Paul Dickinson, director of food
Number of sites and employees:
204 managed sites; 4,500 employees
Major trends this year and implementation:
Trends have become occasions; you can talk about veganism, pescatarianism etcetera but it all comes down to choice. People are thinking differently, so when they come in and depending on how they feel that day, can they have the dish they think of or feel like having? For that reason, we don’t just have one menu, we have a repertoire that chefs pull out of. We’ve got a vegan menu, a gluten-free menu, dairy-free, nut-free – people are really enjoying having that choice.
Biggest selling menu item(s) this year:
Classic dishes from fish and chips to burgers still dominate the menu, but we’ve had things come through like our hop and tea smoked haddock – a twist on a classic. We thought we’d sell 100 a month but we’re doing 1,000 a week.
You have to let the chefs feel they have ownership of their business but at the same time guide them, season on season. We’re training them now to plan ahead from day one to day three – prepare today to cook tomorrow, rather than prepare today to cook tonight. As far as Brexit-proofing, 55% of our products come from the UK and Northern Ireland so we’re in a good place; lemons and limes we might have to go without! We can’t overprice things, so we might change products in order to make sure that people can have a drink and something at lunchtime for under £10. We wouldn’t cut the quality – we’re very passionate about the quality of ingredients from our beer to our food – so I think it might just mean smaller portions. Our biggest concern, however, is people.
We have a tool called StarChef that all of our suppliers feed ingredients into and we have someone who validates every ingredient to make sure the allergen is correct. I don’t tolerate ‘maybe’ or ‘this may contain’, that’s an utter load of rubbish and you’re playing with people’s lives. On our website, we have a tool called Ten Kites which enables customers to filter through the allergens and you can also highlight vegan and vegetarian dishes. We have a stock package so week-on-week, we know what sells and what doesn’t by area, by house, by demographic. The one thing we are missing is par levels so what did we sell last week and what do we order this week? We do have it but having that automated would really make life easier.
Takeaways and deliveries:
We do look into it but execution and quality are issues, so we don’t offer it at the moment.
Breakfast and brunch is here to stay – more so at weekends – but it’s how you excite people with a ‘wow’ factor around the trends of lighter eating and more plant-based products.
Next year’s trends:
We’re focusing on plant-based foods, but we’re not dropping everything to do it. This year, we turned The Fence in London into a vegan eatery and now 60% of the menu is vegan; the seitan burger is now the number two seller so where you have it, people will go for it. Also, less carbohydrates, more protein and it’s exciting and can be delivered at pace. Speed and efficiency are key to lots of things that we’ll do next year. Depending on the turmoil [Brexit] we’re about to endure, people are going to watch their pockets and they’re going to follow quality.
Hear from all of the industry leaders we spoke to for 2019 Menu Development Initiatives in the December issue of Pub & Bar.