One of the busiest times of year in the pub calendar is fast approaching and if you haven't already organised your Christmas menus, then the time is now.
Christmas is a time when customers will be expecting the very best of what you have to offer and is a chance to impress new customers to come back again in the New Year.
As John Sutcliffe, out of home and convenience controller at tea and coffee supplier Taylors of Harrogate, says: “When it comes to seasonal sales opportunities, nothing comes bigger than Christmas. It’s the time of year when customers really want to get into the spirit of the season and will pay that little bit more to enjoy it.”
Christmas planning ideas
- Christmas isn't just about Christmas day itself - why not organise a Christmas market, a 12 days of Christmas promotion, or a film night or afternoon with classic Christmas films?
- Offer a free Christmas cocktail to the group of 5% off any bookings made before mid-September.
- Give your drinks offer a festive flavour too - think seasonal flavours for your hot drinks offer, Christmas cocktails, winter ales and mulled wine and cider.
- Host a carol singing event or put on a family fun afternoon with a Santa's grotto to help attract in the family market.
- Bored of the same old Christmas decorations and hats? Add a touch of colour to your pub with red Santa hats which look really effective laid over chairs when your Christmas party groups arrive.
- Add interest to crackers with prizes in some which offer money off or free things at the pub in January.
- Why not invite local businesses in for a 'Taste of Christmas' night with canapés and drinks which will give them a flavour of what your Christmas party packages will have to offer and encourage them to book up their staff party on the night?
- Add a seasonal twist to your sandwich and bar snacks menus too.
- Produce your own festive gifts and treats for sale in the pub - customers will love to buy Christmas puddings, mince pies and chutneys made at their favourite local.
- Not everyone wants their Christmas party night in December - think about extending your offer in to January.
- Encourage trade in January by offering bounce back vouchers to customers dining with you over the festive season.
Keep it manageable
It’s important that your food offering over Christmas is in keeping not only with what customers want but what is manageable for the pub and kitchen.
Scott Ferguson, food development manager at Wadworth Brewery, is charged with the task of preparing the menus for over 40 Wadworth managed houses this Christmas.
He believes pub caterers need to understand what they are capable of and then plan dishes and recipes around what works best for them.
“Some pubs might choose to cook something a bit different, using more game, goose, rabbit, pheasant and venison. Other pubs might decide their customers would prefer a steak and suet pudding or a venison pie and the benefit of these dishes is that they are easier to prepare in advance and to serve,” says Ferguson.
He added: “Publicans need to remember that they might be preparing twice as many covers so the food needs to work for the quantity. We suggest cooking less complicated dishes but doing them well, still keeping ingredients local and seasonal.”
James Goodall, head chef at Tweedies Bar in Grasmere, Cumbria says that it’s important to strike the balance between what your pub traditionally offers and to remain true to its identity and brand whilst providing customers with something festive and authentic.
“During the festive period, we find that regardless of your pub’s style, clients nevertheless have a certain expectation from your festive menu, so our goal is to strike a balance between remaining in keeping with our own brand whilst featuring classic dishes,” says Goodall.
The mainstay of any successful Christmas dinner, the turkey needs to be executed with precision to ensure customers are left satisfied and queuing up to book again next year.
Chefs can add their own twist to this traditional dish to keep it interesting for customers.
At Andrew Pern's Star Inn at Harome, North Yorkshire, the Christmas party night menu features Harome reared ‘Loose Birds’: butter-roast turkey with brioche bread sauce, forcemeat, pickering watercress, game chips and smoked bacon chipolatas and tarragon juices.
Chefs face the risk of disappointing customers if the meat is not served tender and succulent.
Ernst Vanzyl, head chef and co-owner at Punch Taverns pub the Lord Clyde in Bollington, Cheshire recommends: “I cook it at a low temperature slowly and only cook with fresh turkeys and only ever the breast, which is what people favour the most. We keep the meat wrapped up and pre-portioned in tinfoil with some turkey stock in a hot cupboard so it stays moist and then serve once the orders come in.”
Justin Brown, head chef at the Fifield Inn, Fifield, near Maidenhead, Berkshire veers away from the traditional turkey offering at Christmas and instead offers a turkey parcel.
He says: "We do turkey parcel, which is sliced turkey breast with homemade stuffing wrapped in the shape of a parcel. We then wrap the parcel in streaky bacon so it stays moist and we won’t cook it until someone orders it. Once ordered, we pan fry the parcel then give it a few minutes in the oven.”
If pressed for time and prep space then the festive range from supplier Classic Cuisine includes the Turkey Tornado.
“The Turkey Tornedo was one of our bestsellers in a number of pub and restaurant chains last year,” says the supplier’s sales director Mark Dean.
The dish features Norfolk turkey wrapped in crispy, streaky bacon topped with cranberry and orange stuffing and finished with a cinnamon jus.
Supplier Brakes offers turkey products including McKeown Mastercarve Gourmet Cooked Turkey Breast & Stuffed Thighs; Prime Meats British Turkey Butterfly Breast and stuffed turkey fillets and cuts on offer from 3663 include the turkey paupiette and a turkey parcel filled with chestnut, orange & port.
Stuffing can be an effective way of helping give your turkey dish a new twist.
Brakes range features port, cranberry and orange stuffing log. Haggis producer Macsween is launching three new special editions in October. These are Specials wild boar haggis, Moroccan spiced vegetarian haggis and chocolate and chilli black pudding. Another menu idea is to use vegetarian haggis as stuffing.
Potatoes to savour
The classic roast potato is one of the staple ingredients in any Christmas dinner.
But preparing and cooking roast potatoes from scratch can be a time consuming process so opting for a frozen product could be ideal if you have a limited kitchen or small team.
Bannisters’ Farm produce a range of roast potatoes that come frozen which are cooked, seasoned and tumbled with oil and require a short amount of time in the oven – enabling chefs to cook quickly with manageable portions.
In contrast, Head chef Luke Webb from Punch Taverns pub the White Horse in Welwyn Village, Hertfordshire is a firm believer in cooking from scratch and using fresh produce.
“We peel and soak our potatoes overnight in a salt bath then boil them the next day before placing them in a pan of searing goose fat with seasoning. Once that’s smoking we will cook them for about 40 minutes,” said Webb
He adds: “Over Christmas we prepare them a few days in advance and all the team gets stuck in. We have a small kitchen team – there’s only three of us – but we all love working over Christmas.”
To serve something a little different from the traditional roast potato and save on prep time, head chef Justin Brown from the Fifield Inn, Maidenhead prepares a potato fondant.
He says: “Instead of cooking a tray of roast potatoes, which will go dry within an hour, a potato fondant eliminates that problem and can save time in the long run as you only need to make one batch of fondant rather than continuously making trays of potatoes from scratch."
For an alternative to potatoes Brakes offers a root vegetable rösti of seasoned carrot, parsnip, potato, onion and leek, which is ideal to serve with main courses.
Christmas pudding is a must for many pub caterers on their Christmas menus. But if you want to do something different then why not for group bookings if several people have ordered Christmas pudding flambe and serve the Christmas pudding at the table.
Or why not use the flavours of Christmas pudding in ice cream or cheesecake for a different twist.
Other interesting festive dessert options include from Classic Cuisine a nostalgic trifle cheesecake comprising of sherry soaked sponge topped with raspberry jelly, orange custard and cream cheese.
The range also features a chocolate salami made with real Belgium chocolate which comes with a variety of different biscuits and is topped with a sprinkle of pistachios.
3663's offer includes TSC chocolate orange and Grand Marnier dessert; chocolate orange truffle bar and plum streusel crumble.
Among interesting options from Brakes are fig, pistachio and honey cheesecake; individual Black Forest Tart with Kirsch: individual spiced apple tart: mini Christmas pudding: ginger, rum & raisin sponge pudding; caramel brownie stack and berry meringue pie.
The season of sharing
Add interest to your sharing boards and cheese plates with Christmas-inspired dishes and cheeses.
The New Moon Pub Company’s Beef and Pudding in Manchester will be serving the New Moon Christmas Plank this year.
Ideal for a group sharer during after work drinks or as a starter before a main meal, the plank comprises of gunpowder smoked salmon, pub pate, handmade pork pie, Cheshire cheese, carved turkey breast and gravy, stuffing and chipolatas, rum soaked Christmas cake and house bread and butter (£16.95).