With summer barely over, pubs are already turning attention to planning their Christmas menus. Kerry Rogan offers some useful advice for the festive season.
Surely it can't be that time of year already? It may feel like summer is barely over but with less than three months to go until the big day, it is indeed time to start planning for Christmas.
More than 26 per cent of consumers visit pubs for Christmas meals - significantly more than visit restaurants - which means big business.
The festive season can be a time of fantastic profits and Yuletide cheer for licensees - but leave it too late to plan and those cheery Christmas party-goers will spend their money elsewhere.
The best way to avoid any disasters this Christmas is to plan every part of the celebrations.
Careful planning can make a real difference to a successful Christmas and with people determined to eat well over the festive period, what better place to start than with your menu.
Make things easy
Don't be overly adventurous. Think about the limitations of your kitchen and staff - what you put on your menu will be dependent on what your pub can cope with. For instance, will a huge turkey fit in your oven or is it better to cook smaller, ready-boned and rolled turkey joints?
Although many pubs pride themselves on using fresh ingredients, sometimes frozen can be more convenient. Using frozen vegetables for example, means they have a longer shelf life and over-ordering is not such a problem. Stocks, gravy and other accompaniments are also handy to buy ready-made. Pritchitts, for example, sells a Chef's Taste concentrated stock which can be used to baste a turkey before roasting, added to roasting vegetables for extra flavour or made into gravy.
McCain offers traditional roasting potatoes which can be cooked straight from the freezer and mean you can offer consistent quality.
Customers expect to see turkey on a Christmas menu - especially in "traditional" pubs.
"Traditional Christmas dinners are really important," says Will Richards, sales and marketing director for Kerry Foodservice, "but have more than one option and include a fish and vegetarian dish as well."
Many suppliers offer easy Christmas products. Brakefresh, for example, has launched a boned and rolled turkey breast with pork, sage and onion stuffing. Using turkey in this way means waste is minimal. It also means that storage, cooking and defrosting are simplified.
"Don't forget that Christmas is a family time," Will says. "Include a Christmas dish for children and make it fun." He suggests looking at foods such as turkey nuggets that can be included on a children's Christmas menu.
It is also important to get the price right - make sure customers feel they are getting value for money.
"People are willing to pay a little bit more for a great Christmas meal," says Will.
To reduce boredom, chef David Thatcher suggests theming your Christmas menu. He is already taking bookings for his Dickensian Christmas meals at his pub, the Little Sauce Factory, in Worcester.
The three-course meal costs £21.50, including coffee and mince pies. Dishes include Ebeneezer's delicious duck paté, Jacob Marley's Yuletide goose, the pork of Christmas past and Bill Sykes' favourite, plum duff.
Of course, it could be that no matter how hard you try, you and your customers can't muster up any enthusiasm for turkey and brussels sprouts.
Research undertaken by Brake Grocery discovered that a startling 80 per cent of adults claim they are fed up with traditional Christmas fayre.
Coral Rose, Brake Grocery's marketing controller, said: "With a real increase in the dining out experience in recent years, it is only natural that people are eating out more over the festive period. For this reason customers are likely to want something a little bit different. What people want is a contemporary twist on the traditional theme."
She suggests dishes such as salmon with roasted red pepper and basil crust.
Ethnic food is always popular - even at Christmas.
Authentic curry sauce manufacturer Tilda suggests adding sauces to turkey and vegetables to give a spicy twist to menus. It recommends turkey korma, or a more tangy turkey jalfrezi (pictured).
Or go Italian and serve up turkey stincotta - a traditional turkey leg cooked with Italian herbs. Italian ingredients company IB Food suggests serving stincotta on a bed of polenta with caramelised baby onions in balsamic vinegar.
Of course it is important not to neglect vegetarians.
Christmas menus give licensees a chance to prove they can cater for veggie customers. Meat-alternative Quorn is versatile and can be used in all sorts of dishes which means it is a good choice for vegetarian Christmas meals.
With all these choices available it is easy to put together a Christmas menu to please even the fussiest of customers. But time is getting on, so start planning and make sure this Christmas is your best one yet!
The big countdown...
- organise promotional activity, for example door drops, local newspaper adverts, point-of-sale material, newsletters, banners and chalkboards
- tell your staff what you are planning
- take a look at what your competitors are offering - think about doing something different
- begin taking bookings
- organise staff rotas, and the recruitment and training of new staff if necessary
- order a tree and decorations.
- decorate your pub
- let staff know the latest on menus, promotions and other things you may have planned
- if you want to open late on particular evenings, Christmas Eve for example, apply for a special order of exemption now.
- now is a good time to give your customers a reason to return to your pub when money is tight during January. A free bottle of wine with every table booked during January is always popular, or a free starter or dessert. Get your offers printed on flyers and give them out to Christmas diners
- think about Valentine's Day promotions and suggest diners book a table at your pub.
Information provided by Catherine Chauvet, food development and marketing manager, Punch Pub Company.
Quorn pieces and vegetables in a puff pastry pillow
Salmon with red pepper and basil crust
Turkey stincotto with wild mushrooms and chestnuts(pictured)
Stuffed shoulder of lamb with a Mediterranean-style stuffing