November 25, 2011
Salisbury Steak with Mushroom Gravy
November 30, 2011

Restaurants are preparing for the month-long celebrations that come with the December holidays.  Are your menus ready?

As the winter holidays approach, restaurant operators and chefs are trying to be extra-inspired in their culinary creations and planning. It’s all part of an effort to draw more companies, organizations and friends to celebrate the season with them.

Even though it’s still early for making predictions, restaurateurs are optimistic that holiday bookings will continue to improve over previous years that were snagged by the Great Recession of 2008.

Most operators report a slightly higher or similar number of Christmas parties being scheduled this year, both in the restaurants and catered, than in 2010. Dollars budgeted are up a little, too.

Although December sales are not quite as important to restaurants as to retail stores—the holiday season represented nearly 20 percent of total retail industry sales last year, according to the National Retail Federation – they are still vital for an eatery’s business.

Mother’s Day is the busiest “holiday” for restaurants, with more than a third of the nation’s moms dining out on the second Sunday in May. Independence Day and Halloween are bigger days for holding parties.

But the Christmas season stands out, because it lasts an entire month, capped off by New Year’s Eve parties.

A Cautious Outlook
Many of the culinary trends that are appearing during the holidays this year are similar to the overall trends that full-service restaurants have been seeing.

That means more tasteful and purposeful parties than frivolous ones, with focus on food and friendship rather than on décor.  There will be fewer balloons and ice sculptures and sushi goddesses and more Kobe beef and heirloom pork.  Holiday celebrations are increasingly including locally grown, organic food.  It’s still a handful or so, but the interest is definitely growing.

Consumers show some savvy.
Consumers are getting very smart and can recognize good food.  They ask more questions now.  People want us to cook what is here, locally.  That includes fruits, vegetables, herbs and meat. 

One of the things that seems to be different is that there seems to be more requests for luxurious parties like we used to see a few years ago.  Just as luxury items are slowly making a comeback in retail, the same is happening for parties.

Affordability is still the name of the game.
A lot of people are going with lighter fare – petite portions but with more variety.  They would rather see tapas and multiple hors d’oeuvres with creativity in design with different cooking techniques an textures.

Operators can still show good profits on reduced portions by offering variety and creativity.

Holiday parties are always brightened by a decadent dessert, such as rich chocolate cakes topped with whipped cream.  Or maybe gingerbread pumpkin pudding.

The idea of heavy hors d’oeuvres, rather than plated dinners, is popular nationally.  As well as having a chef at catered events in party rooms.

One culinary trend being incorporated into holiday parties is the exploding interest in food trucks.  Restaurants and caterers around the country are using their own or others’ food trucks in their seasonal events. A Food truck can prepare all of the food right on the spot right before they start the party. 

Of course, there’s nothing like a festively decked-out restaurant to put you in the holiday spirit.  Another festive aspect of a holiday-season party is the choice of beverages, particularly alcoholic ones.  Most people tend to be very traditional with holiday drinks.  There are many ways to update a classic. . . all it takes is a little creativity.

Source:  Restaurant Management, 11-15-11

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