Menu ideas

Mexican wave

By Sheila McWattie

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Tortilla Mexican cuisine

Mini quesadillas and Red Pig Ale served at Jetlag in Fitzrovia, London
Mini quesadillas and Red Pig Ale served at Jetlag in Fitzrovia, London
Seven ideas for making the most of Mexican food in your business

Viva Mexico

Many Mexican menus focus heavily on meat, but catering for vegetarian and other dietary requirements such as gluten-free helps to promote accessibility and satisfy a diverse customer base, says chef Marino Mincera at Mexican-themed cocktail bar Viva in east London’s Dalston. He sells up to seven quesadilla daily, including caramelised onion (£4.50) and butternut squash, goats’ cheese & rocket (£5.95), served with sour cream and home-made salsa. Customers notify requirements or just turn up and discuss their needs with Mincera, who welcomes customers to watch him work in his open kitchen and says serving Mexican dishes straight from the oven is vital. Introducing himself to as many customers as possible just after they receive their piping-hot food encourages them to return, he says.

Authentic taste

Long before Mexican food became one of today’s hot pub-food trends, tenant Bob Taylor designed a Mexican menu for rural Cambridgeshire’s Fox at Burwell. After more than nine years, chef-proprietor Taylor still uses Mexican menus at the free-of-tie Wellington Pub Company lease to boost the pub’s destination status – seeing consistent evening trade throughout Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays as well as at weekends, and selling around 40 varieties of tequila – and two months ago began featuring popular and easily prepared Mexican dishes at lunchtime, including ‪nachos con carne (£6). “Do it properly, using fresh ingredients,” is Taylor’s advice. “Not everything has to be spicy. Guacamole is fantastic, simply made with good quality garlic, lime and avocado.” About half of all his lunch customers now choose Mexican dishes.

Smokin’ specials

Innovative events during festivals can focus attention and boost sales further. At InnBrighton’s Sidewinder in Kemptown, Brighton, where a Mexican menu is provided in partnership with Smokin’ Gringos chef Matt Young, a bank holiday chilli festival offered an all-day barbecue, outdoor bar and indoor live music. Seven entrants were attracted to the hot sauce contest, judged on taste by two local food bloggers who were instrumental in promoting the event and driving social media engagement, especially on Twitter. Specials included swordfish taco with red cabbage slaw & samphire (£3.95; three dishes for £10), and spicy cocktails such as the Antonio Banderas: Centanario Plata tequila, strawberries, lime, Scotch bonnet & fresh mint (£5). Saturday food trade rose by 15% and wet trade by almost 20%.

Plan with a van

A small kitchen doesn’t have to curtail your event if you team up effectively with an eye-catching and experienced outside catering operation. The team at North Bar’s Alfred in Leeds celebrated the company’s private leasehold pub’s third birthday this year and doubled usual takings, with El Topo, a local Mexican street-food van specialising in burritos, parked outside the bar. Mangrove UK, representing El Jimador tequila in the UK, provided tequila, sold for £2.40 per shot. North Bar’s own-label Prototype beer was reduced from by 40p per pint to £2.50 when Kirkstall brewery gave a free donation. Guests were invited to dress up and the Alfred staff got into the spirit by decorating the bar and providing sombreros, ponchos and moustaches for the team and customers.

Don’t forget desserts

Mexican food lends itself equally to snacks, larger dishes and appetising desserts, opening up valuable income streams. freeholder Louise Genrey offered two and three-course set-price dinner options (£18/ £23) plus a choice of smaller items from the bar and Mexican desserts at her recent Mexican night at the Fox & Hounds in Funtington, West Sussex. Sharing nibbles (£3 per head) included guacamole and creamy frijoles with toasted tortilla chips; stuffed chillies, and hot chilli nuts. Mexican desserts were a big hit, including churros with dark chocolate sauce (£6). Tres leches cake, made with three types of milk – evaporated, condensed and cream – was served with toffee sauce (£6). The night boosted usual Thursday evening food trade significantly, while wet trade benefited from customers enjoying Mexican beers, spirits and agua fresco, a soft cooling drink made with puréed fruit.

Hot point
“Our international Jetlag guests expect quality and innovation all year round, so our food is matched carefully with our global range of craft beers,” says the Fitzrovia free-of-tie leasehold sports bar's director Scott Wilson. “As all World Cup 2014 games are evening affairs, food is key to driving in new customers and increasing spend per head whilst delivering a premium service. With 160 seated covers over two floors we’re looking at a 200% uplift over the four-week tournament, with 400% uplift on the 2010 event. Mexican sliders – including mini quesadillas with chicken fillet, mixed peppers, and cheese with mini nachos topped with guacamole, salsa and sour cream (£15) – are among our best-selling street-food specials. Beers such as Mexico’s Red Pig Ale (£4.80) draw attention to our eclectic offering and we enjoy devising a wide range of hand-held dishes, enabling customers to focus on any screened big game.”

Benefiting from burritos

Since Grant Winters set up Mexican kitchen El Panzon, in Brixton, south London, 10 years ago, demand for his services has risen at offices, events and pop-ups across the capital. Ingredient prices have increased steeply, while selling prices of his burritos and other dishes remain relatively stable. Winters relies on word-of-mouth and social media – especially twitter feed @elpanzon – to build business and increase sales volume rather than margins. His passion for food, simple recipes and good method are key. “To survive and grow, recognise when change is necessary, while listening to customers,” he says. Burritos occupy about 40% of sales, while demand for other products has grown among his increasingly sophisticated clientele: “Now everyone expects a soft corn tortilla taco – I haven't sold a crispy one in three years!”

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