Ho ho ho! Yes, folks it’s that time of year again when chefs and caterers across the land start to turn their attention to planning their festive menus…

Christmas Market(ing)

The lead-up to Christmas is one of the busiest periods in the foodservice calendar, with pubs and restaurants across the country competing for festive bookings, so it’s important for operators to stand out from the crowd by offering innovative menus and tailor-made deals. Sarah Robb, channel marketing manager at Premier Foods, advises: “From research we conducted earlier this year looking into 2016 menu trends, we can see that consumers are on the lookout for new cuisine styles and dishes. Whilst the traditional Christmas roast will still be a popular choice, many people will be dining out for numerous Christmas parties so will want to see some innovative choices as well. More than a third of consumers we surveyed would like to try more premium chicken dishes; whilst 45% would like to see more Mediterranean dishes on menus.”

Craig Dillon, Tilda’s head of foodservice, says: “Rice has so much to offer caterers and their customers during the festive season because it can be used in buffets, as a starter, main and even an alternative recipe Christmas cake! “Parmesan arancini balls make for a great starter and work really well in Christmas buffets as something a bit different. They’re easy to make and cost-effective to produce because they can fetch a premium price, plus they look great on the plate. “In addition, vegetarian risotto comes into its own at Christmas and can be used as a great substitute to the traditional turkey main for non-meat eaters by, for example, adding some Christmas spirit in the form of vodka with a Chilli, Tomato and Vodka Risotto (recipe www.tildafoodservice.com).”

Menu planning

With the right planning and promotion, the festive period can be one of the most successful times of the year. Celebrity chef and Lion Brand ambassador, Ben Bartlett advises: “It’s easy to play it safe, but it’s important to branch out beyond safe, traditional dishes like turkey roast and pigs in blankets.” Try to avoid traditional Christmas Day fayre until the second week of December at the earliest, and you’ll keep the menu fresh and interesting. Instead, try to introduce festive ingredients and seasonal flavours gradually from November to get maximum value from the Christmas period.

“Start with warming winter stews, like Hungarian goulash, made with horseradish sauce for extra kick. Stilton croquettes make a fantastic snack, starter or side (simply crumble some stilton into your mash before forming your croquettes).

“If you want an alternative roast that’s suitable for the season, festive ham or pork loin made extra special with the addition of coarsegrain mustard crust will work really well.”

Vibrant vegetables

Stay ahead of the game this Christmas by bringing an added twist to your traditional fare. Traditional festive veg can be given a new lease of life and bring some real flavour to your offer and help yours stand out. James Circuit, development chef at Major International, recommends:

  • Pepping up your sprouts with mushroom stock base, pancetta and hazelnuts
  • Try a whole roasted honey lemon and mustard cauliflower or clementine honey roasted parsnips and carrots, delicious as well as visually impressive
  • Or how about some homemade pickles or international flavours through your chutney to spice up your cheese board?

A Caring Christmas

Christmas dinner is one of the most memorable meals of the year in care homes so it’s a great opportunity to make a good impression on current residents, says Katrina Ellis, McCain Foods product manager. She advises: “Small appetites are common among care home residents so everything they do eat has to be appetising and energy dense. Not only is potato a key part of Christmas dinner in terms of taste, it also meets the need for a filling and energy dense option. Including McCain Simply Mash as part of Christmas dinner is a useful solution as it can be customised with added butter or cream to increase the calorie content still further.”

Premier Foods’ top tips for a successful festive season:

  • Make sure you allow the turkey to rest for at least 30 minutes before carving, if there is a lot of steam coming from your turkey when you carve, it will be dry
  • For a delicious turkey gravy, combine the meat juices with gravy granules and try adding your own flavours such as citrus, herbs, wine or brandy also works well
  • For a simple but tasty stuffing, blend 50% Paxo stuffing and 50% sausage meat
  • Try adding cinnamon to custard to give desserts the classic Christmas flavour diners are likely to eat out more than once, so make sure you have a choice between traditional Christmas fare and more innovative dishes
  • Make sure each section of your menu is enticing and complements each other, as diners will be looking for a full three course menu during the festive season
  • There will be an increase in large parties so providing a group menu or sharing boards will alleviate time pressures and allow chefs to maintain high-quality dishes
  • Set menus will attract customers looking for great deals over the festive season

Catering for gluten-free diets at Christmas

“At Christmas it is important to be inclusive and cater across the board, no more so than in the education and the care sector,” says Brian Eastment, executive development chef at Major. “Factoring in dietary requirements such as vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free or low sugar or salt is vital but can easily be done with simple swaps. An ultimate ready-made gravy saves caterers time, whilst still delivering on flavour.”

Independent research, commissioned by Aviko, found that a shocking 73% of people don’t feel that the out-of-home sector does enough to cater for gluten intolerances, while 59% of people want to see more gluten-free options available on menus. With 38% choosing gluten-free sides if they were available, and 21% willing to pay more for a gluten-free meal, there is a clear profit opportunity for operators to open up this side of their business, particularly during the Christmas period.

Delicious Desserts

Delight your diners with these brand new desserts created exclusively for Christmas 2016:

Trifle Cheesecake 1 x 12pp English trifle Cheesecake Victoria sponge base soaked with Sherry, vanilla cheesecake batter, raspberry swirl, topped with cream and roasted flaked almonds.

Mont Blanc Profiterole Gateau 1 x 14pp A buttery shortbread crumble case filled with chocolate and white toffee mousse, piled high with profiteroles all smothered in a rich chocolate sauce sprinkled with salted caramel crisp pearls and golden sugar with lashings of Belgian chocolate.

Yule Log 1255g 2 x 1 unit Billionaires Shortbread Cheesecake 1 x 14pp A buttery shortbread base filled with baked cheesecake swirled with lashings of golden caramel, topped with indulgent Belgian chocolate ganache and vanilla fudge cubes and golden crispy chocolate pieces.

Parsnip, Pecan & Maple Cake 1 x 14pp hree layers of moist roasted parsnip, maple syrup, apple and currant sponge sandwiched and smothered in rich West Country cream cheese frosting, swirled with sticky caramel and finished with a scattering of pecans.