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Planning for Christmas Menus

In this game, it’s never too early to start planning for Christmas. With corporate bookings and work-dos filling in from the end of November, this festive period can be one of the most lucrative times in the food service calendar. While it might be a long slog of turkeys, sprouts and Christmas puddings, it’s also a time when you can enjoy good margins to boot.

We all know the drill by now; a traditional turkey dinner, one fish main, one beef, and veggie. However, while this may still be a sensible structure to follow. Serious thought needs to be given to the vegetarian and vegan menu items as there are a number of ‘flexitarians’ out there who will likely order plant based mains even though they are not strictly vegetarian. This can actually work in the kitchen’s favour though. From vegetable tarts, dynamic nut roasts or festively spiced chickpea and vegetable pies, these items can be prepared in advance and reheated in a fraction of the time it takes for hefty joints of meat. Veggie options are an area of the Christmas menu planning that you should wholeheartedly lean in to – the balance sheet will thank you for it.

Of course this time of year is much easier to forecast too. If you are on top of your repeat business game, you might already have a list of corporate reservations from happy customers who rebooked after last year, and we all know the stragglers will be frantically ringing around this time of year to find space for 24.

You probably know by now that you don’t want to be spending more than a couple of minutes plating your starters. While the booze will allow diners to chatter, that first course needs to get out quick-smart. Pre-sliced smoked salmon is most certainly your friend here, but if you are making house cured salmon with ingredients like beetroot or pine needles, then think about getting a commis to run a blade through a few sides an hour ahead of service.

It’s round about now you might want to start considering storage for the Christmas period – both dry and cold. This way you’ll ensure your storage is working effectively for you, housing in demand high turnover ingredients. You might also want to think about dedicating some time to house ferments, pickles and preserves, which can all work to amplify everything from your bar snacks and pre dinner nibbles, to accentuating the cheeseboard.

Cheese is also something that needs careful planning – you’re likely to get through a lot of it. Blue cheese is near essential and while Stilton might be the bastion of the seasonal cheeseboard, venturing out into others can be rewarding Dorset Blue Vinny, Cornish Blue, Blacksticks Blue all go down a storm, while continental blues like Roquefort and Picos Blue also make an enviable addition. A firm cheddar is another important piece of the puzzle, while at this time of year your soft cheeses can definitely venture into the pungent, fuller flavoured varieties like Stinking Bishop, Epoisses and older Camemberts.

One move we have been starting to see from restaurants at Christmas time is the retailing of produce as off-sales – particularly cheese and chutneys. Wowing diners with a fine cheese from Normandy, or a house-made spiced pear chutney can often prompt them to purchase (providing they know it’s available) so that they can enjoy them again at their family’s Christmas dinner. But if you’re planning on adding this little revenue stream into the Christmas period, then you need to get prepping and planning ASAP.