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Have you thought about your Christmas menu yet? There are, inevitably, publicans out there who will tell you they've been marketing their seasonal...

Have you thought about your Christmas menu yet?

There are, inevitably, publicans out there who will tell you they've been marketing their seasonal offer for months and are already fully booked right through December.

Such people, though, are a bit like those who buy all their Christmas cards and presents in the January sales - annoying, smug and really not entering into the spirit of the occasion.

Ron Hickey, director of catering development at cash & carry group Booker, suspects that the reality is rather different for most pubs.

"Now that the summer's over and the Bank Holiday weekends are out of the way, pubs will start thinking about drumming up some Christmas trade," he says.

Add to that the many pubs that have only just started to offer food to adapt to changing patterns of trade following the smoking ban, and Ron believes there are quite a few pubs out there looking for a helping hand.

In response, Booker has launched a special festive menu promotion, available through its branches from the last week in September. Booker's chefs have come up with suggestions and prices for a rage of festive starters, main courses and desserts, and will hold the price on all the lines featured right through until January 3, 2008.

So, for example, pubs will know they can assemble a turkey dinner with all the trimmings at Booker for an ingredient cost price per serving of £2.07. "It's a good start for pubs that aren't sure what they are doing when it comes to Christmas menus," says Ron. "Using the prices in the brochure, and adding in staffing costs and so on, pubs will be able to work out what they need to charge for a Christmas meal."

A big question for pubs facing high customer volumes over Christmas

is how to plan the mix between fresh and frozen food. Lora Simons, marketing manager at 3663, says: "Christmas is without a doubt the busiest time of year as far as pub food sales are concerned. With work nights out, group Christmas meals and festive parties, not to mention catering for the big day itself, it can be difficult to know where to start."

3663 has a wide range of solutions, from its upmarket Whites pre-prepared frozen range, to seasonal specialities such as turkey parcels filled with chestnut, orange and port, and salmon supremes.

Using such pre-prepared products as the backbone of the Christmas menu, pubs can then add their own twist using fresh produce.

Christmas dinners with a twist

With so many pubs offering similar menus throughout December, consider differentiating your menu by offering variations on classic Christmas fare.

Produce supplier Fresh Direct suggests seasonal winter soups such as roast parsnip and apple soup with vegetable chips, or a variation on the traditional roast turkey, stuffing and cranberry sandwich - a toasted sandwich with the addition of melted cheese - to ring the changes.

Continue the Christmas theme through to desserts. Try mincemeat and cranberry pies, chocolate and chestnut torte, or warm apple pie with custard and a blackberry sauce.

Nigel Harris, MD of Fresh Direct, adds: "A good way to generate extra interest in your Christmas menu is through specials. Offer a particular soup, sandwich, salad or dessert for one day only.

"This will give regular customers a more varied choice while also creating a higher perceived value for that particular product."

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