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Make Your Restaurant's Christmas Dinner a Winner

09/12/2015 09:31:58

Sourcing the right ingredients and creating a Christmas menu you can be proud of can be a challenge. Bruce Wilson talks us through the in's and out's of making your Christmas dinner and how to create variety whilst keeping standards high.

By Bruce Wilson, Chef Consultant at BAW Consulting Ltd

The festive season should be an absolute winner for restaurants, venues and catering businesses. All-expenses-paid work Christmas dos, celebratory family dinners, friends congregating. It should be so easy to boost revenue and drive turnover while giving diners an experience they’ll want to repeat and tell their friends about - but often it’s not.

Many businesses struggle to capitalise on the opportunity to maximise sales or enhance profitability at best – by having the right menu on at the right price point, and keeping overheads such as additional staff time to a minimum. At worst, what should be a chance to generate repeat business and boost reputation can sometimes have the opposite effect if service and quality are not up to scratch because the infrastructure isn’t in place to cope with the additional pressure of such a busy period.

Time and again when helping businesses deal with these challenging issues, I find that menu design is fundamental to ultimate success or failure. Yes, of course many other factors come into play but if the menu isn’t right, it can put everything else at risk. Let me explain what I mean.

First and foremost, a menu has to be designed with customer expectations in terms of cost and experience at front of mind (ie formal or informal, is the emphasis on accurate plating or speed of service). However, it’s also vital to think about the skill set both back and front of house in order to deliver it. That doesn’t mean you can’t offer something special – it just means that careful thought is required to make sure it’s both suitable and achievable.

Consider space and time – probably the most important thing is to have a menu that fits your space – literally. Putting on an offer that exceeds the physical capabilities of the kitchen is never going to work. This might be refrigeration capacity, preparation space, the ability to cook and serve in a timely way or simply having too much choice on the menu, creating waste when it doesn’t sell in time.

The way I look at it is that product is key. Getting the right ingredients for the customer profile makes all the difference. So a good piece of fish cooked simply and well can be as good as any Michelin-starred dish and can be charged for accordingly: minimal prep time or fridge space required.

Also think about the logistics of service. Customers shouldn’t be rushed, but food should arrive quickly or complaints will follow no matter how delicious it is when it arrives. Again this is where menu design comes in – I am a strong believer in doing as much of the work as possible before service, especially at this time of year, so that when several large tables all walk in at once  your team can cope.

Braised dishes that can even be slow-cooked overnight at very low temperatures are great as very little service time is involved. You don’t need expensive equipment – a good convection oven with precise temperature controls can do it.  But what about the turkey? And the salmon? Or the Christmas pudding? These are what customers want, and not everything can be slow-cooked or totally pre-prepared in advance.

Of course you should offer turkey and Christmas pud if that’s what the market demands. But you could also consider other pre-preparable options in addition or as an alternative if your customers would plump for something different. I’d suggest a Beef Wellington carved at the table for a real wow factor. Game pie or venison casserole with winter veg gives a great festive feel. A whole baked cheese for sharing is easy to do and always goes down well. Or offering a bit of sparkle such as a chilled champagne syllabub for dessert is a true Christmas treat.

Whatever you decide, having a manageable combination of dishes on the festive party menu is absolutely critical. Unless you’ve got a large kitchen, having three or four options for each course should be plenty. Any more, and if the team can’t cope, you risk making a turkey out of Christmas.

Bruce Wilson is a Chef Consultant at BAW Consulting Ltd, which specialises in advising food, catering & hospitality businesses on pre-planning, site launch, and on-going management advice. www.bawconsulting.com

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