December has arrived. The season is upon us. Most operators will have been planning for the Christmas mayhem for months. Some may not be so organised. EC caught up with a host of different caterers and industry experts for their last-minute tips and advice on how to survive the next few weeks and emerge with a healthy bottom line as we move into 2017
Bourne & Hollingsworth’s executive chef Adam Gray knows a thing or two about catering. The secret to success is in the detail. Here are Adam’s tips on how best to survive the next few weeks.
- Christmas is the busiest time of year. How can I ensure that my establishment can cope with the extra pressure?
Proper planning is essential.
You know it’s the busiest time of year, so ensure any maintenance issues have been resolved, beverage is fully stocked or pre-ordered in advance and food prep for basic items that are on your seasonal menus can be made in advance and blast frozen (e.g. sauces and stocks). With the bookings team, make sure that all bookings for larger parties are confirmed well in advance and the pre-orders have been sent to the chef/kitchen.
- How do I organise my staff and make sure everything goes to plan?
Communication is the key.
Let staff know through briefings that December will be their busiest month; no holidays are to be taken until after the 24th! Make sure they are aware that this is the month when they can possibly make some great tips and that everyone working together will ensure a smooth and even fun festive month.
- With regard to cooking and preparation, do you have any time-saving tips?
Be as organised as possible.
Try and prep in advance so your team are not just prepping for that day or the next day but possibly two to three days in advance.
- How should we deal with unexpected issues? For example, how to appease a customer if food is slow or cold.
Most customers during the pre-Christmas rush are in a happy mood. If the food is slow or any other issues arise, deal with it efficiently, politely and ensure that the customers are satisfied once it has been resolved.
- Any tips on how to go that extra mile to make customers feel valued?
Make the customers feel welcomed and loved.
Outstanding service through a positive, friendly and knowledgeable member of staff is the key to any great customer experience. Make sure the customers feel that they are not just a number but a truly valued asset to your establishment.
Bourne & Hollingsworth is a creative lifestyle company with an offering centred on socialising, entertainment and drinks. The company has two cocktail bars in the West End, a larger multi-faceted club house, bar and restaurant in Clerkenwell and B&H Kitchen – a cookery school that launched earlier this year.
Christmas is a time for treats throughout the day. The Richmond Hill Hotel offers a festive afternoon tea (pictured). The hotel’s traditional afternoon tea is tweaked by including festive treats such as a warming glass of mulled wine, a selection of hand-cut sandwiches with seasonal fillings, freshly baked scones served with clotted cream and wintery berry jam, and festive cakes courtesy of the in-house patisserie chef
Remember, a great dining experience comprises so much more than just the food and drink. “Don’t forget service,” urges Nick Otley, owner of the Bunch of Grapes pub in Pontypridd, winner of Best British Roast Dinner 2016 (pictured). “Smile. Keep it friendly, low key and informal. Little touches go a long way too – so make sure you always serve your roast with a good range of sauces and condiments and plenty of fresh gravy for each meat – in case people want an extra boat for the table.”
Steve Smith, Head Chef at Michelin-starred Bohemia Bar & Restaurant, St Helier, Jersey shares some turkey tips to take your bird to another level
Invest in your turkey
Spending that little extra on an organic or free-range turkey is certainly worth it. Not only is it ethically sourced, it will also have better nutritional benefits and deliver on flavour.
Wash and thoroughly dry the cavity of the bird before leaving it to reach room temperature. Putting a moderate amount of softened butter under the skin of the bird will ensure it remains moist. Finally, truss the legs together so it retains its shape throughout cooking. Follow these simple steps, and you will have an absolute showstopper of a turkey.
Stuff the cavity of the turkey with herbs, citrus fruits, and an onion to add flavour. However, it is important to ensure there is space for heat to circulate. To make the stuffing seasonal, add some festive favourites such as cranberries, chestnuts, sage and clementine zest.
Recent independent research commissioned by Vegetarian Express reveals that 74% of diners are open to trying new vegetarian ingredients and dishes out-of-home and a further 60% find typical meat analogues such as vegetarian sausages and burgers unappealing. With the vegetarian market predicted to be worth £882.4m in 2016, caterers are being encouraged to raise their game when it comes to vegetarian menus.
Will Matier, Managing Director at Vegetarian Express, comments: “The research highlights an increased opportunity for foodservice outlets to profit from meat-free menu sales. In fact, 39% of diners want to see more vegetarian options, particularly when it comes to pasta dishes (51%), curry (36%) and stir fries (32%).
“It’s important to remember that you don’t have to be vegetarian to love vegetarian food. Meat-eaters and flexitarians are increasingly seeking out vegetarian dishes if they sound interesting and look appetising – limited, uninspiring choices such as veggie burgers, meat free sausages and vegetable lasagnes just don’t cut it anymore. Caterers who meet this demand will not only create more choice for their customers, but also more profits for themselves.”
A free after-dinner chocolate with coffee at the end of the meal is a simple way to make your customers feel valued
There is no better time of year to create indulgent, show-stopping desserts than at Christmas and New Year. “Meringue desserts can really add a wow factor to any celebratory menu, and caterers can be as adventurous as they wish,” says Leanne Crowther, co founder of meringue maker Flower & White. “A stunning alternative to Christmas pud, light and airy meringue bases can be piled high with lavish layers of flavoured creams and completed with seasonal fruits, such as figs or oranges.”
The value of the UK free-from market is anticipated to reach £531m this year, an increase of 13% from an estimated £470 million in 2015. The market is forecast to be worth £673 million by 2020. “A large proportion of the category growth is attributable to health-aware consumers who are choosing to purchase free-from foods as part of a balanced healthy lifestyle,” comments Gill Green, Director of Marketing at Wessanen, producer of the gluten-free brand Mrs Crimble’s.
We all know that the festive season is a time for consumer indulgence. Now is the time of year when people are more likely to eat and drink out of home and less likely to pay heed to moderation. Now is also the time when it is worth looking at all your beverages to see if they can be tweaked to appeal more to the festive reveller.
“A great quality and value prosecco is an essential on operators’ Christmas stock lists,” advises Tony Holmes, sales director for foodservice and retail, Bestway Wholesale. “Factor in a glass of prosecco on arrival as part of your party package. Add extra interest and profit by offering customers the opportunity to ’pimp up their prosecco’ with extra flavours or garnishes such as raspberries and strawberries, elderflower cordial and gin or peach sorbet for a delicious Bellini with a difference.”
Holmes continues: “On-trend sharing cocktails are ideal for the party season and can be served in jugs or punch bowls to add fun and theatre to Christmas party nights. Use festive twists on best-selling classics such as a cranberry mojito or a spiced winter rum punch.
“With a growing number of teetotallers and people looking to reduce their alcohol intake, as well as catering for drivers, offering an interesting selection of non-alcoholic festive drinks is also essential.”
Lee Hyde, UK Beverage Innovation Manager, Monin agrees: “A couple of stylish and great-tasting mocktails will go down just as well as the alcoholic beverages on your menu and offer an excellent profit margin. For a refreshing non-alcoholic party drink, pour 15ml Monin Raspberry syrup and 60ml cranberry juice over ice, top with lemonade, stir and garnish with a mint sprig. The trick is to give your mocktails the same ‘wow’ factor that you would give an alcoholic cocktail, so pay attention to garnishes and glassware, as well as colour and flavour.”
“Using herbs and spices is a great way of adding a little twist to your festive cocktail menu,” advises Stephanie Brooks, food contributor, BBC London Radio. “I love the use of cardamom and cinnamon, which give such a warming, winter feel to any drink.
“Using sloe gin and vodka is a great way of adding more intense flavours into your cocktails. The delicious fruity notes of the berries are ideal for a wide variety of Christmas-themed cocktails. When it comes to a wine cocktail, what about offering Sangria with a festive twist? Simply infuse the drink with a cinnamon stick and use clementine juice instead of orange juice.”
Beers and ales
“Offering a festive ale or two is a simple way for licensees to engage customers in the pub’s seasonal celebrations,” says Rupert Thompson, managing director of Surrey craft brewer Hogs Back Brewery. A humorous pump clip and a pint with characteristically Christmassy flavours will appeal both to regular and occasional beer drinkers.
“It’s worth making space on the bar for at least one local ale, as the festive season brings in a number of customers visiting friends or family. For them, trying a beer from a local brewer is an enjoyable part of their trip.
“Growing numbers of drinkers enjoy matching their meals with beer rather than wine; at Christmas, licensees have a great opportunity to showcase beer’s food-pairing potential. Offering a glass or bottle of a different beer with each course of a Christmas meal allows customers to enjoy a more diverse range of tastes, more affordably, than they would with wine.”
“Alcoholic drinks, particularly those with seasonal overtones, are a key part of the drinks menu and guests will expect to see them on a menu,” says David Sheppy, managing director and head cider maker at the eponymous farm in Somerset where, for six generations, the family has been producing cider. “Why not offer guests something different such as Mulled Cider?
With both cocktails and craft cider bang on trend at the moment, Sheppy suggests combining the two for an innovative offer: “Using premium craft cider in a contemporary cocktail is a great way to create an exciting and unique offering. Craft cider can work beautifully as the base ingredient in a cocktail.”
Teas and coffees
“Most important of all is ensuring your menu is chock-full of seasonally appropriate drinks,” says Claire Sharpe, Marcomms Manager, Beyond the Bean. “A bottle of Cinnamon or Gingerbread syrup comes to mind as seasonal favourites, but offering a few new drinks can help keep your Winter menus fresh. Remember to advertise your new drinks with carefully placed POS and updated menu boards.”
Ali Goode, Shopper Marketing Manager, Twinings agrees: “The modern consumer is continually on the lookout for fresh and novel experiences, which is why it is essential that menus surprise and delight – particularly in the festive period.
“Through a partnership with Monin, Twinings is promoting the benefits of tea as a perfect base for seasonal drinks that can be served in a number of ways to drive sales in the winter months. By creating some amazing flavour combinations, the collaboration not only adds innovation and excitement to tea menus, but also simultaneously delivers differentiation and profit potential through premium tea serves.”
Festive drinks checklist
Even though the season is already underway, it’s not too late to implement these ideas from Tony Holmes, sales director for foodservice and retail, Bestway Wholesale.
- Update your bottled beer range to reflect the festive season, with seasonal specials and darker beers such as porters
- Tap into the nostalgia trend and offer a ‘Christmas classic’ collection of drinks such as sherry, Babycham and snowball with your own contemporary twists
- Upsell bottled ales and ports by serving them with a seasonal cheeseboard
- Add some Christmas sparkle to your hot drinks offer with seasonal flavours and indulgent options such as a salted caramel rum hot chocolate or a cinnamon latte
- Do something different to help your offer stand out, such as running a 12-days of Christmas programme with a different featured drink each day; with the drink recipe featured on social media daily
- Encourage people in for drinks by organising an afternoon of Christmas carols and a visit from Father Christmas, or offer a table in the pub to volunteers from a local charity to offer a Christmas wrapping service.
One of the easiest ways to boost profits on special occasions is to premiumise your existing drinks menu,” says Lee Hyde, UK Beverage Innovation Manager, Monin. “For example, add a shot of Le Fruit de Monin Peach to a glass of Prosecco for a crowd-pleasing Bellini. Alternatively, add Cassis to Champagne and garnish with a fresh raspberry to create a Kir Royal – a quick but elegant sparkling cocktail.”
“By using a good quality cocktail mixer and a spirit or liqueur, a wide range of wonderful festive cocktails can be created in seconds,” says Andrew King, managing director, Funkin. “When creating these themed drinks, presentation is key. At Christmas time consumers expect theatre and unusual vessels for their drinks to really set the mood.”
A case in point are these two innovative recipes from Funkin.
Christmas Day Basting
50ml gin 100ml Funkin Elderflower Collins 6 sage leaves 25ml red wine in a baster Method: Build and churn with crushed ice Garnish: Sage leaves and berries
50ml Spiced Rum 50ml Funkin Raspberry Mojito 50ml Ginger Beer Method: Build and churn with crushed ice Garnish: Mint sprig, berries and a ribbon
Bill Creighton, Wine Category Manager, Bestway Wholesale has these last-minute tips for December drinks menus
Prosecco is the sparkler of choice at the moment, and generally offers fantastic value for money. However, sometimes nothing but Champagne will do! We suggest Royal Prosecco and Lelac Champagne. Drink these either on their own or with smoked salmon or shellfish.
Port sales multiply hugely over the Christmas season. Traditional with Stilton, it works equally well with any cheese. As an alternative, most dessert wines also pair well with blue cheese, the sweetness of the wine contrasting beautifully with the saltiness of the cheese.
The main event
Wine that accompanies the traditional turkey dinner should be fairly full-bodied to cope with the richness of the food. My personal choice would be Calvet Châteauneuf-du-Pape from the southern Rhône valley, and San Huberto Chardonnay from Argentina.
Don’t forget that not everyone will be drinking alcohol – either through choice or because theirs was the short straw that left them as designated driver. Alcoholfree Eisberg wine comes in a variety of styles and flavours.
All recommended wines are available at Bestway Wholesale.
A customer is not just for Christmas
Thanks to Tony Holmes, sales director for foodservice and retail, Bestway Wholesale for these top tips.
- Christmas isn’t all about dinner – a Boxing Day Brunch or New Year’s Day breakfast will also appeal to customers
- Ensure you offer some exciting options for vegetarians and coeliacs – if special diets are not well catered for, party group bookers will look elsewhere
- Little touches make a difference – free Santa hats for every diner laid out on tables or chairs will make a fantastic visual impact and add to the party fun; set up a photo area with props for Christmas hat selfies – or elfies
- Leave the right final impression and serve candy canes, Christmas fudge or gold chocolate coins with bills during the festive season
- December is not the only season to be jolly – offer Christmas party bookings for January
- January is a traditionally quiet trading month – boost sales by promoting January’s special events, menus and offers at Christmas time to your guests using table talkers or a flyer handed out with the bill, or even a ‘bounceback’ voucher offering special discounts for dining in January
- Don’t forget: Christmas is a vital trading time, not only for the huge profit opportunity it presents during December, but also for the extra trade it can generate going into 2017, by making the right impression on potential new customers attending Christmas parties and meals.
Perfect Christmas Punch
Recipe courtesy of Jim Wrigley, Bar Manager, Bourne & Hollingsworth
Serves 10-20 Increase or decrease ingredients as required
1 bottle (700ml) Brandy, nothing too fancy, Spanish is perfect as it is rich and woody
1 bottle (700ml) Rum, heavier rums such as Appleton from Jamaica or El Dorado from Guyana are best for full flavours, but lighter rums or a mix of the two are also fine
1 bottle (700ml) Port, LBV for colour and flavour
1 litre lemon juice & peel, fresh is best - 48 hours max. Peel the lemons first and add to the mix overnight
1 litre sugar syrup, darker sugar equals richer punch. I recommend Billington’s unrefined sugar. One part sugar to one part hot (not boiling) water. Stir until clear
10 dashes Angostura Bitters
2 litres spiced apple juice
- Add all ingredients together and leave to rest in the fridge overnight. Keep a little sugar syrup and lemon juice for last-minute adjustment to taste.
- Add a couple of litres to a good-sized punchbowl surrounded with waiting vessels and a ladle. Just before serving, add ice to fill the bowl and garnishes, then stir and serve. As the bowl dips below halfway, add another litre of punch mix and fill with fresh ice and garnishes.
- To serve warm, simply heat in a pan until too hot to touch. Never boil.
Any fruits using in preparation should be kept for garnishing the glass or bowl, or can be dehydrated for an extra rustic touch. Tip: As an added extra touch, why not pop open a bottle of bubbles and add it to the punch at the very last minute. Great theatre and your customers will feel particularly nurtured!
The word ‘punch’ comes from the Sanskrit panc meaning ‘five’ as this was the original number of ingredients - alcohol, sugar, citrus, water and spice - before punch was exported by British sailors travelling the globe in the 1600s
Spiced Apple Juice 2 cinnamon sticks 10 cloves ½ nutmeg, grated 3 star anise 2g rainbow peppercorns
Heat ingredients in a pan. Once the spices start to smoke lightly, add 2 litres of pressed apple juice and simmer for 10 minutes. Leave to cool and then strain.
Sharing platters are ideal for encouraging additional sales from customers who might not have been able to fit in a full-size version. According to research by Callebaut, 65% of customers say they are more likely to order a dessert if they can share it.
Festive Burger with Brussel Sprout Relish
Recipe courtesy of Unilever Food Solutions Makes 10 burgers
This burger will surprise your customers with its cranberry-turkey stuffing patties. As a plus, the relish will keep for at least 7 days and improves in flavour over time.
For the relish
- 170g brussel sprouts
- 50g carrots
- 100g red onions
- 5g red chillies
- 50ml water
- 50g cider vinegar
- 40g caster sugar
For the burger
- 150g Colman’s Sage & Onion Stuffing Mix
- 1kg turkey, minced
- 400g sausage meat
- 50g dried cranberries
- 50ml water
For the garnish
- 65g back bacon
- 100ml Hellmann’s Light Mayonnaise
- 1g paprika
- 400ml water
- 200g Colman’s Sage & Onion Stuffing Mix
- 650g hamburger buns
METHOD For the relish 1. Thinly slice the brussel sprouts and red onion then peel and grate the carrot. 2. Bring the water, sugar and cider vinegar to the boil and add in the diced red chilli. 3. Pour the mix over the vegetables then cover and allow to cool completely For the burger 1. Bring the water to the boil then pour over the dried cranberries and allow to rehydrate for 20 min. and allow to cool. 2. Mix together the turkey, sausage meat, sage & onion stuffing and rehydrated cranberries. 3. Shape the mix into 10 burgers and chill until needed. For the garnish 1. Grill the bacon until crispy and pour any juice into the mayonnaise. 2. Allow the bacon to cool then crumble into the mayonnaise and stir in the paprika. 3. Bring the water to the boil then pour over the stuffing and allow to soak for 10 minutes. 4. Shape the stuffing into 10 balls then flatten into patties
For service 1. Grill the burger for 3-4 minutes on each side. 2. Heat the oil and fry the stuffing patties for 2-3 minutes on each side until crispy. 3. Toast the burger buns. 4. Spread a little of the bacon mayo on the bottom half of the bun then top with the lettuce. 5. Place the cooked burger on top then a little more bacon mayo. 6. Place the crispy stuffing pattie on top then spoon on the relish. 7. Top with the other half of the burger bun and serve.
‘Make It Special’ Christmas Pudding Recipe courtesy of Callebaut Serves 6-8 1.2 litre pudding bowl Step 1 – Fruits INGREDIENTS 55g dates 55g apricots 55g cranberries Brandy and Port for macerating the fruit 1 orange, zest and juice 50g dried figs METHOD Soak the fruits in the orange juice and alcohol for 3 days. Step 2 – Pudding Mix INGREDIENTS 100g softened butter 100g muscavado sugar 75g self-raising flour 15g cocoa powder 5g mixed spice 2 eggs 1 pear, peeled and grated 50g cake crumbs 75g Guinness 45g Callebaut 811 Finest Belgian Dark Chocolate (callets) 45g Callebaut W2 Finest Belgian White chocolate (callets) METHOD 1. Cream the butter and sugar together until light and creamy. Slowly add in the eggs. 2. Sieve the dry ingredients together then fold into the mix. 3. Add in the Guinness and grated pear. 4. Fold through the macerated fruits. 5. Fold in the chocolate callets. 6. Butter and flour a 1.2 litre pudding basin. 7. Place a disc of silicon paper on the base of the pudding basin to prevent the pudding sticking 8. Steam for 3 hours. Pudding can be made ahead and reheated in the microwave.
Step 3 – Orange & Brandy Syrup INGREDIENTS 100g sugar 70g orange juice 30g brandy METHOD Bring all the ingredients to the boil and then use to soak the pudding Step 4 – Chocolate & Baileys Sauce INGREDIENTS 100g Callebaut 811 Finest Belgian Dark Chocolate 150g whipping cream 35% fat 20ml Baileys (or to taste) METHOD 1. Bring the cream to the boil. Pour over the chocolate and allow to stand for 1 minute. 2. Add the Baileys then whisk all ingredients together. 3. Serve warm. Variants of the chocolate sauce ● Infuse the cream at 60ºC with Earl Grey tea and use milk chocolate ● Infuse different spices into the cream such as cardamom, star anise, cinnamon; all of these will add an extra dimension to your sauce ● You could take some of the cream out and replace with fruit puree ● Dark chocolate and raspberry sauce ● White chocolate and passion fruit sauce