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How Christmas menu planning can boost profits

Jingle Tills: Planning for Christmas

It used to be that, come December, you could ring up between 20 to 30 per cent of your annual turn-over without too much effort.

Chances are, when it came to last Christmas, you found yourself working harder for less so how can you ensure that this year’s festive season is a cracker rather than a turkey?

According to industry experts, it’s all in the Christmas menu planning and that planning should begin now. While no one really wants to see any sign of a Christmas tree or the teeniest glint of tinsel until British Summer Time Ends in October, there’s nothing stopping you from doing your groundwork in the interim.

Chasing the Christmas Coin

Depending on what type of business you have, you may not necessarily regard yourself as the classic all-singing, all-dancing Christmas party venue but perhaps it’s time to look again at what you can bring to the festive table. In other words, can you step up your offering to boost your Christmas takings?

In this year’s Good Food Guide, the editor’s choice for the best café inEnglandis Food by Breda Murphy in the Lancashire village of Whalley. As mum to four young children, proprietor Breda Murphy works to keep only day-time business hours, but come Christmas, she opens on a number of evenings to serve a festive dinner menu.

These are eagerly anticipated and fully booked by her loyal customers as are other evening events she hosts throughout the year to celebrate holidays such as St Valentine’s Day and St Patrick’s Day. You too may have a café that keeps day-time hours but that’s not to say you can’t follow in Breda’s footsteps. After all, you have regular customers who trust and appreciate your food and premises and would most likely buy in to an evening event at which they could share your dishes and ambience with family, friends or work colleagues.

Set a date now in your diary. You could coincide it with your town’s Christmas lights switch on, which you will be able to find out by telephoning your local council or contacting your local chamber of trade, which may be planning some late night shopping extravaganza.

Use time now to formulate your plan so that you’re ready to put out table and/or counter flyers detailing your extra opening(s) and are confident to talk to your customers about it come October.  It’s also important to ensure that staff used to working day-time hours are on board to work late on the odd occasion. To make your event work, they must be happy to support you. Giving employees time to get used to the idea, along with the promise of a little extra in their pay packet, is usually all it takes.

Hospitality - Planning for Christmas

Party Pieces

One man’s idea of fun may be another’s idea of torture and now that the days of big, corporate Christmas parties on the company with dinner, dancing and games are almost extinct, could you step up to the plate with an alternative?

With more people having to put their hand in their pocket and pay to be part of their works’ Christmas do, they want to be sure of a good time – of doing something they want to do. Make a party piece out of something you’re good at and target colleague groups within local companies you believe would most appreciate it. It may be that you have an interest in beer or wine and could plan a Christmas wine tasting evening or beer and food matching night on your premises.

You or your chef may be confident enough to host a festive cookery evening to demonstrate festive dishes in the making, which is followed by guests tucking in to the food whether it’s party canapés they can copy at home or a show stealing chocolate log that they can recreate to take centre table on Christmas Day. It’s about giving potential customers some added value (why not greet them with a glass of mulled wine on the house to get off on the right footing?) and a choice, while consolidating your reputation and upping your December takings.

Now is the time to plan for such an offering so that any printed literature advertising it can be prepared and ready to deliver come autumn, your website updated and a strategy drawn up for contacting local companies by telephone, e-mail and social media.

Keeping to a Theme

Essentially, your business is what it is and the key to a profitable Christmas that will also serve you well into the New Year is to be your best within your comfort zone. Your customers have certain expectations of you already in terms of the sort of food they expect to see on your Christmas menu and the sort of decorations they expect to appear. Keep to character rather than stretching yourself and experimenting. After all, Christmas is a time for traditions.

However, if you have been persuaded in to going the whole hog this year with some party theme nights, you really ought to be making firm, final plans and any bookings for costumes, ice sculptures, ice rinks, snow machines, cabaret style vocalists, bands and table magicians for your ‘Magic of Christmas’ nights should be made now as the best go first.

As Christmas is a time when people like to glam up, you might like to jump on the bandwagon of cruising’s popularity and offer a ‘cruising Christmas’ theme with you as the captain of your ship, welcoming guests to a festive gala dinner followed by cruise ship style entertainment.

The Rendezvous Hotel in Skipton,North Yorkshire, tried it last year. It proved a huge success, according to the hotel’s proprietor Karen Weaving. Says Karen:

We’ve been doing party nights for donkey’s years and we just thought we’d do something a little bit different. We had a full cabaret, quizzes and made use of our pool and spa. It was just the ticket!

Festive Fare

Great food is important all year round, and Christmas is no exception. Of finalised menus, says Maria Moriarty Eames, of Total Foodservice:

Whilst some customers are planning for Christmas well ahead in the year with some having menus prepared before Easter even, many of our enquiries from customers don’t start coming through until September or October.  We always try and have our Christmas range in place by early September to offer ideas beyond the traditional turkey and trimmings for customers planning their menus. As a wholesaler we are working hard with producers and manufacturers to encourage them to have their Christmas ideas in place by Easter in order to allow us to pull promotions together well in advance of Christmas and allowing our customers more time to plan.

But when it comes to your food, the advice of demonstration chef Phil Leverington, who also runs restaurant consultancy No Reservations, which works throughout the country helping food businesses boost their profitability, is to keep it simple. Says Phil:

People generally like well-prepared food, sourced locally, served to them hot and fresh from the kitchen.

Plan a menu that you know you can achieve without some in the party having to wait much longer than others for their food or which comes cold or overdone or not as described. Don’t over stretch your kitchen and equipment. Plan to provide good food and good service, which is primarily what customers wish for at Christmas, and with that, you can keep those customers coming back throughout the year.

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