As we race towards the time of year when you should be rushed off your feet with barely enough time even to count the days until the festive mayhem is over, the secret to survival is to ensure that you have planned ahead and that the entire team – not just you – is aware of what each day will be bringing. With its finger firmly on the foodservice pulse, Unilever Food Solutions offers the following advice for operators gearing up for a merry Christmas.
Remember you are going to be very, very busy so keep your menus as simple as possible; three starters, three mains and three desserts is ample. In general, it’s about offering the right choices at the right price, not endless options that attract bookings.
People will be eating out more than usual during the festive season.They will probably welcome a change from the traditional Christmas dinner so why not offer sharing platters as a tasty option?
Always give a range of price points and the opportunity to spend; so even if on the cheapest package, a party may end up on cocktails and Champagne.
During December, you may have a party or even two, every day. Always prepare a day ahead, i.e. on Tuesday prepare for Wednesday. This brings a safety margin for the unexpected; for example, if some of the kitchen team are off sick or there has been an increase in party numbers.
Set up a daily meeting with the kitchen and front of house to ensure diaries, parties, guest numbers and menu choices are aligned. Again do this one day ahead. This way if there is a miscommunication, you can sort it out.
The day before
The day before any particularly busy day (assuming you have parties booked in), keep your menus a littler simpler to prepare and deliver, allowing prep time for the day ahead.
Get as far ahead as you can the day before – or even two days in advance – by carrying out tasks such as:
- Peel, wash and blanch roast patatoes so they are ready to roast
- Peel wash and cut all vegetables ready for cooking
- Make the gravy. Chill and keep in the fridge overnight, and add turkey roasting juices for an even deeper flavour
- Make stuffings and decant accompaniments into the serving dishes
- Do as much as you can to get starters and desserts ready to go. Leave nothing to chance
- Get the turkey oven ready. this can be a bit of a fiddle, but saves loads of time at service. Take off the turkey legs, bone, stuff and roll them into an easy roasting joint (stuff with sausage meat and chestnuts or as you wish), take the wishbone from the turkey crown (this makes carving much easier)
- Braised dishes are an excellent second option on the festive menu. They can be made and chilled up to three days ahead and reheated on the day
- Boning and stuffing the leg of your turkey not only makes it far more attractive to the guest, but you also get greater yield from the bird and avoid waste.
- Repeating menus means that over-catering on day one can be used on day two, and so on.
- Get a pre-order wherever you can. This makes portion control much easier.
- Don’t overload the plates. Consider an option of moderate portions, then offer ‘seconds’. Not only does this avoid waste, but your customers will feel as though they are getting value for money and – research has shown – will therefore be more likely to return.
Always have ready-made options for the most common dietary requirements. Check your Christmas pudding as they often contain nuts. Ensure you have a wheat and dairy-free pudding. Poached fruits, for example, are a good fall back.
Even when there are no pre-ordered vegetarian options, be sure to have a dish ready to go – frozen is fine.
Make the most of customers
Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Every person who walks into your establishment for a Christmas treat is a potential customer for next year. Don’t let them get away!
January can be quiet, so get the party guest back with an offer or voucher for themselves, their friends and family.
In addition, capture data whenever you can. Encourage guests to join your emailing list so that you can keep them in touch with events and developments.
Look after your people
The Christmas period can be miserable for your team. It’s hard work, long hours and your employees are away from family and friends. They may be working, but it is their Christmas as well.
Always keep an eye on the hours people are working. Staff are your responsibility; if they are exhausted they’ll be prone to mistakes or accidents.
Let your staff know that you appreciate them. Give them a present on Christmas Day and let them know that, when it is all over, it will be party time for them too, courtesy of you. Further guidance and a selection of ‘How To Guides’ for pubs can be found on the UFS website.