Holidays bring unique opportunities and challenges to the restaurant industry. Celebrations, splurging and revelries mean customers are looking for something special. Chef Nicholas Gonring, Gordon Food Service Culinary Specialist for the Chicago Metro Region, sums it up nicely: “Holiday meals are sentimental and oftentimes filled with family tradition. Each celebration through the year can bring customary ‘must haves.’ This makes it hard for restaurants to fulfill their customers’ every desire. The key here is to make something recognizable yet elevated enough that the customer finds value. If your customer can make this dish at home, why would they come back?”
With that in mind, here are five satisfying and sales-building ways to add a bit of luxury to your holiday menu.
As customers look to indulge, give them the opportunity to splurge on a spectacular steak or over-the-top burger. From double-cut pork chops and show-stopping tomahawk steaks to sumptuous prime rib burgers, there is a lot of opportunity for luxe center of the plate selections.
Gonring says “Upgrading your protein can be as simple as auditing your current cuts and trading them in for something new; this could mean going from choice beef to USDA Prime, or conventional pork to heritage Berkshire.” When you want to make every effort to impress, he suggests a cut that allows the true craftsmanship of the protein butchering to be displayed, as well as the storyline of the animal origin.
Prime Tomahawk ribeye, or “cowboy,” steaks are a thick-cut, bone-in ribeye. Because they include the six-inch frenched rib bone, each steak is roughly two inches thick and a real stunner on the plate. Chef Ben Bettinger of Laurelhurst Market in Portland, Ore. offers this cut as a special for two served with a side of roasted wild mushrooms with smoked bone marrow for the ultimate beef indulgence.
Steakhouse burgers with custom grinds or flavorful blends of high-end cuts, like prime rib or dry aged ribeye, are another easy upgrade for holiday menus. Dress them up with simple, umami-rich toppings that won’t distract from the flavor of the beef. For the ultimate burger indulgence, griddle a dry-aged Angus steakburger with copious amounts of clarified butter and top with sweet caramelized onions, a la New York City’s famed Minetta Tavern.
From shareable dips and spreads to memorable center-of-the-plate options, seafood is a sure-fire way to impress guests. Scottish salmon from the Faroe Islands is an easy upsell, with more flavor than its typical farmed Atlantic counterparts. With only 3 percent of global production, it has boutique appeal; consider taking it beyond dinner by making gravlax for holiday brunches and breakfasts.
Baked oysters, bubbling with rich toppings, are another fine holiday tradition. From the classic Oysters Rockefeller with crumbled bacon, spinach, and buttery breadcrumbs to wood grilled oysters with compound butter and a drizzle of Pernod, these hot preparations add a touch of luxury and are well suited to sharing plates and appetizers.
For some serious next-level indulgence, upgrade your recipes with flavorful melting cheeses like raclette or Gruyere. Even a grilled cheese can seem splurge-worthy when it’s stuffed with fontina and Comte; layer flavor with a three-cheese approach that combines cheddar with a flavorful blue cheese and something soft and melty.
Fonduta, a bubbling crock of melted gooey goodness and Italy’s answer to Swiss fondue, is perfect for starting a memorable meal. Fabulous as a dip for crusty bread or seasonal veggies, fontina fonduta also makes a great sauce for spooning over roasted stuffed peppers or pork medallions.
Specialty preparations like tartiflette, a peerless potato gratin traditional in the French Alps, are especially appealing around the holidays. Combining creamy potatoes with bacon lardons, caramelized onions and rich Reblochon cheese, tartiflette offers over-the-top indulgence.
A yen for old-fashioned indulgence offers an excellent opportunity to increase dessert sales. According to Technomic’s recent Dessert Consumer Trend Report, 40 percent of diners would order pumpkin pie if it was on the menu, and fall flavors (think pumpkin, cranberry, baking spices and roasted nuts) have the greatest influence on operator menu innovation.
To create luxurious and craveworthy holiday desserts, keep it simple: all-butter flaky crusts, real whipped cream, double-fold vanilla bean extract, and the freshest pecans and hazelnuts. Adding a tipple never hurts; Technomic also notes that bourbon-laced desserts have grown by 167 percent on menus since the first quarter of 2014. Amp up your dessert program with indulgent ice cream toppings, or create your own signature sundae by swirling different flavors into good quality vanilla ice cream.
Holiday punch specials, handcrafted sodas and indulgent blended beverages add flavor and menu differentiation as well as great margins. Streamline service by pre-batching punch and soda, then finish with soda water, sparkling wine or fizzy cider. Holiday-inspired flavors like cranberry, ginger and green apple are great for non-alcoholic soft drinks, but also can stand in for the traditional mixers in cocktails. Add a creative garnish and you’re done.
A scoop of ice cream or sorbet can turn your sodas into a memorable float, or consider an over-the-top milkshake. A rich and creamy pumpkin malt, made with vanilla ice cream, pumpkin puree and baking spices, can pull double duty as a burger accompaniment or dessert, especially when it comes in a caramel-drizzled glass with a graham cracker garnish.
While holidays are all about tradition, adding a twist to an old favorite can bring menu differentiation.