The world has got smaller, they like to tell us. While that may not be a proposition that would stand up to rigorous testing with a tape measure, it’s undoubtedly true that the boom in global travel over the past few decades has broadened our horizons, in culinary terms as much as any other.
The British restaurant market has long been a haven for world cuisine, fuelled in part by our long-standing habit of sailing off to foreign parts and planting flags on the beaches of places that took our fancy.
Deen Mahomet, who hailed from Bihar in Northern India and served in the Bengal branch of the British East India Army as a surgeon, opened the Hindostanee Coffee House in Portman Square in 1809. This promised “the greatest epicures to be unequalled to any curries ever made in England, served with choice wines.”
A century later in 1908, Chung Koon, formerly a ship’s chef on the Isle of Wight’s Red Funnel Line, opened Maxim’s in Soho, the first mainstream Chinese restaurant in Britain.
Today, unless you live in a very isolated location, you are likely to have both Indian and Chinese food with easy reach, and probably also Turkish kebabs and Italian pizzas at the very least.
In larger towns, the choice of international cuisines available continues to multiply. Foodservice consultant Horizons has identified growth of Japanese, Korean, Brazilian, Mexican, Lebanese and Caribbean brands and dishes on casual dining menus. ‘World buffet’ style operations, which enable customers to mix and match from a selection of different cuisine styles , are also growing.
The exact range of cuisines will vary depending on the location, but there will be few restaurant and pub operators whose customers don’t have an increasingly exotic choice from restaurants, takeaways and, increasingly, home delivery specialists. It pays to have an occasional stroll around the nearest town centre, or just make a scan of the local business directory to see what your menu is competing with.
This shouldn’t be seen as a threat, but an opportunity. It’s relatively simple to meet customers’ tastes for global cuisine alongside a more traditional food offer, and by expanding your food offer, you should be able to appeal to a wider range of customers as well as bring in regulars more frequently. . Here are just a few ideas:
- Theme night: A weekly or monthly evening devoted to Indian, Chinese, Italian or another cuisine can attract new customers, and holding it on a Monday or Tuesday evening will drive trade at less busy times. Themed music and appropriately dressed staff all add to the occasion;
- Get saucy: There are high quality Indian and Oriental cooking sauces available through wholesalers. These can make menu staples like chicken and fish much more versatile without the need for specialist skills in the kitchen;
- Spice it up: Specialist spice mixes such as Moroccan or Chinese can simply add an exotic touch to cuts of meat and fish, as well dishes such as pies and stir fries;
- Drinks matching: Match wine, beer and cocktails to the style of dish on offer, such as Italian wine with authentic pizza or a Brazilian caipirinha cocktail with a South American BBQ. This will add to the party feel of a theme night, as well as encouraging customers to spend a bit more.
It’s only going to get more global out there – are you ready to compete?