaurants' S'Mores Pizookie. | Photo courtesy of BJ's Restaurants.

Summer diners want s’more. The venerable, fire-roasted favorite that combines chocolate, marshmallow and graham crackers traces its roots all the way back to Girl Scouts of America camps in the 1920s. When warmed over a campfire, the combo renders consumers unable to resist having some more.

BJ’s Restaurant Brewhouse satisfies that urge with Peanut Butter S’mores Pizookie, the signature baked dessert that tops a chocolate chip cookie with peanut butter, toasted marshmallows and vanilla bean ice cream, while the S’mores Shake has been brought back by popular demand this season at Mooyah Burgers, Fries and Shakes.

Nostalgic patrons can reconnect with their inner child thanks to the S’mores Blender at Ziggi’s Coffee. Made with toasted marshmallows, chocolate drizzle and graham cracker crumbs, the coffee-based beverage aims to transport customers back to summer nights spend around crackling fires. Kids can be transported, too, with a coffee-free version available just for them.

A surprising blend of two summer classics is on the menu at Wings & Rings. S’mores Funnel Fries are little funnel cakes in the shape of fries crowned with melted marshmallows, chocolate and cinnamon toast crunch crumbles.

Similarly, Twisted by Wetzel’s, a recent spinoff of the long-running pretzel specialist, offers S’mores Bitz, pretzel bites smothered in rich chocolate fudge, chocolate chips and the requisite marshmallows and graham-cracker crunch.

Consumers are tasting the tropics, too. While this season has seen the expected annual appearance of numerous strawberry and watermelon-based LTOs, there has been a notable uptick in fruits associated with warmer climates, like passionfruit.

Starbucks’ first frozen lemonade refreshers appeared in June and include Frozen Pineapple Passionfruit Lemonade. McAlister’s is featuring Passionberry Tea, an extension of its wildly popular iced-tea program made with passionfruit syrup and strawberry purée, and Shake Shack has released the new Mango Passionade to help patrons beat the heat.

Arguably the big winner in the summer-produce sweepstakes is dragon fruit. Named for its fearsome-looking, spiky skin, this fruit of cactus plants is native to Southern Mexico and Central America and cultivated throughout Southeast Asia. It spikes lemonade options at Starbucks, Shake Shack and WaBaGrill, among other chains. It flavors shakes and bowls at Jamba, and customers at PJ’s Coffee can rev up with Dragon Fruit Red Bull Infusion.

At Clean Juice, The Hot Pink Summer One blends citrus juices with coconut water and dragon fruit, and at Auntie Anne’s, the Dragon Fruit Mango Frost Lemonade is finished with whipped cream and pink sprinkles.

This last brings us full circle. Turns out that dragon fruit imparts a naturally pink color to whatever it flavors, and in this summer of Barbie, whether by design or a happy accident of timing, it allows restaurant operators and patrons alike to think pink.

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What’s on the menu this summer?Sunshine Shake, in which Orange Cream CheesecakeMenu developers are definitely in the pink.Menus are positively blushing.But it’s not just all Barbie, all the time. Summer diners want s’moreConsumers are tasting the tropicstoo.