FEATURE: What’s on the menu for food trends?

By Amelie Maurice-Jones

- Last updated on GMT

Food trends: Sustainability, cost-efficiency and social media are key to your winter menu
Food trends: Sustainability, cost-efficiency and social media are key to your winter menu

Related tags Food Gastropub Finance Multi-site pub operators Pubco + head office Freehouse

Christmas is round the corner. But with a cost-of-living crisis squeezing budgets, there’s little room for festive cheer with 40% of consumers dining out less frequently than usual. Operators can make sure their pub is the place to celebrate this winter through giving consumers exactly what they want on their plates.

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Keep your menus ahead of the curve in 2023!


Holly Rogers, Insight Manager at Bidfood UK shares her top tips on implementing the hottest food and drink trends into your menus to hit the mark with your customers in the year ahead.

  • Flavours less travelled:​ You don’t need to change up your whole menu to incorporate more adventurous dishes from around the world – simply adding international flavours using different spice blends, pastes or rubs can satisfy diners’ taste for culinary exploration.
  • Conscious choices:​ Signpost sustainable choices and any locally-sourced ingredients on your menu- if you’re using them, make sure your customers know about it!
  • Plant power:​ Using veg as hero ingredients add lots of colour to dishes and protect your margins.
  • Calories:​ Offer a range of different calorie options on menus and customisable dishes to keep ensure your menu has broadest appeal.
  • Pizza evolution: ​growing in popularity, there’s more demand for innovative flavours and formats – offer rectangular pizzas, your own dips for crusts, fun and unusual flavours and of course, gluten-free and plant-based choices.
  • In the spirit: ​signature serves are a great way to offer your customers something special and encourage spend– try seasonal or novel flavours and ingredients, go for trending spirits like rum or tequila, and come up with some great creative names to make them uniquely yours!
  • Retro Love:
    • Comfort food and retro classics will go down well with consumers in 2023 amidst all the economic uncertainty- lower-cost options like casseroles, pies and bakes all lend themselves well to this trend.
    • Vintage-themed dessert stations or mobile trolleys can also help draw attention and create some theatre – your desserts will sell themselves!
    • A retro dessert platter or trolley makes an excellent end to a wedding breakfast or birthday celebration.

Check out Holly’s video showcasing some of the new trends on the high street:

For Bidfood’s interactive Food & Drinks Trends 2023 guide, as well as insight and inspiring recipe ideas head to: www.bidfood.co.uk/2023-food-and-drink-trends​.

In this past year, inflation has rocketed to 10.1%, meaning consumers have less money to spend on food and drink. This is informing dining out decisions: guests want sharing platters, snack options, affordable meals and a premium experience. Sustainability is still a hot topic for guests, and world cuisines are in vogue. It's also vital to make your mark on social media. With Gen Z driving the recovery of the sector, it’s more important than ever to upkeep your Instagram, Facebook and TikTok channels with a steady array of foody content.

Cost-of-dining crisis

Simple, affordable, hot food is all the rage as consumers rein in spend due to the cost-of-living crisis, according to the TWC Trends summer report 2022. Cutting back on treats and dining out less often are all ways the public are clutching tighter to their wallets.

Consumers and operators alike are feeling the pinch​ as food inflation rockets to 10.1%​, its largest increase since 2006. Guests want filling food options, affordable price-tags, sharing options and a premium experience.

Star Pubs & Bars head of food Mark Teed says comfort carbs are taking centre stage, knocking out healthier options from people’s palates as the country approaches a tough winter. Filling lunches that mean there’s no need to cook later, like pies, large sandwiches, and stuffed Yorkshire puddings, are gaining popularity at Star sites.

Additionally, kebabs have been on trend all summer, and Star’s head of food believes they’ll continue to remain popular through winter as an inexpensive meat dish. A kebab offering can be taken to the next level with freshly baked bread, salad, tzatziki and pomegranate seeds, he advises.

Chips continue to be the UK’s most popular pub dish.​ More than half of pub dishes (57.28%) included chips, wedges or fries in the 12 weeks up to 2 October 2022, research from Lumina Intelligence reveals. On top of this, senior insight manager Katherine Prowse says the insights service is seeing a rise in customers buying snack options as they opt for cheaper occasions.

So how to take your potato offer to new heights? Frozen potato product brand Lamb Weston is here to tell you how.

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Lamb Weston loaded Ziggy fries

“Our top tip would be to offer a ‘build your own fries’ menu – give customers a choice of sauces, toppers or seasonings that can change regularly to offer something fresh and new but built around great quality fries that people know they’ll love,” says Pete Evans, Lamb Weston UK marketing manager.

He suggests a “simple, sassy seasoning” that will resonate with consumers and deliver profit, commenting, “try a splash of sriracha, a pinch of peri-peri or a burst of blackened Cajun, rosemary sea salt, or harissa salt.”

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Building sales with KP Snacks

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As the no.1 supplier of Bagged Snacks in pubs and bars[1]​, KP Snacks is here to help pubs build snacks sales.

Snacks represent an excellent commercial opportunity for pubs, encouraging consumers to increase spend. While snacks won’t replace meal occasions, they offer pubs the opportunity to trade up for drinks-only visits.

At KP Snacks we have one of the most versatile portfolios on the market, from our best-selling KP Nuts, perfect when paired with a beer to Tyrrells, our award-winning premium hand cooked English crisps, a great accompaniment with a glass of wine.

Pubs and bars can maximise snacks sales by following a few simple tips:

  • Credibility: Stock a range of best-selling snacks and NPD to meet all your customer needs
  • Availability: Ensure your range is always available to purchase
  • Visibility: Position your snacks with high visibility to drive sales

[1]​ Kantar OOH Panel 52 w/e 16th June 2020 - Pubs and Bars

This comes after a Lumina Intelligence report found the 10 most expensive menus always include the descriptor ‘seasoning’ with their fries, suggesting that by adding a seasoning to regular fries, operators were able to charge up to £1.50 more per portion. What’s more, ShelfNow research also revealed a surge in demand for unique condiments, which have seen a 110% hike in sales over the past six months.

Additionally, different potato shapes could liven up any menu, and operators should ‘up their game’ in terms of fry operations and oil management, according to Evans. He believes clean cooking at the right temperature means more satisfied customers and repeated orders, which is a “win-win for everyone”.

But there’s a flipside. As guests reel back spending, going out to eat becomes an occasion. The bar is set high for operators as customers raise their expectations. This is the case at Star pubs, notes Teed, where people wanted to treat themselves to indulgent food when out.

Tomahawk steaks – luxury cuts for two to share at £50 to £60 – are appearing on more pub menus, he says. For operators wanting to offer steaks without wanting to absorb the meat’s high cost, Teed advises offering a smaller 4oz sirloin minute steak and fries.

Mark Teed

Customers are also seeking high-end experiences at award-wining gastropub the Duncombe Arms, Ashbourne. Derbyshire. Head chef Scott Law says: “Guests are treating a visit to the Duncombe as a real treat to get away from the grind and negativity around the country, with the cost-of-living crisis being in the press and media at every turn.

“At the pub, we strive to offer a space and service where you feel comfortable to share a good meal, enjoy a glass of wine and relax with good service.”

When writing menus, Law always looks to offer the best value possible at a fair price where the service and execution of the dishes negates the worry of the cost.

As people watch their spending, they are putting great taste and ingredients at the forefront of their ordering decisions, according to research commissioned by the delivery company. More than two thirds (69%) of people say the taste of food is more important when watching their spending, as is the quality of restaurant ingredients (67%), according to data from order company Deliverect.

“Undoubtedly people are becoming more conscious of where they’re spending as we witness a rise in inflation and cost of living globally,” comments Zhong Xu, Deliverect chief executive and co-founder. “Quality, consistency, and speed will help restaurants stand out from the crowd.”

Overall, the top reason customers would order from a restaurant again is because of its good quality of food (52%). Consumers are also looking for a variety of great menu choices, with people selecting a restaurant for delivery or takeaway if it has a variety of menu offerings (27%).  

At celebrity chef Paul Ainsworth’s pub, the Mariners Public House, Rock, Cornwall, several premium dishes have been added to the menu. A shellfish platter and a scallop dish for instance, have proved very popular, according to chef director Joe Rozier.

Porthilly oysters, which can be served raw, fried or Rockefeller, also provide customers with a premium option. In addition, Rozier has noticed guests are interested in dishes with only a couple of ingredients; simplified, but made from top produce.

“It’s not a bad idea to be a bit inventive at the moment,” says Hack of the Cadeleigh Arms. People are sharing meals at the pub to cut costs, which historically happened “once in a blue moon.”

“Tina has noticed they’ll have a starter each, then share a main course and share a pudding,” he says. “We’ve got a little snack menu that’s sustainable which runs alongside our main menu. We want to develop a few more dishes into that which are for sharing, with a better price point on them.”

What’s more, 72% of those surveyed by Bidfood cite price as a priority when choosing where to eat out. “Why not try providing set menus that communicate value for money? This will help to keep consumers coming back for more,” says the company’s research and insights manager Holly Rogers.

A green Christmas

Sustainability dominates the minds of UK consumers. A whopping 53% are more likely to order a meal if they see a ‘OF&G Organic’ or ‘Certified Animal Welfare’ symbol on their menu, according to Bidfood.

Research from sustainability firm Foodprint by Nutritics further reveals 40% of those surveyed want to know whether their food has been locally sourced. What’s more, marketplace ShelfNow estimates the global plant-based meat market will climb to £13.9bn by 2027.

“Pubgoers are no longer just searching for a comfortable and friendly setting to visit – they also want to know whether the food and drink being supplied is environmentally-friendly to the wider world around them,” says Foodprint sustainability lead Laura Kirwan.

“This Christmas, consumers are also being hit with the rising cost-of-living and energy crisis, meaning operators will have to fight harder than ever to attract share of shrinking disposable spend,” Kirwan adds.

“Therefore,” she continues, “when looking to switch up for festive menus, tapping into more sustainable food will help operators gain a competitive advantage during a period of high demand.” Pubs can reduce their carbon footprint through cutting back on the meat and dairy as well as using locally sourced, seasonal produce, she advises.

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(Getty/ Klaus Vedfelt)

So, meat-free is the way forward. But what should you serve? Research from Quorn revealed burgers to be flexitarians’ top choice when dining out. A flexitarian is someone who mainly sticks to a plant-based diet but occasionally opts for meat or fish. Quorn surveyed 2,000 of them about their eating habits.

“Diners are looking for vegan and veggie meals that have exciting and fresh ingredients, but still have all the same taste and protein attributes as meat dishes,” says Quorn Foods foodservice director Phil Thornborrow. He adds: “Alongside demand for meat free burgers, there is still a huge growing desire for more chicken like dishes served as messy builds, such as wings, strips and tenders.”

One of the easiest and most affordable ways for outlets to accommodate the demand for plant-based meals is to offer meat-free variations of popular dishes, according to Meatless Farm founder Morten Toft Bech.

When looking to switch up for festive menus, tapping into more sustainable food will help operators gain a competitive advantage during a period of high demand.” 

Pubs could do this by keeping things simple – selecting just a few of their most popular winter dishes and giving customers the opportunity to make their order meatless. However, Bech makes clear, chefs shouldn’t restrict themselves to meat-free burgers or sausages.

From roasting joints to tuna, to pulled pork to shredded duck, advances in manufacturing have led to major leaps in the world of plant-based food. Operators should experiment with how “tasty and easy” it now can be to cook veggie dishes, according to Bech.

He continues: “Keeping menus simple is one tool to help outlets manage costs during the uncertainty of the cost-of-living crisis. As well as increasing overheads, cover numbers are likely to remain unpredictable as consumers will likely be changing their own behaviour in response to increasing household budget pressures.

“To aid with this, plant-based alternatives have the added bonus of a longer shelf life than most meats, helping stock management and reducing waste.”

Bech’s final words of wisdom were to avoid labelling meatless dishes as ‘vegan’. This comes after recent research from Meatless Farm and Brakes found more than half (52%) of UK diners were more likely to order meat alternatives dubbed ‘plant-based’ rather than ‘vegan.

Recipe from the Cadeleigh Arms

Crystal Apple Cucumber, Black Olive with Vegan Feta & Basil

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Cucumber Salad

4 x Crystal apple Cucumbers
100 gr Vegan Feta diced (we can email you our recipe or can be found in most supermarkets)
Basil Flowers and Micro Basil to garnish

Basil Oil

100 gr Picked Basil Leaves
200 ml Pomace oil
A bowl of iced water for refreshing the basil leaves

Black Olive puree

100 gr black pitted olives (we use Provençal olives)
100 ml water

Pickling Liquor

150 ml Water
100 ml White Wine Vinegar
100 gr Caster Sugar
1 x Star Anise
1 x Red Chilli Split

Pickling Liquor

Bring the sugar, white wine vinegar, water, Chilli & star anise to a gentle boil and then set aside to cool once the sugar has dissolved.

At this point you can taste the liquor. If you prefer it with more acidity, add more white wine vinegar.

Basil Oil

1. Bring a medium sized pan of water on to the boil with a pinch of salt

2. Add basil leaves and cook for 30 seconds

3. Transfer basil quickly into the bowl of ice-cold water

4. Squeeze as much water out of that basil and pat dry

5. Add to food processor with a pinch of salt gradually adding in the oil until incorporated

At this point you can either use the basil oil as it is, or pass through a fine muslin cloth to be left with a perfect vibrant green basil oil

Black Olive puree

1. Place olives in a saucepan with water and gently bring to the boil. Simmer for 5 minutes until the olives soften.

2. Transfer Olives to a blender placing the cooking liquor to one side.

3. Blitz the olives, slowly adding enough of the cooking liquor until you have a smooth consistency.

4. Pass through a sieve and transfer to a piping bag and pop in the fridge

Cucumber Salad

1. Scorch the skin of the Cucumber with a blow torch

2. Slice the cucumber into 4 mm slices and place in the pickling liquor for 5 minutes then remove and pat dry

3. Arrange cucumber overlapping in a round circle or be creative and make your own shape.

4. Add cubes of feta

5. Pipe black olive puree in dots in and around the cucumber and feta

6. Drizzle basil oil over the top

7. Garnish with flowers and micro basil

The Cadeleigh Arms in Tiverton, Devon is a veteran in vegan cuisine, having jumped on the plant-based bandwagon 10 years ago. However, operator Nick Hack has noticed a huge uptick in those opting for vegetarian options in the past three years. It isn’t just Gen Z but “proper Devonian meat eaters” and the older generations who were now choosing to eat less meat. 

Each day, staff write what the pub is doing to be sustainable on a blackboard above the bar. This includes using the entirety of an animal in the kitchen, training staff in waste reduction and speaking to suppliers about cutting down on packaging.

But sustainability doesn’t start and end with a veggie offering. Creating relationships with your suppliers so you know whether they’re being sustainable is also important, according to Hack. He also advises to treat produce with “love and respect” in the kitchen – making sure you’re using the most of an item, whether it’s rice, a butternut squash, cucumber or pumpkin.

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The Cadeleigh Arms owners Nick Hack and Tina King

Fusing cuisines

Global cuisines are making their mark with today’s consumers – adding excitement and adventure to dining experiences. Three in four UK adults say world cuisine products would make a midweek meal feel more like a treat, according to Bidfood. Pan African, Cuban and Sri Lankan flavours are in vogue.

What’s more, now’s the prime time to experiment with unusual fusions in the kitchen: half of UK adults (46%) agree that a familiar dish with a global twist has encouraged them to try that cuisine further. Bidfood advises operators to try new combos of cuisines to stand apart from competition.

Some 46% of surveyed people say they’d like to try Cuban cuisine when eating out, however, 58% say it is hard to find, showing a mismatch between supply and demand. Subset of Revolution Bars, Revolución de Cuba, share their wisdom in expanding your pub’s horizons to Cuban cuisine. The brand specialises in combining authentic Cuban food with flavours guests are familiar with, such as Cuban-style fish and chips and a churros and banana pancake stack.

Revolution Bars Group development chef Laurence Tottingham believes Cuban food appeals to Brits in its “exciting flavours” and the fact it’s a little different to the cuisines they are used to.

He says: “Cuba has a strong sharing culture when it comes to eating out, which goes hand in hand with great live music and cocktails. At Revolución de Cuba, our tapas selection is what sells the most, especially dishes like Cuban-inspired tacos – with beef Ropa toppings it doesn’t get much more traditional.

“People are drawn to this style of eating now more than ever; the Cuban twist we provide brings the party and fun vibes, offering guests something different to what they might usually find on the high street.

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Revolución de Cuba tacos and banana & pancake stack

“There has been an explosion of street food vendors specialising in Cuban cuisine which has helped with awareness too. People recognise dishes like the iconic Cubano Cuban sandwich, of slow braised pork in a mojo marinade, ham, mustard, cheese & pickles, or empanadas which are fried or baked little pasties with classic fillings like picadillo – a lightly spiced ground beef filling with olives and sultanas.”

People were opting for comfort food at the moment, according to Tottingham, as they wanted to get the best experience possible for their money. This fits in with Bidfood’s report, which identifies ‘retro love’ as a major food trend: nostalgia and childhood favourites are in. This is why dishes like the Cuban-style fish and chips, really hit the spot.

He advises operators looking to expand into Cuban cuisine to research the country’s culture: “Cuban food is about simplicity but without compromise on flavour, something that is evident across the world’s finest cuisines. Cubans are resourceful people and always have time for a party involving rum and a selection of tasty treats.

“I would recommend researching the classics and the history to get a good feel of what Cuban food is. Finding a hook that connects Cuban cuisine with everyday British favourites is a fantastic way to attract more guests to the amazing flavours and styles, giving them a choice that’s a little bit different to what they might usually go for.”

We also spoke to the man behind Caribbean fusion kitchen White Men Can't Jerk (WMCJ), which operates at the Prince of Peckham in south London. Steve Byrne gives his top tips for operators wanting to fuse cuisines.

“You can’t just put things together because you like them and expect it to work,” he says. “Our Curried Goat Shepherd’s Pie is a great example of combining flavours we love and finding the right balance to create something really special, otherwise, what’s the point?”

It’s also important to know your audience, he adds: “Just because you love it, doesn’t mean everyone else will!”

Across the years, WMCJ has joined forces with other street food traders including Whyte Rushen and yard Sale Pizza. It recently paired with El Pollotto for Kerb’s 10th​ birthday and produced a Jerk Chicken Arepa.

Authenticity of flavour is also vital when creating a ‘fusion’ menu. “Be respectful of the ingredients you’re using and know them inside out,” Byrne says. “Be clever with what you’re using and make it work across different options.”

Having a signature dish is also important. He says: “If laksa or curry is your thing, then make it your mission to perfect it and smash it out the park.

“If you love the food and believe in it, people will taste it in your cookery. But don’t try too hard, go overboard trying to cram everything into one dish or menu, or do a poor version of an iconic dish.

“Not everyone knows the full quote: ‘imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness’. That says it all really.”

Be respectful of the ingredients you’re using and know them inside out. Be clever with what you’re using and make it work across different options.”

WMCJ’s ‘hero dish’ was its Jerk Chicken and Chips, with was ranked Deliveroo’s 12th​ most ordered dish in the UK in 2021 – no small feat considering the kitchen only sells from one site in Peckham.

The chef also talks us through his less successful cooking endeavours: “We tried to make a piña colada wing – sounds good in theory, but pineapple actually breaks down protein, so we ended up with meat jelly. Sometimes two great things don’t always equal something extraordinary.

“Take time to study ingredients and you could end up with a great product. For example, vegan options out there for mayonnaise weren’t great so we created our own Achee Mayo. It’s now the only mayo we use across our entire menu.”

One for Instagram

What’s more, social media continues to play a key role in consumer eating habits. According to Deliverect data, people are looking for social proof before they choose where to eat, with nearly three in five (59%) saying restaurant ratings and customer reviews are now more important than ever.

Indeed, recent research has revealed Gen Z to be driving the recovery​ of the hospitality sector, with those aged 16 to 24 spending an average of £68,02 per week in pubs, bars and restaurants versus an average spend of £45.75 for those aged between 35 and 44, and £21.52 for those aged 55 and over.

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Teed says social media trends are influencing food sales: “With Gen Z customers driving food sales, we’re seeing more pubs putting TikTok recipes on their menus such as the Breakfast Quesadilla wrap – bacon, egg and sausage in a wrap.

“They also love anything with Nutella or Biscoff on a pudding menu. Pancakes, waffles or anything with Nutella will sell. These puddings are cheap to produce and by adding Nutella you can charge a premium.”

What’s more, Quorn has also noted an uptake in consumers seeking out bright and colourful dishes that look good on social media. ‘Instagrammable’ dishes could excite diners, build brand loyalty and help create connections with their peers.

On TikTok, it’s authenticity that performs best, according to DUSK app founder Sophie Abrahamovitch.​ Jumping on trends and showcasing recipes can help pubs stand out in their food offering.

So, winter is coming – but it’s not all doom and gloom. Pubs across the country can provide warmth, joy and good food at a time when it’s never been more needed. So don your Christmas hats, fuse your flavours and stay focused on sustainability to keep customers coming through the door this festive season.

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