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Strawberries, the harbinger of spring, were on an unusually large number of chain menus this spring, and that bodes well for watermelon this summer, which is at the top of Datassential’s seasonal index for the summer, appearing on 289 percent more menus at this time of year than at other times. It’s on Brick House Tavern & Tap in its seasonal Watermelon Cucumber Splash, which combines vodka, watermelon, lime, soda and cucumber, as well as in the Red, White and Blueberry salad at Newk’s Eatery, which is spinach, topped with chicken, strawberries, blueberries, watermelon, pecans and feta in fat-free raspberry vinaigrette.

Newk's Eatery's Red, White and Blueberry salad

You can also expect to see more peach on menus as summer progresses — such as in the Seasonal Harvest Salad at Veggie Grill, made with char-grilled peaches, romaine, arugula, avocado, Roma tomatoes, shaved beets, toasted pecans and quinoa, served with citrus vinaigrette.

Do-it-yourself

This could refer to the ongoing trend of consumers flocking to fast-casual restaurants that lets them customize everything, or of chefs at independent restaurants curing their own meat, making their own pickles and fermenting their own kimchi, but in this case it reflects chain restaurants doing more work in the kitchen.

In rolling out its new menu earlier this year, Hard Rock Café renewed its commitment to preparing more items in-house. Hooters’ executive chef, Gregg Brickman, introduced March Madness specials earlier this year.

Hooters' blackened Mahi Sandwich

He gave his cooks more responsibility by having them make the pico de gallo and guacamole for the nachos he was testing. He also had them bread the chicken tenders, fry pickles and blacken mahi mahi. Brickman said the moves not only allowed him to control quality better, but it gave his staff more pride and dedication in their work.

Expect to see more of that this summer as customers seek more freshness cues, and restaurants look for ways to differentiate themselves.

Contact Bret Thorn: bret.thorn@penton.com
Follow him on Twitter: @foodwriterdiary