The straightforward nature of Christmas food, combined with the extended 5% VAT rate for hospitality businesses, offers a positive for operators going into winter. With classic Christmas fayre done well the order of the day, an approach which is both quick to make and competitive on price has been flagged as one solid way to really lift takings and push footfall into outlets.
“We’ll be holding last year’s price point and if we have to be more competitive on price we will be,” said Neil. “I think this year price will be crucial for drawing guests in, particularly for venues like us which are heavily food-led.
“Quality turkey and rib-eye steak main course options are no-brainers and always work for us in December, while a chocolate fudge cake and sticky toffee puddings are quick, simple and in-demand, rich desserts that customers are looking for at Christmas time.
“It’s just about adding a little bit of quality and invention to those dishes but we find, at Christmas, with a slimmed down menu that you can cover quite a broad palate and keep the kitchen staff pretty happy as well.”
Reinforcing that stance, Stuart stated that being competitive on food pricing can allow outlets to increase their margins on drinks sales too.
“You should really be able to get a Christmas meal out cheaper this year with the 5% VAT rate on food being extended and costing it correctly,” he said. “We should all be able to get a pretty competitive three course dinner out, which will drive traffic. We also find that you are then able to mark up your drinks to an extent at Christmas because you’ve been fair with your food prices.
“I think an attractive price point and a neatly packaged marketing campaign for it will work really well for operators. Too many times we’ve tried to be over elaborate at Christmas and it hasn’t worked. This year, quality of ingredients, strong sellers and price will be by far the most important for us as a trade.”
Simon Jackson, a veteran rural pub operator, believes that drawing in the maximum party size of six for food will help give profits a lift and is looking at ways in which to do that.
“We need to think about what we can do to draw in customers and I think offering a deal for six diners to come in and be served quickly without being overly rushed for a set price is a great way of encouraging larger parties into your business,” he said.
“A table of six is the ideal size and it’s naturally a lot more profitable than a table of two. Even if you have to reward customers with little giveaways such as a free starter or soft drinks for children to encourage parents with kids. Enticing in larger parties would be great for any place this year and if it means incurring a small cost to do so it’ll be more than worth it.”
Ahead of the festive season, those with a food offer should also be thinking about food and drink pairings in their menus. A great way to drive sales, matching food with drinks that complement it can also really enhance your guests’ experience. Consider pairing sparkling white wines with salmon, premium reds with the turkey. But food matching at Christmas doesn’t need to be wine-led, quality beers, ciders and spirit serves as well as soft drinks can all enrich the dining experience when paired correctly.