Monday, 18 November 2013

It has, I’m told, been an excellent year for sprouts...Fuller's Tenants Extra November 2013

It has, I’m told, been an excellent year for sprouts, and salmon is in very good supply. However, turkey is likely to be on the expensive side this year due to lower production in Europe and high demand from the Germans, who have got their Christmas orders in early, in the same endearing fashion that they adopt to get their beach towels onto the sun-loungers while everyone else is still thinking about breakfast.
For most pubs, I know, all this information is of little value so close to the festive season. Menus have been printed, prices fixed and the bookings diary filling up for months as customers try to make sure they don’t miss out on a venue for the office do or the darts team annual festive bash.

I was speaking to one pub recently where the licensee regularly takes a Christmas booking from the local branch of the WI in February. While he’s more than happy to book the ladies in, the inevitable next question, “can we see a menu please?” is slightly more of problem that far from the season to be jolly.

He normally resolves it by printing out a re-dated copy of the previous year’s menu. The majority opt for turkey with all the trimmings, and if the fish or vegetarian option changes slightly from year-to-year, who’s really going to remember in December what they ordered in February?

If nothing else, this demonstrates the challenges of trying to offer customers certainty in an uncertain world. Those booking for Christmas in September want to know what they’ll be eating and how much they’ll be paying when they sit down in December. Even if pubs can persuade suppliers to agree prices months in advance, things can change. Last year, some suppliers invoked the rarely-used ‘force majeure’ exceptional circumstances clause to raise the contracted price of potatoes after disastrous harvests.

Thankfully spuds, like sprouts, are in much stronger supply this year.  And however healthy the Christmas bookings are looking, there’s still time to boost the bottom line a bit more with some last minute festive food ideas:

  • Big up the buffet: For customers looking to book close to Christmas, offer a buffet option if you genuinely can’t fit any more in for sit down meals. Many buffet items can be prepared in advance and served ready plated, so needn’t take up valuable kitchen time;
  • Give yourself room to manoeuvre: Menu descriptions such as ‘served with seasonal vegetables’ give you some leeway if prices for some produce change;
  • Share and share alike:  Sharing plates and snacks appeal to customers who are meeting friends informally for a Christmas drink, and like buffets, can be assembled quickly and simply; 
  • New Year deals: Target local businesses such as shops that may be too busy for a staff party pre-Christmas with a deal on group bookings for January. This has the added advantage of bringing in business at a traditionally quiet time.

This 'Kitchen Porter' column appears in the November 2013 of  Fuller's Tenants Extra

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