How to prepare for seasonal demand

In the food service industry, proper planning is imperative, and the old adage ‘fail to prepare, prepare to fail’ really rings true. By now, efforts to plan ahead for the upcoming post-summer and run-up-to-Christmas increase in demand should be well under way.

Anticipating the seasonal change well in advance and being prepared for it is something all chefs should be thinking about throughout the year. When the seasons begin to change, we see it in the weather, our environment (and also often our mood) – we should certainly see it in our menus.

Being prepared for seasonal demand means considering every area of the business. Keeping teams motivated through busy periods and maintaining a prepared kitchen and exciting menu is vital. The value of adequate preparation should not be underestimated. With seasonal planning comes seasonal produce. Knowing when seasonal produce is at its best is a matter of precise timing and a skill learned over time and often the odd mistake. But once the timing is understood, it can still take months of planning prior to various produce and wider ingredient availability.

Staying one season ahead with your preparations is absolutely essential. It goes without saying that we should all factor in the time it takes to put ideas on the plate, then create a menu and make sure the rest of the team is on board. There simply isn’t enough time to complete these steps if the season is already upon you.

The key to meeting the demands that come with the changing of seasons, is preparing your supply chain. Regardless of the size and nature of your site, having confidence in the relationship you have with your suppliers is vital. With increased demand comes an increase in supply and there needs to be an honest communication to ensure quality is maintained. Although not always possible, by pre-ordering as far in advance as possible you can ensure the highest quality produce at the best prices.

It is of course also important to shape your menus so that they reflect the time of year and that they maintain variety year on year – keeping up with trends and topical occasions, but there are some very significant benefits to understanding the importance of preparing seasonal dishes. For one, seasonal produce is going to be at its freshest when it is in season… obviously. Secondly, due to its increased availability, it’s likely to be available at a lower price, compared to exotic out of season ingredients. In addition, and as most good chefs will know, produce that is of the same season also tends to pair better, which helps when planning dishes.

With the increasing focus on locally grown, ethically sourced, organic and fair-trade produce, using seasonal ingredients means they will be available locally and won’t carry the hefty price of food miles and carbon footprint.

Recording previous menus and the quality of food and when it was bought can also be incredibly useful when future planning. That said, this kind of preparation won’t provide absolute certainty of a dish and relies a great deal on seasonal preparation well ahead of time and the quality of the produce that season as a result of weather.

When it comes to training and teams, everyone knows that the demand on staff will become greater as we inch closer to the festive season. As well as focusing on the foods that you’re cooking and why, kitchen teams need consistent briefings of responsibilities and prepared menus to allow staff enough time to become familiar with the offerings. In times of increased demand, staff can be prone to rushing which inevitably leads to mistakes. Before the busy season begins, it’s important to remind all staff of their responsibilities and expectations well in advance will not only alleviate pressure on individuals but ensure team members come to work well-rested and prepared to work effectively.

by Dan Kelly, director of food at London-based caterer, Vacherin

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