For decades, there has been strict control on how we eat, when we eat and what we eat. Historically, there existed an old routine of only having porridge or sausages in the morning; or only having a club sandwich at noon; or indeed roast beef and mashed potatoes in the evening. The rules were pretty simple then.
But there’s been a definite change in how consumers relate to food and drink, with diners now eating eggs for dinner and chorizo, avocado and hash potatoes for breakfast. And lifestyles have become less regimented. As the 9-5 structures dissipate, so too has the ‘three meal a day’ requirement.
As people increasingly work from home, eating habits have changed with many consumers now dining out once or even twice a day. They are also much more knowledgeable about the finer details of food – having being exposed to a battering of videos, blogs and TV shows educating us on what works or doesn’t.
The rise of superstar culinary explorers like Anthony Bourdain and TV shows like Chef’s Table and Master Chef have driven a global explosion in food and food related travel. In 2016, for instance, 95% of Americans expressed a desire for unique food experiences while travelling – up from just 47% in 2013.
Although the UK has not always appeared on the global stage in terms of its culinary offerings, we must now export the UK’s status as an emerging ‘foodie’ destination. Farmers markets, microbreweries and coffee roasters are appearing all over the country, while the demand for sustainable local produce has also created restaurant menus that offer a more regional sense of ‘place’ for visitors.
In recent years, we at Jurys Inn & Leonardo Hotels UK and Ireland have introduced new partnerships with famed chefs like Marco Pierre White. Other new food and drink concepts include OddSocks, Kitchen Bar & Restaurant and Costa. These have strengthened our hotels in the marketplace as consumers look for hallmarks of culinary quality in their hotel experience.
It’s therefore very important that we listen closely to what are customers are looking for in their dining experience in terms of Food and Beverage. Because of this, we’ve adapted our offering to include:
Consumers don’t want menus to be confined to a time of day. They are very clear about what food they want to eat and often look up a menu prior to arriving at a restaurant to ensure what they want is being provided. The old structure of having separate menus for breakfast, lunch, dinner and in our case a room service menu, is a barrier to accommodating this change in expectation. That is why we recently overhauled our menus to provide just one ‘kitchen’ menu that includes an array of dishes designed to satisfy any appetite. We also have our Odd Socks and Bar & Kitchen offerings that provide for the consumer on the go. This built in ‘to go’ features have become common across many traditional restaurants.
The Oddsocks menu, for instance, aims to cater for all tastes with one strategic and expansive menu. We’ve incorporated a number of different food styles, luxurious food items and traditional classics, ensuring that there is something for everyone, whatever the time of day and mood! This spans from rotisserie style meals and pizzas to delicious Halloumi bites or muscles in tomato, paprika and chorizo broth.
While dining has become a more relaxed affair, it doesn’t mean the menu should be. Given the penchant for eating out more among the masses, consumers want to see a dash of flair – as long as it includes some home comforts. We have recently begun changing our menu every six months to ensure we keep up with this expectation. We organise a week-long cook off with our head chef and a menu engineer to reflect the feedback we receive through our customer satisfaction tools – and Voila! Our new menu is complete.
Our menus have also been updated to reflect the changing dietary requirements and increased awareness around food. At our Oddsocks locations, we’ve incorporated even more gluten free and vegetarian options for foodies and have experimented away from the mundane, making these dishes more exciting than the typical vegetarian risotto or salad options.
Food and drink are now more linked than ever. It’s important for all restaurants to keep up with the latest beverage trends. As evidenced by the all-consuming love affair with prosecco and gin – having the right drink or cocktail available can be the difference between choosing one establishment over another. In fact, similar to the gin revaluation, rum is experiencing a similar surge in popularity, with enthusiasts seeking out the latest venue showcasing the latest selection.
Consumers are almost over-exposed to food these days with the result that some of the mystery around fine dining has been laid bare. And while there is less emphasis now on the white table cloth and the dance of the wine tasting, service and a friendly atmosphere are most definitely deciding factors. Food culture has become more equal. Before, when looking for something cheap and cheerful – expectations around service were low. But now, the notion that high service comes at a high price is not accepted anymore.
All of these changes taking place on the high street are echoing a maturing consumer attitude to food and drink that mirrors a very different lifestyle. The explosive growth of food is a key opportunity for the UK, allowing it to capitalise on its rich regional culture and revive its culinary reputation.
The food revolution is here – we just need to make sure we are at the table.
By Barry Rowland, head of operations at Jurys Inn and Leonardo Hotels UK and Ireland