Nicola Underwood, food development manager
Number of sites:
240 tenanted pubs, 21 managed inns, pubs and hotels
Major trends this year and implementation:
For us, the main trend we have seen increasing this year is veganism. Traditionally, we haven’t sold vast numbers of vegetarian items across our estate but the vegan rise has been noticeable. We are now working on developing our offering to keep up with this trend across our managed estate and are working hard with our tenanted customers to ensure they are able to cater for this ever-increasing group of diners.
Biggest selling menu item(s) this year:
We sell a great breadth of styles and varieties of dishes across our menus, but our customers still love to eat fish and chips, pies and burgers.
While I see having a planned approach as key to success, ensuring that there is a clear structure that allows the business to benefit from planning marketing activity, key dates and events, there is an element of needing to review plans much closer to going live. Largely, due to the ever-increasing cost of food and fluctuations in availability and quality of ingredients from the impact of events such as extreme weather, product availability and economic factors.
We utilise a lot of team input into our menu development – these are the people out in our businesses talking to our guests on a daily basis, so they hold a lot of insight into what the guests want from a visit to our properties. We wouldn’t be able to keep delivering what our customers want without this valuable information.
We also use guest feedback forms to gather suggestions for what they would like to see. There is always the odd one which you have to discount, but this information often provides confirmation that the dishes we are working on are what customers want to see and that we should keep the staple dishes which remain constant, such as fish and chips and pies.
We find the most effective way of communicating food allergens is through the teams serving the guests – with the correct training in place to equip the team with the information they need to know, the personal approach in delivering specific information to a guest relating to their personal requirements is far more effective than simply providing them with separate menus, forms with matrixes on or lots of text to read. We do have a file which has the supporting information for those guests who wish to see it but communicating with the guest verbally and assisting them with the information they need is the most effective way for our business.
We utilise lots of technology across our business in different areas, with our newest sites using iPad ordering systems and kitchen screens in place of traditional printed tickets. This definitely helps efficiency and allows head chefs and front of house managers to more effectively manage the flow of service and keep an eye on customer wait times, particularly in higher volume, busier sites.
For our sector of the market, I think that breakfast and brunch will continue to rise in the largest numbers. Some geographical areas are still very much at the start of this trend, particularly in our tenanted estate, so I think there is much more growth to come here. As a result of this, I think that the mid-afternoon day-part will see some growth and demand from customers for a more complete offer, as they eat a bigger breakfast possibly later in the morning, particularly at weekends, meaning the next meal occasion falls later in the day for them. Afternoon tea has a part to play in this but often feels like an indulgent activity, so I think a fresh approach to afternoon dining will become more important.
Next year’s trends:
The vegan trend will continue and rise in popularity as it is still very much emerging in some areas of our business. I also think the split between healthier and indulgent eating will continue, with some customers trying to make healthier choices at an increasing number of dining occasions regardless of the purpose of the visit, and other consumers really wanting to indulge on the more treat-led or special occasions when they would usually try to eat healthier foods.
Hear from all of the industry leaders we spoke to for 2019 Menu Development Initiatives in the December issue of Pub & Bar.