Precision planning Precision planning is crucial to the smooth running of the busy festive period, and, now that the summer is over, canny caterers are turning their attention to Christmas. Using this opportunity to plan and advertise your holiday menus in advance will attract more bookings in the time leading up to Christmas and, by encouraging diners to pre-order Christmas meal menu choices, operators can better forecast spend and bulk buy necessary ingredients in advance, helping to reduce food waste and overheads. “The first rule of Christmas is it is never too early to think about Christmas,” says Willie Pike, Major’s consultant development chef for Scotland. “Planning ahead for what is arguably the nation’s favourite season is key to getting your offer right. For excellent consistency and authenticity of flavour, clean label readymade gravies, stocks and sauces, can be a caterer’s best allies during the busy festive season. Not only do they save on time, are key for quality and consistency but at Christmas it is arguably even more important to be inclusive and cater for all dietary requirements.”

Trends for Christmas 2017 This Christmas is all about nostalgia, with a big emphasis on the 1970s. Expect to see the revival of the Black Forest Gateau with supermarket Waitrose leading the way with a black forest panettone created by TV chef Heston Blumenthal. Their executive chef, Jonathan Moore, said: “Flavours of black forest bring back fond memories for many and it’s most definitely enjoying a revival. “Chefs including Yotam Ottolenghi and Bruno Loubet of the Grain Store London have introduced dishes such as Black Forest Battenberg and Black Forest coupes to their menus.” Another big flavour trend is Prosecco. With UK sales topping £500million last year, it seems we can’t get enough of the fizzy stuff and you can expect to see it used on food menus as well as the drinks menu. Country Range Strawberry Prosecco Charlotte taps into this trend, offering a deliciously refreshing and fruity dessert.

Christmas traditions To help caterers best understand what customers are looking for this Christmas, Premier Foods has conducted a survey – and found that they are traditionalists at heart. Says Sarah Robb, channel marketing manager at Premier Foods: “The traditional Christmas dinner is still the most popular choice with diners over the festive period; with 77% of consumers surveyed saying they enjoy a sit-down Christmas roast with all the trimmings at a Christmas party. “Our research also revealed that 70% of people like to see traditional festive desserts such as mince pies or Christmas pudding on the menu, further sticking to Christmas tradition. In order to encourage customers to book with your outlet; being able to pre-order and having a free drink on arrival were both influencers of choice for a Christmas party venue.” The dishes people couldn’t do without on a Christmas party menu: mince pies, turkey, stuffing, cheese and pineapple on sticks, Pigs in blanket, Christmas pudding The cuisines people would like to eat at a Christmas Party: 1. Traditional British; 2. Italian; 3. American; 4. Mexican

Theme your offering Operators should take advantage of the season to create festive-themed versions of on-trend shakes and desserts, recommends Aine Melichar, brand manager for Kerrymaid, with ingredients such as vanilla ice cream with warm Christmas pudding pieces, topped with brandy flavoured whipped cream and topped with mulled berries. “If you’re partial to the more traditional puddings which are always a winner, why not try a trio of desserts platter, with mini yule logs, chocolate orange tart and raspberry pavlovas?” she adds. Similarly, seasonal sandwiches always go down a treat. This Christmas, vendors are taking a rustic approach to menus so try pairing Kara’s artisanal sourdough bloomers filled with sweet cranberry sauce, Romaine lettuce, cured bacon, succulent turkey slices and sage and onion stuffing, for a competitive meaty festive feast.

Cheese please! Cheese and the cheeseboard are synonymous with Christmas but far too often the same tried and tested selection appears every year. “For Christmas 2017, think about setting your offering apart by including a continental cheese,” advises Kenneth Axen, MD of Futura Foods. “Roasted figs stuffed with Gorgonzola and finished with a drizzle of honey make an unusual and impressive appetiser whilst bite-sized Brie puffs served with onion chutney are a real crowd pleaser. “On the cheeseboard, Gorgonzola makes for a great, creamier alternative to Stilton, whilst the unique tang of Goat’s Log will make a real point of difference. Serve with plenty of crackers and if you’re worried about retaining a traditional feel, use leftover cranberry sauce as an alternative to more conventional chutneys.”

Christmas in care homes No festive offering is complete without a classic fruit cake, but for care caterers who need to consider the special dietary needs of their residents, Dr. Oetker Professional has taken the pressure out of the season. Their reduced Sugar Fruit Cake Mix has been carefully developed to guarantee a delicious bake full of flavour but with 30% reduced sugar. “The mix is part of our Wellcare range and is fortified with fibre,” says Emma Haworth, senior brand manager, Dr Oetker Professional. “It also contains no hydrogenated fats, artificial colours, flavours or preservatives to help support good nutrition.” For older consumers with smaller appetites, why not try a Christmas themed afternoon tea with small jugs of Kerrymaid Custard and Kerrymaid Double to go with mini Christmas puddings, chocolate yule logs and warm mince pies?

Spruce up school lunches For school caterers searching for healthier, great value ways of providing a festive dessert for children, why not try baking a large reindeer, Santa or penguin themed Christmas The 12 Days of Whirlmas is a Christmas guide showing how a liquid butter alternative can bring the indulgent flavour of butter to festive menus without the high cost of butter. cookie which they can enjoy with a splash of custard or whipped cream. A healthy alternative to real cream with 26% less saturated fat, Kerrymaid Cream Alternatives are the only cream alternatives on the market to have the Soil Association Food For Life Served Here accreditation, and contain no hydrogenated vegetable fats. For school caterers looking to provide a tasty alternative to a traditional Christmas dinner, crunchy vegetable crumble, created by Kerrymaid ambassador Jeanette Orrey, is a big hit. Click here for the full recipe

Top Tips for a successful festive season from Mark Rigby, executive chef at Premier Foods

  • 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 Bisto 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 Ambrosia custard to give desserts the classic Christmas flavour
  • Keep in mind that throughout the season, diners are likely to eat out more than once, so make sure you have a choice between traditional Christmas fare and more innovative dishes
  • 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