It’s no longer a foregone conclusion that every restaurant will be packed out throughout the festive season. With the economy still in a precarious position, customers are being far more choosy about where they spend their fast-depleting disposable income.
Adding Value to Your Christmas Menu
With the last few years being a financial challenge for most companies and individuals, Christmas is a time for some difficult decisions. If you’re the boss, can you afford to give your staff a festive night out if balancing the books has been harder than ever? If not, how will it affect already-low morale? But if you’ve only got a pretty limited budget, how do you make it look like you’re not a skin-flint! And what about families that love to meet up for a Christmas meal but their previous $30 a head budget is now more like $20?
As a restaurant owner, part of your job is to gage the public mood. That may sound a little grand, but you don’t want to be the empty restaurant selling veal cutlets and fois gras when everyone wants turkey pie and a pint because they still want to go out but don’t want to spend much money.
So how do you get the right festive menu for the right price? Understanding your customer is key here – make sure you understand who your potential customer is and give them what they want. There’s nothing wrong with asking your regulars what they’d like – or make it a competition and offer a free meal for feedback. It’s worth looking through your menus and bookings from the last three Christmases as the economy has been in a similar position for a while now.
The best ways to keep your festive menu appealing to customers and profitable to you is to have a set menu over Christmas. Make sure group bookings over a certain number (perhaps eight or 10) book each of their courses in advance. Offer something a little different but not too different – at the beginning of December people love having a ‘turkey with all the trimmings’ dinner, but towards the big day they’re either sick of it or waiting for their own Christmas dinner. Here are some suggestions for menu alternatives that are not expensive but look festive and will ensure your customers feel like they had a value-for-money experience. Add in some suitably festive music, ideally light a log fire and have some decent decorations and you’re good to go!
Menu AlternativesIt’s good to have at least one option in each course that is not the traditional option: a popular starter would involve seafood, although this can be expensive and hard to store. Homemade chicken liver pate is a great alternative as it is very cheap to make but looks impressive – although it can be tricky to make toast in large numbers effectively, so baguette, melba toast or soda bread is far more practical. Serve it with a cheap-to-make onion marmalade and you have a fancy starter for very little money and hardly any preparation time. A good vegetarian starter is stuffed mushrooms – use a combination of garlic, parsley, breadcrumbs and parmesan to stuff. They can be prepared well in advance – they cook well from frozen – and look impressive on a plate with some salad leaves and perhaps a balsamic reduction.
A good alternative to the turkey main course is a poached or pan-fried salmon fillet, which are relatively inexpensive yet look good on the menu. An easy-to-prepare-in-advance side of ratatouille works well with this. For vegetarians, be careful to include some sort of protein and don’t just offer cheese – regular complaints from vegetarians. Chick peas are a good source of protein and work well with Indian and Mediterranean flavours – perhaps a chickpea and spinach curry? Roasted vegetable tarts are also easy to prepare, inexpensive but look impressive, especially if the veg have been beautifully roasted with plenty of olive oil and herbs. For pudding, Christmas pudding is always a winner, but you could put a little spin on it by offering Christmas pudding ice cream. Easy to make, easy to store and practical in that the waiting-on staff can prepare it.
It’s also a good idea to offer something for free – after all, everyone loves a freebie. Whether it’s a fancy drink on arrival – orange juice and prosecco is always a hit – little chocolates with coffee at the end or plenty of homemade bread and salty butter, you want to make sure your guests leave feeling like they had a good deal.