"In the current economic climate, consumers are much more watchful of their spending," says Tim Doran, client development manager at 3663 First for Foodservice, "and recent findings by Mintel show that 66% of consumers are now spending less on going out to restaurants. Eating-out habits are changing, and although consumers are dining out less frequently, they are spending more on each occasion.
"At 3663 we are finding that diners in pubs, restaurants and hotels are still prepared to spend money on food, so long as they are being offered good-value, quality menu options that appeal to their tastes. This means that a great opportunity still exists for caterers to make money - so long as their offering is well planned and tailored to the needs of the market."
According to Doran: "Each of the Best for Business outlets has succeeded in creating a menu that suits their venue and, more importantly, the specific customers who step through their doors who may have an interest in provenance, local sourcing or more casual dining. We've been impressed with the thought, careful planning and consideration that each outlet has had for their target market."
Doran offers the following tips for creating profitable menus
- Define your style Every outlet is different, and a style that works well for one may not suit another. Think about what will work best for you and stick to it. Your style may be casual or more formal or there could be a subtle theme to your outlet - ethnic, vegetarian or traditionally English, for example. The surroundings and atmosphere are all part of the offering, and it's vital to ensure they match the quality of food products you have on offer.
- Know your competition Being aware of your competition and what they offer is important to maintaining a competitive edge. Ensure you know what they are offering as well as the quality of their produce and the price structure of their menu. Focus on your own style, and don't be tempted to try to compete outside your area of expertise. If you are a steakhouse, concentrate on offering the best-quality and -value steaks to your customers - don't put a curry on the menu just to compete with the curry house next door.
- Know your customers It's crucial to determine the type of customer you are targeting and establish whether your menu is successful in attracting them. For example, business customers will require quality food that's served quickly, while families with children will be looking for smaller portions or a children's menu. Getting your menu offering right can ensure you attract the correct customers and their repeat business.
- Know your limitations Think about what you can and can't do before creating your menu. Being aware of any limitations you may have in preparing, cooking or serving the food, as well as considering the skills your staff possess, will help ensure your business runs smoothly.
- Current trends Keep an eye on the market to stay in touch with what's hot and ahead of the competition. Reading the trade press regularly, attending trade shows and taking an interest in what other chefs are doing will ensure you are aware of the Next Big Thing. Think about these trends and how they can be adopted in your outlet. For example, there is an increasing trend for sharing - play to this trend by offering combo plates and sharing platters on your menu.
- The look and feel of your menu Look at whether a set menu or à la carte will suit your outlet best, and think about whether a professionally printed menu, a hand-written one or a blackboard is most appropriate. Keep a close eye on your offering and don't forget to ask customers for feedback on the price, portion size, quality and variety of your offering.
- Menu costing The primary objective of any catering business is to trade at a profit. Again, planning is key and, as profit is the difference between your sales income and the cost of achieving these sales, it's important to know what outgoings you have. For example, rent, insurance, labour, heating, lighting and produce. It is equally important to keep a sales record noting where your income has come from - food, coffee, alcohol - so you can monitor each section to determine where the biggest margins are.
The Running Horses
Phil Davidson at the Running Horses in Erith, Kent, knew he would have to differentiate his pub from the competition if he wanted to boost his food sales.
"We were running the pub as a carvery, which worked well on certain days, but profits weren't as strong as we would have liked on a Friday and Saturday," says Davidson. "We are situated overlooking the Thames in Erith, and our carvery was competing against three others in the area. I decided that the addition of a steakhouse menu would be perfect for my market, and being impressed with the job they'd done before on my menu, I asked 3663 for help to write and cost my new menu. The team has done a cracking job."
3663 sector development manager Jayne Goodison developed the new menu for Davidson, ensuring that his carvery was still available.
"While talking to Phil, it immediately became apparent that we could help him with the menu," says Goodison. "Although carvery sales were performing really well on a Sunday, there was scope to introduce other menu options and different deals to really make him stand out from the competition and maximise profits at other times.
"His Sizzling Steaks menu now offers ribs and chicken as well a choice of steaks and sauces. We've kept Phil's individual sense of style, again setting him apart from his competitors. For example, the choice of steak preparation features those that are ‘blue - just sealed on both sides, you just tell us how long' and ‘cremated - don't even ask!!' The language and imagery used on the printed menus really captures the atmosphere of the pub."
The Old Wainhouse Inn
When licensee Carol Godwin grew bored with the food offering at her pub, the Old Wainhouse Inn on the coast road to Bude, Cornwall, she approached 3663's sector development manager Jenny Couves for advice on how to make the menu more exciting.
"I was slightly blinkered and was keen to get a fresh opinion on what we should be featuring on our menu and the best way to present it," says Godwin. "Jenny and I sat down and chatted about different options for the pub and we worked together, discussing what dishes had been successful in the past and what old favourites I was keen to keep.
"Jenny suggested items I might like to try and arranged for the products to be sent for me to experiment with. I would never have thought about including options such as a Bourbon glaze sauce to accompany chicken, but it's tasty and allows us to add more detail on to the menu. Increasingly, diners want to know the origins of their food and that they are buying quality ingredients."
Couves adds: "Including the dish's provenance on your menu can help increase your profit by upping the perceived value of the dish in the eye of the consumer. We've changed burger to read ‘Aberdeen Angus burger presented in a gourmet bun' on Carol's menu, and similar substitutes can be made for other dishes. For example, we used the Red Tractor description and logo to show that we are using fresh Red Tractor farm-assured chicken, instead of simply listing it as a chicken breast. Explain the ingredients in more detail to encourage customers to choose a dish, for example Carol's Aberdeen Angus and three-cheese lasagne is described as ‘layers of Aberdeen Angus mince beef finished with mascapone, grana padano and mozzarella with red wine'. 3663 research shows that a simple mention of the product's origin can increase the price a consumer is willing to pay by up to £2.38."