– What’s your pub or restaurant’s USP (Unique Selling Point)?

The hospitality sector of the foodservice industry faces a constant battle to keep up-to-date with current food trends and maintain customer loyalty. Research by VoucherCodes.co.uk last year revealed that 49% of Brits class independent restaurants as their favourite place to eat, while 34% said they favoured local pubs and cafes. Competition from High Street chains is a constant threat for independents so how can they create a niche for themselves in the busy marketplace?

Global cuisine There has been a major shift in the dining habits of UK consumers over the last decade and now we find that the majority of the population regularly consume ethnic foods. More than half of adults believe that authentic ingredients taste better. While Italian, Chinese and Indian foods have all seen a decline in the last two years, other cuisines are coming forward to fill the gap. Menus are highlighting more the emerging cuisines, such as Thai, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese. Mexican is the cuisine that goes from strength to strength, both in-home and out-of-home markets, claims Chris Braeger, sector controller, Foodservice Professional, General Mills UK.

“This cuisine continues to be on trend with out-of-home consumption increasing by 71% in the UK in the last year,” he continues.

Pop-up style specials are a great way to tap into the latest food innovations, advises Major development chef Fergus Martin. “Not only can you pilot new flavours and recipes with your customers, and test their longevity before adding them to your menu proper, they also reflect the way that people invariably eat these days. One week they might be diving into a Pan-Asian noodle bowl, the next diving onto Korean fried chicken or bibimbap.”

Be innovative – and well oiled! Innovation shouldn’t end with new ingredients, cooking methods and dishes. If outlets are to reach their full potential, innovation needs to feed into everything a pub or restaurant does, right down to the oil food is cooked in. Says Olivia Shuttleworth, brand manager of Prep high performance oils: “For outlets that serve a lot of fried food, effective oil management is essential – it’s the secret to producing food that tastes and looks as good as it should. It doesn’t matter how innovative the cooking is or how delicious the flavour combinations are – if outlets don’t choose the right oil, and don’t look after it properly, it will impact on the quality of their offering.”

A great roast A roast dinner is the nation’s favourite pub meal and not only on Sundays. Make sure your pub menu – and especially your roasts – stand out to bring in extra bookings. Serve roasts all week – 40% of consumers want roast dinners on the pub menu every day – not only on Sundays! Serve for lunch and dinner as well. Create theatre – rather than individual dishes, bring the roast and sides to the table for customers to help themselves. Pre-carve or carve at the table for them. Don’t over-serve expensive meat – veg costs less, so serve plenty of appealing sides, like braised red cabbage, cauliflower cheese, gratinated leeks and baked fennel. Love your gravy. When it comes to roast dinners, good gravy is vital. Make your roast dinner special – lift it by simple twists. Try adding apple and cider to pork gravy, add red wine and thyme to your beef gravy, and garlic goes great with lamb.

Premiumise your potatoes Current trends show pubs and restaurants are offering more choice for customers in the potato products market in general. For example, standard mash is now joined by truffle mash, and fries are no longer just ‘chips’ but available in several variations such as skinny, fat, skinon or home fries. Nigel Phillips, country sales manager, Lamb Weston, explains: “The customisation of potato products is being driven by the consumer’s taste for variety, and the operators’ desire to create a USP and restaurant theatre. With that said, sides, such as fries, are no longer seen as just an accompaniment to a main meal but a taste experience, with increasing operator focus on quality and variety, and dedicated sections on menus. A particular trend that both publicans and restaurateurs should keep front of mind when planning their menus is premiumisation. This is a growing trend within the UK, and it presents endless revenue-building opportunities to the on-trade – such as giving customers the chance to ‘trade-up’, offering them sweet potato fries as an alternative to chips for example, or to ‘pimp up’ their fries by offering different toppings.” Sweet potato is becoming a popular ingredient on pub and restaurant menus, with operators using them to create a point of difference in innovative dishes and using them as a pizza topping, salad ingredient, in veggie burgers or soups

Publicise your venue Letting potential customers know what you’re doing is essential to any business so make sure you shout about your offering. Unilever Foodsolutions advises:

  • Get social – 52% of operators and chefs say social media helps drive footfall. To ensure you get maximum engagement from your followers, make sure your posts count by sharing upcoming events, exclusive special offers, competitions and photos.
  • Advertise beyond passing trade – Use social media, leaflet drops, posters and local press ads. Put an A-board outside your pub to entice passing trade. Don’t forget to have some point of sale (POS) literature inside your pub for your regular customers
  • Consider pricing – Set menus offer great value as well as aid efficiency in the kitchen; but make sure you’re able to maximise trade -up opportunities
  • Customer reviews – Excellent customer reviews on social media are a great way to promote your business, and it’s free.

Be sweet French patisserie offers a brilliant alternative to the usual suspects on your desserts menu and gives you a point of difference. “The challenge with desserts is that consumers are all too familiar with many of the dishes found on menus. From sticky toffee pudding and chocolate brownie to ice cream, menus that are predictable can easily be ignored,” says Marie-Emmanuelle Chessé, international development project manager, Tipiak. “French patisserie is about exquisite and decadent desserts that look beautiful on the plate – key factors that are helping pubs and restaurants create profitable menus with the wow factor.”

A survey by Moy Park has also uncovered that 60% of diners would like to see pubs and restaurants offering a choice of more USthemed desserts, such as doughnuts, on menus. Miniature desserts and sharing also rank high in the minds of UK diners. 68% of respondents said that seeing more miniature or sharer desserts on pub and restaurant menus would make them more inclined to opt for a third course, laying bare the sheer profit potential for operators. Frannie Santos-Mawdsley, senior customer marketing manager, Moy Park, explains: “Our research shows that it is 18-35 year olds who are driving this demand. Received wisdom tells us that it is these so-called Millennials who crave difference and lead the way when it comes to emerging food trends, which means the industry should sit up and take note.”