At the best of times, predicting customer behaviour is as much an art as it is a science, and as the hospitality sector approaches what should be its busiest time of the year, that’s more true in 2023 that ever.
People planning their budgets for seasonal eating out with friends, family and colleagues in the run-up to Christmas and New Year are likely to fall into three broad camps. There will be who will be looking to do so on a strict budget; those who take the view that even if they don’t go as often, they want to treat themselves when they do; and in the middle, those who can be persuaded to spend a little more if the offer is right and they believe they are getting value for money.
It’s important to remember, though, that value for money isn’t the same as offering the cheapest turkey dinner in town. For independent operators in particular, fierce competition on price alone is best left to the specialists. Offering high quality produce, with a focus on the best of British food, gives consumers a genuinely different choice. Showing support for British food producers has proven customer appeal. However, this year in particular, that approach comes with a few warnings:
- High demand from supermarkets for turkey this year, including Red Tractor birds, means supplies available to hospitality for the peak Christmas season could be limited and are very likely to be more expensive;
- Remember also that across family, friends, work and clubs, many customers may have several meals out over the Christmas period, and ‘turkey fatigue’ can set in quickly for some.
Building in flexibility could mean offering an alternative to the more familiar turkey, or a premium beef option. For a better value choice, popular dishes such slow cooked or barbecued pork dishes can be given a festive twist with sauces and stuffing, and are a useful way to make the most of better value cuts of meat.
With fish, offering smoked mackerel or trout as a starter or buffet choice may appeal over salmon, as salmon prices always peak towards Christmas, and some consumers and suppliers still have concerns over the quality of farmed product.
To appeal to customers looking for vegan and plant based choices, dishes such as vegetable roasts or wellingtons can be given a premium feel, and are relatively easy to make in advance and freeze for use when needed, saving time during the busiest trading period of the year.
Across the menu, spicy flavours are also very popular, so try adding harissa, peri-peri or chilli flavours to the Christmas classics. These Christmas-with-a-twist dishes also have a strong appeal to younger adults, who are more likely to go out to meet friends for food and drink in the run-up to Christmas, as well as to book for the New Year.
Offering a buffet choice can appeal to customers whose budgets don’t stretch to the full Christmas menu, while sharing and grazing dishes, which enable groups of customers to order a range of small, tapas-style plates or larger platters to share, is an opportunity to persuade groups getting together for Christmas drinks to order food.
Whatever the approach, the sooner an operator can have a menus and pricing in place, the better – and don’t keep it to yourself. As well as having menus visible in the pub, post them online and highlight the options through social media. Email or drop off printed menus with local businesses and organisations, to secure corporate bookings.
Our advice to operators is to buy produce when it’s in season, and at its best in terms of quality, yield, value and availability. As always, those that can keep menu descriptions flexible will be best placed to make the most of any changes to supply or unexpected disruption to the supply chain.
Keeping suppliers in the picture, and letting them know in good time about any changes to order levels, is a better strategy than placing last minute orders for stock that may not be available. Compliments of the season!