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Christmas wrapped up

Pull out all the stops for Christmas, it is expected to be a bumper celebration this year. October’s Greene King Leisure Spend Tracker revealed that over a quarter of British adults (27%), who expect to celebrate the festive season, intend to spend more this Christmas than last year, while almost 60% have indicated that they have no plans to cut spending this year. While a traditional turkey offering is all well and good, many people are looking for alternatives as they sit down to indulge.

Increasingly, people are moving away from the traditional turkey roast at Christmas and choosing either alternative meats or vegetarian options.

beef and gravyNo Christmas roast would be complete without a good gravy. Maggi Gluten Free Vegetarian Gravy is easy to prepare and tastes just as good with meat or vegetarian dishes. For advice and a wide selection of recipes (sweet and savoury)


Hugh Judd, foodservice project manager for AHDB Beef & Lamb, advises: “Planning is crucial in the run-up to the hectic festive season. Not only does it enable caterers to stay ahead of the game, but there are profit opportunities to be had.

“Now is the perfect time for caterers to stock up on lamb – buy it now while it is widely available and freeze it until Christmas. As well as providing great value for money for caterers, the current crop of lamb is of an exceptional quality and ideal for such a special occasion.”


“With demand for primals such as rump and sirloin easing during the winter months, prime cuts from these primals will provide caterers with good profit opportunities,” says Hugh. “Rump and Sirloin roasting joints provide an outstanding eating experience and are ideal for serving on Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Caterers should consider

Beef and Lamb advice

The AHDB Beef & Lamb Meat Purchasing Guide provides a comprehensive specification and coding system for almost 500 beef, veal, lamb and mutton cuts. Easy to use, the Guide features an image, description and unique identifying code for each cut. It works in conjunction with the Cutting Specification Manual, which contains step-by-step instructions for cut preparation.

Gammon with red cabbageIt’s ‘Gamm-on’ this Christmas

According to foodservice analysts Horizons, gammon served on menus has enjoyed a steady rise in menu price since 2010, when the average dish price was £6.56. Since then, it has increased 46% to £9.55, demonstrating how customers are willing to pay higher prices for a wellpresented and delicious joint.

Keith Fisher, butchery development manager for AHDB Pork, comments: “Gammon is a staple at Christmas and expected to be seen. However, as the meat complements so many different flavour profiles, it’s the perfect way for caterers to introduce a modern twist to the traditional festive menu. For example, instead of using traditional glazes and marinades such as honey or cola, why not try something a little different, such as pairing gammon with Thai green curry or making Gammon Jerk. Or, for more traditional tastes, an ultra-festive menu item of roast gammon with mulled wine, cranberry & cinnamon glaze works extremely well.”

Keith Fisher’s four easy steps to great gammon

  1. Buying: look for moist, pink-coloured meat – not grey or red. The fat should be firm, white and cylindrical. Even-shaped joints make it easier to carve and generate the best yield. Avoid joints that look damp or clammy.
  2. Cooking: weigh joints and calculate cooking time as 20 mins per 1lb plus 20 mins. For extra succulence, boil for half the cooking time, finish in the oven and add your desired glaze for the last 20 minutes.
  3. Accompaniments: gammon is versatile, so can be paired with many things. Its natural saltiness means it works with sweet things, like cola, ginger beer, honey and cider. It also works well with Asian influenced foods such as chilli, coriander and spices.
  4. Description: think about the description on your menus. Use descriptive words such as juicy, sweet cured or sticky glazed so the customer can almost taste the dish just by reading the menu.

For gammon recipes and advice, visit

Cheeseboard“According to OMD UK’s Future of Britain report, in the retail market 80% of consumers purchase additional indulgent food and drink items in the run-up to Christmas, while 40% of consumers purchase more cheese at Christmas – a clear indication that operators in the out-ofhome channel can also benefit from extending their range of premium cheese products during this time,” says Sarah Blackwell, Trade Marketing Manager, Bel UK whose portfolio includes premium cheese brands Boursin and Port Salut.

“Using a variety of premium cheeses will not only raise the overall quality of the offering, but it will also allow operators to offer a higher price point and will therefore maximise incremental sales opportunities.”

Vegetarian dishesVegetarian

According to recent figures from the Menu & Food Trends 2015 report, vegetarian dishes are increasing in popularity. This growth proved to be strongest in pubs, where they accounted for 19% of main dishes. Not only that, but ¾ of consumers want to see more vegetarian options on UK menus, highlighting a key profit-making opportunity for caterers.

Other recent research, commissioned by Vegetarian Express – distributor of vegetarian and vegan ingredients – reveals that 54% of people think there are not enough vegetarian options on menus at Christmas, rising to 65% among women.

When asked how many vegetarian dishes customers would like to see when dining out at Christmas, almost two thirds (62%) feel two or three meat-free options would give a better choice, while more than a quarter (27%) think this doesn’t go far enough and demand four or more.

“With gross profit margins typically greater on vegetarian dishes than on meat options, giving a little more thought to vegetarian menus will make for an even more profitable Christmas,” says Will Matier, Managing Director, Vegetarian Express.

The Vegetarian Society is there to help any caterer who would like to enhance their vegetarian Christmas offer. For a fine selection of recipe ideas, visit

The gamut of vegetarian recipes on offer includes party food, Christmas main courses to share, ways to use leftovers and desserts to finish off a celebration meal.


With people more likely to indulge in a dessert during the festive period than at other times of the year, operators need to take heed and ensure that this part of their menu is impossible to say no to.

“Desserts present a significant profit opportunity during the Christmas period and, to maximise sales, caterers could consider creating a dedicated dessert menu to entice customers,” suggests Jessica Lalor, Brand Manager, Kerrymaid. “A Pudding Party is about trialling a selection of different desserts, and all customers have to do is sit back and indulge, while scoring the puddings as they go.”

For information on hosting a Pudding Party, including free supporting point-of-sale material, recipes, advice and ideas on how to use the opportunity to boost sales during the festive season, visit

TurkeyTop tips from Chris Barber

Pub Food Expert, Unilever Food Solutions

“When it comes to festive catering, you’re only as good as your last Christmas dinner,” says Chris Barber. “In fact more than one in three people (34%) refuse to return to a venue where they have been disappointed before at Christmas. The trade you generate over this period can be the difference between profit and loss for the entire year. So use the opportunity to build relationships with customers old and new.”

1. Price it nice

Keep an eye on your competitors’ prices as you don’t want to price yourself out of the market. You should try to make your offer unique too, perhaps by giving customers a free bottle of mulled wine or a table gift.

2. Starters, mains and desserts

When it comes to your Christmas menu the golden rule is to keep it simple – set menus are easy to sell at a fixed price. Have a maximum of three starters, three mains and three desserts. And don’t be afraid to give customers a treat by including highly priced fine food items on your menu.

3. Table decorations and crackers

Create a welcoming environment – think about offering something more than just a Christmas tree. Crackers are a good way to stand out. Create some fun, don’t just go for the cheapest.

4. Catering for special diets at Christmas

Food intolerances and allergies are on the rise. Often the choice of where to eat is made by the person with the allergy or intolerance. Ensure that you offer at least one gluten-free option on your menu and that your staff are knowledgeable about which allergens are present in your dishes.

5. Market your Christmas offering

Use social media to share your promotions and consider Facebook exclusive promotions for extra shares and likes. Remember many people use their mobiles to check menus, so ensure your site is mobile friendly. You may want to update and refresh your website – 80% of new customers will look at your website before they choose to visit, so make sure it’s at its best.

Get your Christmas menu on your website early and get extra menus printed up so your customers can take them away.

For more top tips on how to bring in the Christmas bookings, download Unilever Food Solutions’ Christmas How to Guide at

HollyTop tips from Lucy Townsend

Owner/Manager of Michelin Pub of the Year 2014 The Greyhound on the Test, Stockbridge, Hampshire

When a comparatively unknown pub with rooms garnered the much sought-after title of Michelin Pub of the Year within nine short months of the new owner/manager moving in, interest in the delightful country inn on Stockbridge High Street was seriously roused.

One of the rooms in the greyhound on the TestLucy Townsend – who has worked in the foodservice industry for many years in a variety of guises – took over the Greyhound on Test in March 2013. Since then, other notable accolades include Test Valley Business of the Year, 4* AA Rosettes for accommodation and Morning Advertiser Chef of the Year. EC paid Lucy a visit and was not surprised to discover that the secret to her success comprises hard work, passion, attention to detail at all times and the ability to put her hand up when things don’t go according to plan.


“We would be nowhere without customers. You have to respect them at all times,” says Lucy unequivocally. “Even at Christmas, when you are going to be busier than usual, you must never lose sight of the fact that they have chosen to celebrate with you; you need to ensure they go away happy with all aspects of their visit.

“I always tell my staff that they are going to mess up sometimes, it is inevitable. But when this happens, don’t try and hide the fact, explain what has happened to your customer and make amends.”

Recognise your Unique Selling Points

The River Test is hailed as the number one location for fly fishing in the world. When Lucy took over The Greyhound, it came with half a mile of river for private fishing. In order to be able to converse with her fishing clientele, Lucy learnt all about fly fishing. Today she can talk fishing with the best of them. And to ensure they return time and again, she is happy to weigh and chill people’s fish at the end of each day. In addition, hampers are offered and food is served at the river so the day’s fishing is not interrupted.

What started as outside catering for her fishing clientele two years ago, is now so successful that, earlier this year, Lucy launched Wilds, her outside catering business. Through word of mouth Wilds is on the same meteoric path as The Greyhound with 40 weddings this year, plus a host of other events throughout the south of England.

Beating the competition

So how are both The Greyhound and Wilds proving to be so successful so quickly? “I work very hard,” replies Lucy without hesitation. “And I love what I do – I love the diversity of catering and the fact that you never know what the day will bring when you get out of bed in the morning. I also respect my customers and treat them how I would like to be treated.”

Preparing for Christmas

“Christmas is such a busy time that we plan months in advance,” says Lucy. “Our menus, our decorations, extra glasses, drinks – you name it, these are all sorted by early September.”

As far as hiring extra Christmas staff is concerned, Lucy will often employ university students who have worked for her before as they are trained and know the ropes.

Christmas food and drink

“At such a busy time of year, I think it is important to keep Christmas menus simple and accessible, especially when you have parties celebrating with you,” comments Lucy. “And of course it is important to offer a variety of vegetarian and gluten-free options.

“During the festive period we know that people are more likely to be indulgent so we upgrade our wine list. We also include decent Champagne as this is the one time of year when Champagne really is very popular. At other times of the year, we offer Prosecco as a sparkling wine, but at Christmas it has to be Champagne! It makes you feel special.”

Proof is in the pudding

Breakfast being served at The GreyhoundIt will come as no surprise that the former Michelin Pub of the Year is a delight to experience. Food is excellent and sourced as locally as possible; the wine list is extensive and well balanced; beds are comfortable and – the following morning – not only does the coffee bring a smile to the face (why can’t more places get their coffee offering right?), but the breakfast menu is worth a visit in itself, complete with mouthwatering pastries from the nearby Hoxton Bakery, part-owned by Lucy, who worked as a pastry chef for many years and confesses that she still finds it impossible to resist the daily lure of Hoxton’s cinnamon bun.

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