Festive menus built around fresh and local food will inspire post-lockdown customers to eat out in the run-up to the peak Christmas and New Year trading period, says fresh produce specialist Bidfresh.
Drawing on the latest research into consumer plans for socialising this year, Bidfresh is advising chefs and operators that meals with genuine provenance will have the strongest appeal, with the added advantage of making the most of availability.
Bidfresh is highlighting the menu planning benefits of working closely with all three of its specialist businesses: meat supplier Campbell Brothers, Direct Seafoods, and fresh produce experts Oliver Kay.
Martin Eshelby development support chef with Oliver Kay said: “Consumers are still in cautious mode following lockdown, and most say they plan to stay close to home, support local businesses, and meet up with friends and family. That creates opportunities for restaurants and pubs to offer interesting dishes with a focus on fresh produce and the best British ingredients.
“Festive menus can be fairly rigid, but building in some flexibility will be a real competitive advantage this year. That could mean offering roast duck or partridge as well as the more familiar turkey; having smoked mackerel or trout as a starter, or serving premium twists on accompaniments, such as a sprout slaw or roasted sweet potatoes.”
The June survey of 2,000 consumers found:
· 59% of consumers plan to stay local and support local businesses; and a similar number expect to out to eat and drink several times in the run up to Christmas;
· Festive bookings will start to ramp up from September onwards, so operators should have reservation systems in place, but 15% will wait until December – favouring businesses that can keep menu options and table availability flexible;
· Seeing friends and family; giving gifts in person; and going out for meals and drinks are the top three things people are looking forward to this year;
· The top four factors influencing choice of venue are the quality of food and drinks, the price of food and drinks; the safety and hygiene measure in places; and the choice of dishes on the menu;
· 33% of consumers say they’ll definitely expect a higher quality of food when eating out than pre-pandemic; and 44% will now expect to be offered “something a bit different” when they eat out;
· While 47% expect to eat a traditional Christmas dinner when they eat out, 27% will be looking for dishes they wouldn’t traditionally cook at home, and 21% want something new and interesting to try.
Eshelby added: “It is very possible to meet what can seem like conflicting consumer expectations. A traditional Christmas dinner may not just mean turkey – in fact, 32% of consumers say they want a choice of different roast meat, and poultry such as duck or partridge can add a “wow factor” as consumers are less likely to cook them at home.
“To accompany the main event, a root vegetable gratin with truffle infused cream adds a little luxury to plain root veg, while roasting squash and sweet potato wedges with maple syrup, cumin and fennel seeds is a delicious aromatic twist.
“Equally, 25% want to see unique starters on menus, and 23% want desserts they wouldn’t make at home. Offering alternative choices alongside the familiar smoked salmon and Christmas pud will have strong customer appeal, as well as helping to “spread the load” for the supply chain.
“Smoked mackerel or trout, served with a sprout salad, makes an interesting and tasty starter, and helps promote sustainability, which is an increasingly important consideration for many consumers.
“Offering a lighter dessert such as poached clementines with a yoghurt semifeddo can be particularly appealing after a roast with all the trimmings.
“Overall, a more diverse festive menu, making full use of the range of produce and ingredients available from suppliers give operators the broadest possible appeal to consumers, as well as reducing the pressure points that affect the supply chain when everybody is trying to order the same products.”