David Wilkinson - 02 Aug 2016

The Banqueting Menu – from Planning to Plate

Chef, One Great George StreetOne of our biggest undertakings of the year is without doubt the writing of the banqueting menu. At the moment we are right in the middle of the main of period of menu writing, but the process started months ago and will continue for a few more months to come. To be honest by the time the new menu comes into operation in January 2017 it will feel like an old friend and we will be comfortable and confident with our new dishes. Strange as it may seem, the process of creating the next year’s menu starts with the first function of the year in January. We will be looking at the customer’s menu choices to see what information we can learn. Have they gone for the new dishes or stuck with what they know? What combinations have they chosen? Are they choosing safe options or being bold?

We then spend the first quarter of the year building up a picture of how the menu is performing and, if necessary, making a few tweaks if something isn’t quite right. Even with the best planning in the world a dish sometimes just needs a small adjustment to make it right. This is however one of the beauties of working at One Great George Street because as a standalone venue we have complete control over all aspects of food purchasing and production, something that is surprisingly rare in our sector.

When we are happy that everything is right we sit back and observe until about the end of May when we will start to think about the new menu in earnest. By this time we will have built up quite a dossier of information and without exception there will always be surprises as to what’s hot and what’s not. Inevitably there will be dishes that you never really thought would be big sellers but the customers can’t get enough of, and others that you thought were bankers that have never made it onto a function sheet.

At the beginning of June I send out an email to everyone at One Great George Street who has a connection with or an influence over the menu and ask them for their feedback. This ‘menu team’ includes the front of house catering team, the sales and marketing department, the events team and my boss, The Director of One Great George Street, Gary Payne. In this way we are able to build a clearer picture of how the menu is performing from a number of unique perspectives because the menu will affect them all in different ways.

In this way we can find out what it’s like to serve, what the customers initial reaction is when they see and eat the food, what people get excited about when they are only reading the menu and what trends and styles customers are asking about when they make an enquiry. Also invaluable to us is the information that our marketing team gather through networking events where they can find out what innovations other venues have introduced and of course see how our food compares to the competition. If you think of the menu as a skeleton then all the information we gather is the flesh on the bones and it’s only when you can see the whole beast that you can really understand how it lives and breathes.

By this time it’s mid-July and the kitchen’s work really begins. We review all the information given to us and then meet with Gary Payne to discuss how to take the brochure forward. Of course we discuss the food but we also take about trends, layout, pricing and formatting. I then sit down with the Head Chef Charlene and Sous Chef Amanda to go through the menu dish by dish to decide what we are keeping, what needs tweaking and which dishes are being kicked into touch. Once we have established our focus we go our own ways for a week or so to research new ideas.

Then the fun starts. Over about a week we throw all our ideas into the ring and eventually, after many cups of coffee and a lot of very unhealthy snacks, we produce a whole new menu. By about the second week of August we’ll have it typed up and I’ll submit it to Gary for the first reading and it will feel like the menu is done for another year.

Truth is there are a lot more T’s to cross and I’s to dot. We will need to establish a recipe and presentation for all the new dishes, do tastings, take photographs and produce an allergen document to name a few. Then, sometime in the autumn the menu will be sent off to the designers / printers and our work will be done until January, when the whole process starts again.

How would you like to be a part of the menu writing process this year? If you have used the banqueting facilities here at One Great George Street in 2016 I would love to hear your feedback on the menu. Contact me by using the form below, and perhaps you could influence what our customers will be eating in 2017.

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