If there is one thing operators want to get right this Christmas, it is their food and drink offering. The festive season is the time for indulgence and whether customers are turning up for a work Christmas party or a family gathering, they expect high quality food and a mixture of tradition and innovation.
Suppliers to the catering industry Brakes conducted an analysis of their Christmas customers for 2013 which showed that a tight product offer is key, but at the same time customers still expect some choice. Its research revealed that most operators offer only three to five different options for starters, mains and desserts across their Christmas menu. This means that the quality of what they offer is of the highest importance.
Brakes also found that having the ability to tailor these menus for different budgets and occasions was essential, with their clients requiring multi-use products to combat a lack of available storage space. At a busy time such as Christmas, individually packaged frozen offerings were also popular, alongside quality desserts which are quick to serve.
Planning your menu
Gary Klaner, executive chef at The Landmark London, says there are a few key areas to be taken into consideration when putting together a Christmas menu, including audience, budget and timing and the size of the event to be catered to, as well as the seasonality and theme of the occasion.
“You need to look at guests and the target market and work out how to balance classic Christmas dishes with what you may have learned in previous years,” explains Klaner. “It’s a time of year when people want the classics as much as they want the new. Furthermore the taste must be exceptional and that’s what is important to us.”
He stresses that the food which springs to mind at Christmas time should not be forgotten, with even simple traditions like putting cinnamon in the mulled wine being important. However it is also essential that businesses balance the expectations of their target markets with profit and consider the operational perspective, taking into account efficiency and speed.
“It is essential that our menu offering meets our guests’ expectations,” says Klaner. “We are always making steps to improve the menus from last year’s Christmas offering. It’s difficult to reinvent the wheel but we aim to change and re-work and fine tune it.”
There are some dishes that customers simply expect to see laid in front of them when they sit at a Christmas dining table, the first one that springs to mind being the turkey. But mixing the traditional with new ideas is a sure way to stand out from the crowd, according to an annual customer survey conducted by foodservice wholesale distributor Bidvest 3663.
“What we have found in a lot of the feedback is that the preferred main meal is still very traditional,” explains Bidvest’s campaign and activation manager Gail Bridgeman. “People still love to go for turkey as their main meal dish, but sometimes what they want to do is have different types of turkey to choose from, such as turkey parcels or escallops. However, customers are more likely to experiment with starters and dessert, which is why we’ve got new ideas in our starter options such as our wild boar tortellini.
“We would recommend getting the main nailed down right off, but it’s also important to think about your meat-free options for vegetarian customers and even those who just choose not to eat meat on the day. And think about gluten free customers, gluten free has been really raised now.”
The main food trends Bidvest 3663 predicts this year are:
- A large range of vegetarian options
Recent YouGov data showed an influential four per cent of adults do not eat meat or fish.
- Gluten-free options
“If there’s a party of ten generally there’s at least one person with a specific dietary need there,” said Bridgeman. “But that one person can really influence where the entire party goes to.
- Chocolate desserts
“Our sales data from last year showed that chocolate based desserts were the most popular for many customers,” added Bridgeman.
With high numbers of parties and events going on and customers celebrating the end of the year, they are often willing to spend more on drinks than usual. However, there is an expectation for a more seasonal and celebratory drinks offering, which is something venues have to take into consideration.
“Venues need the classic white and red wines, and reds are a little bit more popular at Christmas time because it’s colder,” says Bridgeman. “It’s also a time for celebration and Prosecco and Champagne are the celebratory drinks.
"We recommend that operators have pre-dinner drinks ordered and ready for the table at events, which is a great way of getting people to purchase more drinks as well.”
Christmas cocktails have also seen a surge in popularity, with customers willing to experiment and looking for innovative flavours in their drinks.
“Christmas is about celebration and cocktails are absolutely anchored with celebration,” explains Andrew King, chief executive of cocktail mixer manufacturer Funkin. “There are a lot of very simple steps that operators can do to take the consumer into the occasion.
“In terms of innovation, the real opportunity for venues is to do a bit of a twist on a classic. For example, if one took a mojito, the most popular cocktail in the UK, then added spiced rum to it and called it a spiced mojito, it immediately gives it that whole Christmas feel.”