As the peak Christmas trading season gets closer, it should come as no surprise to hospitality and catering businesses that price rises are on the way. The fall in the value of sterling in the wake of the referendum vote in favour of Brexit, against both the dollar and the euro, makes it inevitable that suppliers’ cost will rise, and they will need to pass those costs on.
The much-publicised stand-off between Tesco and Unilever over the price of products such as Marmite put the issue into sharp perspective, while closer to home the trade media picked up on one of the core messages from the recently published Autumn/Winter 2016 of our Lynx Purchasing Market Forecast – that operators should be locking in the prices they pay suppliers for seasonal food and drink wherever possible.
However, there is more that many operators can do to spread their costs when planning Christmas menus. The festive season is far from immune to changing food trends, even if they don’t change as quickly as some other areas of the menu.
For example, there was time when no English festive table would be complete without a roasted boar’s head, tusks and all, while the religious requirement to abstain from meat right up to Christmas Day made baked fish a Christmas Eve favourite. Mince pies, now made entirely from fruit, were traditionally a spiced meat dish.
The first turkeys are believed to have arrived in Britain in 1526 when William Strickland acquired a small flock from Native American traders, and set up business selling the birds in Bristol. Much later, Edward VII created the specific link between turkey and Christmas, when he substituted it for the traditional peacock eaten by the Royal family on Christmas Day.
Even if a boar’s head buffet or peacock with all the trimmings might be a challenge for most operators, there’s far more to the festive season than the same old menu. By taking wider menu trends into account there’s an opportunity to vary the offer and make the most of the full range of prices and special offers from suppliers:
- Sharing and grazing: The trend for groups of customers to order a range of small, tapas-style plates or larger sharing platters to share is very much in evidence throughout Christmas. One advantage of offering snack and sharing choices alongside a seasonal sit-down menu is the opportunity to persuade groups getting together for Christmas drinks to also order food. It’s simple to add a seasonal touch to sharing favourites, such as serving cranberry sauce with baked camembert, or substituting pigs in blankets for standard sausages.
- Provenance: Consumer interest in the source of the food on their plate is just as strong at Christmas as it is all year around. Along with the traditional Norfolk turkey, offer a cheeseboard made with local and regional cheeses, and talk to your catering butcher to source festive fare such as beef, ham and chipolatas with local credentials. Whether it’s a genuinely local menu, or puts a wider spotlight on regional and British produce, adding provenance will appeal.
- Buffet menus: Predicting consumer confidence is always a challenge, and this year operators face the potential double whammy not only of higher prices, but also trying to drum up trade from consumers who are starting to watch their spending in these uncertain times. By offering a buffet choice, you can appeal to customers whose budgets don’t stretch to the full Christmas menu. The Market Forecast reports that salmon and prawns, both seasonal buffet favourites, are expected to cost more this year due to a range of supply issues, so look at alternatives such as smoked mackerel and crabsticks, as well as finding the best deals on snacks, skewers, pies, pâtés and the full range of seasonal buffet produce.
- Main course: Across family, friends, work and clubs, many customers will have several meals out over the Christmas period, so make sure there’s a range of main courses on offer. Current menu trends such as slow cooked and barbecued 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. Spicy flavours are also very popular, so add ginger, cayenne and chilli to alternatives to turkey such a duck or chicken, as well as to vegetarian dishes, to vary the menu choice.
- Desserts: Christmas is a time when most customers can be persuaded to indulge in a dessert, and recent research by Mintel shows that chocolate has seen a resurgence as the most popular flavour in desserts, followed by vanilla, strawberry and caramel. Take a leaf out of the Bake-Off book to offer favorites such as brownies and macaroons in a range of flavours, and don’t forget to add a drop of the hard stuff. Dark spirits such as rum and whisky are long-established as additions to rich desserts, but lighter flavours like gin and prosecco also work well, especially when matched with fruit flavours such as strawberry and lemon.
Once you know what the menu options are, you need to tell customers, so display Christmas menus and booking forms prominently in the venue, as well as on your website and use social media to highlight the offer.
Finally, don’t neglect the opportunity to drive trade in the New Year. Vouchers inviting Christmas diners back for special offer meals in January will bring your business some cheer at the start of the year.
To download the latest Market Forecast, go to Lynx Purchasing Market Forecast Autumn Winter 2016.
To ensure your bottom line has a merry Christmas, check your menu prices using the FREE. Lynx Purchasing GP Calculator App. Endorsed by the Craft Guild of Chefs, enables chefs, caterers and restaurant managers to monitor margins in busy kitchens or when negotiating with suppliers, using a smartphone or tablet. To download the FREE App, go to:
For Android: Lynx Purchasing GP Calculator App on Google Play
Lynx Purchasing works with more than 2,200 hospitality and catering operators to match them with the best suppliers and get the best possible prices on food and drink, as well as a whole range of essential products and services. Lynx’s buying experts help operators buy better and save time and money, year after year.