Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Customers, as we all know, can be a contrary bunch ... Fuller's Tenants Extra, September 2014.

Customers, as we all know, can be a contrary bunch. They’ll insist they want to enjoy food and drink in a traditional pub atmosphere, but then complain if they can’t book a table or if they feel disturbed by the chatter of customers enjoying a pint at the bar. They’ll say that they want to enjoy the classic pub dishes, and then moan that the menu doesn’t change often enough.

Menu innovation is always a challenge for pubs. Every dish is someone’s favourite, but there is a need to reflect evolving food trends and offer something different to those looking for a change.  Even the most popular pub meals can be refreshed occasionally. Suggestions for ringing the changes with the five most frequently featured dishes on pub menus – based on the data compiled by industry analyst Horizons - include: 
  • Burgers:  As well as the ever-popular beef and chicken burgers, vary the burger menu with regularly changing varieties such as pork & apple, lamb & mint or even a spicy Thai fishcake served in a burger bun. Offer different toppings and accompaniments with burgers such as local cheeses or home-made coleslaw:
  • Fish & Chips: We all need to vary the fish species we eat to boost sustainability. Speak to your fish supplier to find out which white fish are good value, and spotlight not just the variety, but where and how it’s caught, on the menu;
  • Steak: Using less familiar steak cuts can offer better value, such as the flat iron steak taken from the shoulder. A good catering butcher will be able to prepare such steaks to your specification and advise then best way to cook them. Offer variety with accompaniments, such as sweet potato fries as an alternative to chips; 
  • Sunday Roast: It’s hard to beat roast beef as a family Sunday favourite, but offering a regularly-changing choice, such as lamb, pork or gammon, will keep customers interested. For groups dining together, carving a roast chicken at the table adds a touch of theatre;
  • Sausage & Mash: Locally-made sausages, and speciality varieties such as chorizo or US-style hot dogs, can easily transform standard bangers and mash into a gourmet sausage menu.
Beyond the best-sellers, the latest Menurama survey of trends across pubs and restaurants from Horizons shows new influences appearing on menus. While the prospect of including flavours from Japan or the Middle East, both of which are seeing strong growth, may initially seem daunting, it needn’t be. A splash of wasabi or a sprinkle of tagine spice will liven up a burger, pie or stir fry and put a pub’s menu right on trend.

Hot dogs have seen the biggest increase in the number of menus they now feature on, with pork ribs coming in second.  Both reflect the growing popularity of US diner, barbecue and smokehouse-style dishes, and can be easily added to pub menus. Deli-style salads, coleslaws and speciality breads can also be used to add a Stateside touch. 

On the dessert side, salted caramel is one of the fastest growing flavours tracked by Menurama, having grown 12% in popularity year-on-year.

Finally, it’s not just the food itself that can be easily refreshed – look also at what you’re serving it on. Boards, planks, platters and buckets are all alternatives to the traditional china plate. Some street food vendors have even been noticed serving food on ‘trash can’ lids – but pubs may feel that as ideas go, that one’s a bit rubbish. 

This column originally appeared in the September 2014 issue of Fuller’s Tenants Extra

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