Tuesday, 9 September 2014

I noticed recently that politicians have started ... Fuller's Tenants Extra, June 2014

I noticed recently that politicians have started referring to the economic downturn of the past few years as ‘The Great Recession’, presumably because that makes it sound more like a natural phenomenon and less like something that we as voters might expect our elected representatives to do something about.

Regardless of what we call it, licensees need no reminding that low consumer confidence and cautious spending have been a feature of the eating out market for some time, and so will welcome any sign of improvement.

Industry analyst Horizons has recently launched Eating Out-Look, a new quarterly survey of consumers and foodservice professionals. The initial findings indicate that consumers are beginning to increase their spending on eating out, and interestingly, the operators surveyed say that fewer consumers are now cutting back on starters and desserts.

Marketing wisdom tells us that it’s far easier to persuade an existing customer to spend a little more that it is attract a completely new customer. As the economic recovery picks up, an extra course added to the front or back end of their meal makes a big difference to the bottom line.

One way to encourage that extra spend is to make sure that starters and desserts offer as much to interest customers as the mains, which is something pubs occasionally let themselves down on.  Let’s start with the starters. Staying with Horizons data, their regular Menurama survey of eating out menus shows that the most commonly seen pub starters in 2013 were:

1 Soup
2 Prawn cocktail
3 Chicken wings 
4 Nachos
5 Breaded mushrooms 

Some of these are no surprise. Home-made soup is a great way to reduce food waste by using surplus vegetables, meat trimmed from man course cuts and other leftovers. Prawn cocktail may be a pub grub cliché, but classic dishes are classic for a reason, and it remains a firm customer favourite.

Dishes such as chicken wings and breaded mushrooms are a pub’s ‘flexible friend’, working just as well as starters and they do in sharing platters, while the popularity of nachos reflects ‘grazing’ trends as well as the growth of Mexican food influences.

When it comes to ‘afters’, the most commonly listed desserts on pub menus are:

1 Ice cream/ sorbet                                       
2 Cheesecake
3 Chocolate brownie
4 Cheeseboard
5 Sticky toffee pudding

The popularity of ice cream, which can be served by itself or as an accompaniment to other desserts, is clear, while cheesecake, brownies and sticky toffee pudding all appeal to the indulgent nature of the pub food occasion.  The cheeseboard offers something to customers without a sweet tooth and is also a popular sharing or bar snack option.

To boost sales of starters and desserts, try these ideas:
  • Use menu descriptions that appeal to customer interest in food provenance, such as ‘soup made with seasonal British vegetables’, ‘apple crumble made with locally-grown fruit’ or ‘a selection of regional cheeses’;
  • Use specials boards to update customers and offer variety, such as soup of the day or ice cream flavour of the week; 
  • Highlight at least one healthier option on both starter and dessert menus, such as salads and fresh fruit;  
  • Incentivise your staff to ask customers if they’re having starters or desserts, with simple rewards such as a bottle of wine for the most sold over a  month;
  • Offer two- and three-course deals at a set price, especially at quiet times of the week
This column originally appeared in the June 2014 issue of Fuller's Tenants Extra 

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