With the festive season nearly upon us, now is the time to check that all is planned and ready both to embrace and benefit from this particularly busy time of year. Assuming that menus have been finalised and orders placed, we have scoured the industry to bring you insight and advice on how to ensure your offer stands head and shoulders above the competition and that yours is a truly happy Christmas.
While many customers in 2018 will still be looking for the traditional Christmas turkey and pudding when dining out during the festive season, even these die-hards will desire a change occasionally. The days of a Christmas menu comprising little more than the festive bird plus trimmings are now a thing of the past – people expect choice, innovation and, increasingly, meat-free options on their festive menus.
Traditional Christmas with a twist
“A successful Christmas menu offers the traditional with a twist, one or two alternatives for those who are bored with the usual turkey dinner and an exciting vegetarian and/ or vegan option,” says Jon Turonnet, Foodservice Sales Manager, Brioche Pasquier.
“At this time of year, people want to treat themselves, so the biggest driver should be to offer menus that make people feel special and festive. To many this might indeed mean a traditional turkey meal with all the trimmings, but it is important to make your offer stand out above competitors. Clever tweaks can give a turkey meal a contemporary edge that gives the customer that special wow factor.
“For example, try using brioche instead of bread crumbs in the stuffing for a slightly sweeter edge. Add fashionable ingredients like fennel and dried figs to the mix alongside festive favourites like chestnuts, parsley and thyme for a stuffing that combines flavours in a modern way.
Louise Reynard, Wholesale Commercial Manager, Carrs Foods agrees:
“Caterers can offer customers a twist on a Christmas favourite by including brioche in a variety of festive menus. Enhance a Boxing Day buffet of leftovers by offering Turkey and Cranberry or Brie and Cranberry on a brioche baguette.” When it comes to dessert, the traditional Christmas pud undoubtedly has its fans, but many find it too rich and cloying after a big meal. “It’s a good idea to offer some lighter alternatives alongside the figgy pudding,” says Jon. “Try offering a platter of pretty macarons and petit fours as an alternative sharing dessert, which will give everyone the option to choose their own favourites.”
“Of course mince pies are a great way to get into the festive spirit,” says Jenny Tran, Foodservice Brand Manager, Branston. “Adding a twist with recipes such as our cheese and pickle mince pies is sure to add a bit of excitement to a classic. Crispy roast potato crumbs mixed with delicious cheddar and topped with a spoonful of Branston pickle, all tucked beneath a Christmas star pastry top and finished with a sprig of thyme.”
Add value to a St Pierre Tear & Share brioche from Carrs by filling with Christmas flavours such as chocolate and cream flavoured with cinnamon and nutmeg and even a dash of whisky. Or simply decorate with a dusting of icing sugar and a little edible glitter.
Vegetarian and vegan
According to Kantar Worldpanel, more than a quarter of evening meals in the UK are now vegan or vegetarian; this demand needs to be met during the festive period too. It is worth noting that almost half of all vegans in the UK are under 35 (41%), compared to 14% over 65, meaning this is a lifestyle that is going to continue to grow.
“One way caterers can improve their festive offerings is by ensuring they are appealing to vegetarians and vegans in the run-up to Christmas,” advises Annette Coggins, Head of Foodservice, Tilda UK. “This year we have seen veganism surge in popularity and break into the mainstream, making it an important consideration for any Christmas menu. “With recent research showing a 5% increase in negative reviews on vegan food available out of home, Christmas is the time for caterers to enhance their offerings and create something extra special for vegans and vegetarians to ensure they are appealing to all.
Looking for inspiration? Click here for vegan and vegetarian recipe ideas courtesy of Tilda.
Increasingly, flexitarians are also looking for meat-free meals due to health and environmental concerns – sustainably produced Quorn ticks both boxes.
“Christmas is a great time for menu planners to enthuse customers by applying a tasty, meat-free twist to festive favourites,” says Phil Thornborrow, Head of Foodservice, Quorn Foods. “The breadth of our range means that Quorn can be used to create hand-held seasonal baguettes, burgers, small plates and canapés through to full-on festive meals.”
Click here to download Quorn’s range of festive recipes.
Recent research revealed that 73% of all Quorn consumers are meat eaters.
Free-from ice cream
“When catering for vegetarians and vegans, it’s worth considering homemade gelato and sorbets,” suggests Scott Duncan, Sales Director Carpigiani UK, manufacturer of gelato and soft serve ice cream equipment. “Our revolutionary Freeze&Go machine is just 300mm wide and produces up to 5kg of fresh, high-quality gelato or sorbet per hour, and up to five portions in just six minutes.
“Quick and easy to use, the machine enables caterers to enhance their Christmas menus by offering anything from fat-free frozen yoghurt to vegan gelato, or melt-in-the-mouth chocolate sorbet that is both fat and dairy free.”
“Being an island, in the UK we’re lucky to have succulent, good quality seafood right at our finger tips and it’s something that we should be taking advantage of – especially with so many species being in season at Christmas time,” suggests CJ Jackson, seafood specialist, TV personality and CEO of Billingsgate Seafood School.
“Fish is not only a particularly healthy food, it is also versatile, tasty and satisfying to tuck into during the winter. It’s a great way to jazz up your Christmas meal as there’s so much you can do with it.”
If you are looking for inspiration, CJ recommends the following:
- Starter – Sweet Potato Fishcakes with Chilli Dressing
- Main course – Roast Hake Loin with Cranberry and Hazelnut Crust.
To keep up with additional footfall across the busy festive trading season, operators need quick solutions that still enable them to deliver taste, quality and convenience, while also driving profit.
“Having a well-stocked freezer means never having to disappoint your customers and many agree frozen food has become a hero product in kitchens,” says Jessie McCarthy, Brand Manager, Big Al’s Foodservice.
“With frozen products commanding 32.6% of total foodservice market share, they can offer a significant profit opportunity for operators. Frozen food has both back-of-house and commercial benefits. What’s more, freezing also slows down the deterioration process of food, locking in nutrients and ensuring freshness.”
Quick and easy to prepare, pre-cooked frozen products are ready to serve in minutes and are an ideal solution for busy outlets that do not have a skilled chef and where space may be limited.
Tis the season to indulge
“Remember the festive season is not just about Christmas menus and Christmas day, at this time of year people are looking for any excuse to indulge,” says Adrian Greaves, Foodservice Director, Young’s Foodservice.
“In the lead-up to Christmas, many will be looking for a quick bite when out with friends, therefore adding a seasonal twist to a bar snacks menu is important. Bar snacks and sliders are extremely popular and can be a great generator of extra sales during the Christmas period. Offering a mix-and-match deal of moreish bites will prove deliciously tempting for those stopping by for a couple of festive drinks.”
A time to share
Research confirms what we know: that with the holiday season comes more liberal consumer spending, providing operators a prime opportunity to upsell, cross sell and pair menu items.
“The lead-up to Christmas also sees an increase in groups of family and friends dining out, presenting an ideal opportunity for sharing platters and cakes,” says Anna Sentance, Gourmet Marketing Manager, Callebaut UK and Ireland.
“Callebaut’s Sharing Cookie Skillet is the perfect sharing dessert – not only does it provide a unique way to offer group dining, but it will take the pressure off kitchen and front-of-house staff by allowing them to provide a single dessert dish that can be served at the table by diners themselves. For added theatre, front-of-house staff can decorate or top the dessert in front of customers.”
“As more consumers socialise at this time of year, bolster your sweet treats menu to capitalise on the elevenses and afternoon tea occasion,” suggests Karen Heavey, Brand Manager for Kerrymaid. “Incorporate festive flavours into year-round favourites to give them a seasonal twist such as individually served Winter Eton Mess, White Chocolate and Cherry Trifle, Mulled Berry Brownies and Gingerbread Muffins, all of which which appeal to diners looking for grab and go treats.
“With some consumers becoming more health-conscious and looking to reduce their sugar consumption, create bite-size versions of festive favourites, such as mini Yule Logs or a trio of miniature desserts to offer a little taste of indulgence and enable customers to sample a wide range of treats without the guilt.”
It is also important to consider dietary requirements when planning festive menus. Heavey continues: “As a supplier committed to helping operators cater for dietary requirements, Kerrymaid has a range of products that can support the creation of free-from menu items, including Kerrymaid Cream Alternatives, which are all gluten free and Kerrymaid Premium Baking which is suitable for vegetarians.”
Available through BB Foodservice, frozen baked goods from Kara – from bread to mouthwatering cakes – prevent wastage, remain ‘fresh’ until the moment you need them and give you the flexibility to hold extra stock at this particularly busy time of year.
“A cheeseboard at Christmas is a firm favourite, great for sharing platters or as part of a set Christmas menu,” says Craig Brayshaw, Commercial Director, Eurilait.
Curating a fine selection of cheeses to enjoy at Christmas can be bewildering as the choice available is vast. Quantity and portion size should be considered as should accompaniments and drink pairings.
Craig offers the following advice for operators wanting to create a particularly special cheeseboard this Christmas: “For a truly indulgent, festive cheeseboard put aside your everyday dairy choices and try a selection of premium continental cheeses that offer different textures and flavour strengths.
“Our top picks for an adventurous and exceptional cheeseboard would include a creamy, silky-smooth textured Pavé d’Affinois or a rich, oozy and full-flavoured Brie de Meaux, a fresh sheep or goat cheese – such as the Soignon mould-ripened goat log to provide a lighter, palate cleansing option – and a sweet, nutty Manchego or Comté for a firmer textured cheese.
“As a guide we recommend a 50 - 60g portion of cheese per person. A selection of four cheese varieties will ensure a good choice for guests and allow for appreciation of each individual cheese.”
Cheese and drink pairings
“You will often find red wine served with a cheeseboard, however it doesn’t always make the perfect match for cheese,” says Craig. “Cheeses vary hugely in moisture content, fat content, texture and flavour. Wines too, vary in acidity, sweetness, body and structure so finding the correct match is not always straightforward.
“A lot of cheeses, such as goat cheese and blue cheeses are much better suited to a white wine that will not overpower the flavour of the cheese. Contrasting flavours can work very well, for example, a sharp blue cheese may be perfectly complemented by a soft sweet wine, also consider beer, cider, Champagne and port – all can make excellent cheese partners and can be a refreshing change from the norm.”
Craig recommends the following cheese and drink pairings:
- For full flavoured, soft ripened cheeses try matching with Gewürztraminer, Chablis or Sauternes, a red pinot noir or even an abbey beer or cider
- Blue cheeses work well with white Bordeaux, Shiraz, dark beers, tawny port or Oloroso sherry
- For Cheddar and territorial cheeses consider aged white Burgundy, red Cabernet Sauvignon, strong ale, medium dry cider or port to enhance the rounded flavours of the cheese.
Taking the festive theme one step further, why not pair your cheese with festive-flavoured drinks such as those available from Lyme Bay Winery in Devon“We’re very proud to produce some of the most unique, even quirky, Christmas drinks in the country,” says Lyme Bay’s Fran Taylor, who has the following pairing recommendations:
- Christmas Mead
For a long time consigned to the stuff of legends, the world’s oldest alcoholic drink is enjoying a full-blown renaissance. Our rich mead is smoothly blended with festive notes of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom, lemon and orange zest.
Suggested pairing: Warm gently and enjoy with sweet Christmas treats, or pair with strongly flavoured cheeses.
- Christmas Pudding Wine
Inspired by the most indulgent of Christmas desserts, this is a tasty liquid homage to the flaming favourite.
Suggested pairing: Enjoy with strongly flavoured cheeses, or simply drink as an alternative to mulled wine.
Stilton – bring it on
“Nothing says Christmas like a festive cheeseboard and there is one variety that should always be guaranteed a place, namely Stilton –the King of British Cheeses,” insists Billy Kevan, Dairy Manager at the award-winning Colston Bassett Dairy. Working in partnership with chef Stuart Collins, Owner / Head Chef, Docket No. 33, Shropshire, Colston Bassett has created the following seasonal recipe that showcases the classic pairing of bread and cheese. “The nutty, slightly sweet loaf pairs perfectly with Stilton while the warming spices add a Christmassy flourish to the marmalade,” says Billy.
“Over the last few years we have seen consumer experience becoming a more crucial part of any trade visit,” says Harry Greenhalgh, William Grant & Sons UK On-trade Category Manager. “This means having a drinks menu with some delicious festive serves and exciting brand activations so you are front and centre when people make the tough choice of where to go over the Christmas period.”
“The categories that perform extremely well over the Christmas period are Cream Liqueurs and Dark Rum. In addition, it is critical to have a gin and cocktail offering with both of these annual trends still having a significant impact on revenue performance through the last four weeks of the year.”
An exciting drinks menu is essential over the festive period, when party season is in full swing. There’s nothing quite like cocktails to get consumers in the festive spirit, but as pubs get busier, time spent creating complex drinks is potentially time lost taking money.
“That’s why frozen cocktails are going to be all the rage this winter,” predicts Ed Jones, senior customer marketing manager, Vimto Out of Home. “Requiring minimum time and effort, bartenders simply have to pour the base spirit, add the frozen mix and serve.
“During party season, customers are looking for drinks that are a bit more special – exciting, adventurous flavours and unusual textures such as frozen are key sales drivers.” Click here for recipe ideas and to discover more about Fryst, Vimto’s frozen cocktail brand.
Kombucha ticks health box
Famous for its multiple health benefits, kombucha is a natural sparkling soft drink, full of gut-friendly live cultures, made by fermented black or green tea. The rapidly emerging kombucha market has seen sales increase by more than 12 times over the past four years and is set to grow 25% year on year to reach $1.8bn value sales globally by 2020.
“With many consumers opting for drinks that tend to be natural, contain less or 0% sugar and help them maintain healthier lifestyles, Kombucha ticks all the boxes,” says Gina Geoghegen, founder, Wild Fizz Kombucha, which comes in four varieties: Jasmine Tea; Blood Orange; and Great Taste Award winners: Lavender, Rosemary and Lemon; and Ginger, Turmeric and Black Pepper.
Caring for glassware
Just as important as the drink they contain, glasses need to be nurtured to ensure they look their best. Kathryn Oldershaw, marketing director, Utopia has the following advice:
- Serving hot toddies? Pre-heat glasses for hot drinks by running them under the hot tap first to prevent cracking
- Busy? Do not be tempted to put cold liquids into hot or warm glasses straight from the glasswasher as this can cause cracks
- Pushed for space? Do not stack glasses that have not been designed to stack – they can stick and mark or worse still topple over when set down
- In a hurry? Do not pick up glasses in clusters – it’s not worth the risk of damage and breakages.
“One way to overcome some of these issues is to invest in glasses made from toughened glass. They are more resistant to the cracking caused by sudden temperature changes,” suggests Kathryn.
Ensuring ice is nice
“Ice is defined as food so it is a requirement under the Food Hygiene (England) Regulations 2006 that it must be made, stored and handled like any other foodstuffs so that it doesn’t become contaminated,” says Adam Lenton, Marketing Manager, Classeq, whose products include the Ice-O-Matic range of ice machines.
“Poor levels of hygiene can lead to ice poisoning in customers, which can affect them as badly as poisoning from poor food hygiene practices. Proper and regular cleaning is vital. Caterers need to have clear ice-handling guidelines and a strict regime of training staff, cleaning equipment and maintaining best practice.”
Alarmingly, a recent survey of foodservice professionals undertaken by Ice-O-Matic revealed that a high number of operators did not clean their ice machines regularly. In addition, 40% knew neither when they did nor when they should clean their machines.
Don’t forget the decorations
New research by Christmas Tree World has revealed that Christmas is an opportunity for venues to maximise on sales, with 59% of those surveyed admitting they would spend more money if the venue had impressive Christmas decorations and displays – £21 more on average per head to be exact.
According to the research, the top five things that consumers consider to be an important part of the experience are:
The research also revealed that 15% of participants claimed they would not visit the venue if it were not appropriately decorated for Christmas.
“It’s clear to see that consumers enjoy feeling the Christmas cheer around them when they are out eating, drinking, socialising, shopping and staying in hotels and this is a real opportunity for businesses,” says Stephen Evans, managing director, Christmas Tree World – one of the UK’s premium artificial Christmas tree e-tailers. “Spending even a small amount on Christmas decorations that can be reused year after year can ultimately boost business performance significantly.
Labelling and plantbased packaging company, Planglow, has launched Festive Favourites – a new seasonal collection that includes a retro-look 12oz compostable cup, a grease-resistant deli paper sheet and seasonal sticker, plus a nine-persheet label. Festive Favourites was developed specifically to package Christmas sandwiches and snacks, festive beverages and other seasonal offerings.