For many people, Christmas is a time for a little indulgence. As a result, the eating-out market tends to fare well in December, when consumers are celebrating the festivities. Our CREST® panel shows consumers in Great Britain are much more willing to splurge on more expensive meals out in December, with average spend increasing +14.3% in December compared to the other 11 months of the year. In addition to seeing consumers spend more during the festive season, we are also seeing increased visits. Growth has accelerated in December, with visits up +5.1% in the past five years compared to January through November, which have only grown +3.3% in this time. This has come partly about through an uptake of chains offering limited-time Christmas menus. Our U.K. foodservice industry experts have an eye on what’s happening this Christmas season. Here is a look at what they’re watching.

Seafood swimming onto Christmas menus

2019 is the first year we’ve seen fish appear in a big way on Christmas menus, and it made us wonder, is fish the new turkey? It’s no secret that turkey isn’t the nation’s favourite protein — it’s possible that we only eat so much of it around this time of year because we’re bound by tradition! Pret A Manger has led the movement into more interesting proteins by introducing two new festive fish dishes (Lobster Roll and Fish Pie Macaroni Cheese) which break the mould from the traditional smoked salmon and cream cheese. However, consumers will have to fork out a 55% premium on top of other Christmas dishes, with the average cost of the fish dishes being £5.87; non-fish dishes cost only £3.75 on average in Pret A Manger.

Seasonal drinks: sugar and spice and
all things nice

This year’s array of festive drinks has more variety and flavour than we saw in years past, including gingerbread, caramel, almond, and honeycomb-flavoured hot chocolates. Choice has widened to include dairy-free milk alternatives, often offered at no extra cost. In addition, Café Nero has introduced a  selection of build-your-own Christmas drinks, where the customer can add whipped cream and marshmallows for an additional cost. Away from hot chocolate, this year’s seasonal coffee flavours include cinnamon, nutmeg, and gingerbread. Meanwhile, Costa Coffee has released a Christmas Tea blended with winter spices. Seasonal drinks can cost between 5% and 20% more than standard drinks.

Breaking the mould this Christmas

This year, a number of less-traditional Christmas products have been introduced by QSR operators in an attempt to excite increasingly adventurous seasonal buyers. Leon’s Turkey Curry is a standout among these new Christmas offerings, featuring seasonal veg (carrots and parsnips) and served in a box with the tagline, “Every day is Boxing Day this Christmas.” Meanwhile, Pret are offering a Pigs on a Blanket Muffin, with cranberry and clementine sauce. KFC have introduced a festive box meal this Christmas that includes a Festive Burger topped with cranberry sauce, which can be bought with Festive Fries, which are sprinkled with a smoky seasoning of pepper, toasted onions, garlic, and herbs. The standard Christmas sandwiches are up against some strong competition this year as QSR operators up their festive game and add new, exciting Christmas alternatives for consumers to try.

Christmas is the time to be charitable

Christmas is about giving back, and operators are tapping into this by partnering with charity organisations. M&S has again partnered with homeless charity, Shelter, for its range of festive special sandwiches, with 5% of the sales going to Shelter. Last year this amounted to a total of £700,000. The sandwiches cost £3.60 or £3.90 in central London outlets, meaning they retail for a slightly higher price than the regular range, typically priced at £3.50.

Coco Di Mama is another brand that is asking customers to be charitable. 25p from the chain’s Christmas specials go to their charity partner, The Felix Project, to help feed hungry Londoners. Pret’s Christmas lunches also donate 50p to the homeless through the Pret Foundation. The festive Christmas Lunch sandwich comes priced at £3.95, compared to £3.29 for a regular BLT sandwich. Christmas is a time to highlight charitable credentials, and also an opportunity to push up customer spend!