Tilda is encouraging caterers to be more adventurous in the kitchen by harnessing the versatility of rice to spice up the appeal of traditional Christmas favourites.

Mark Lyddy, Tilda’s Head of Foodservice, says: “Caterers have to be that little bit more creative with their menus this year because spending will be tighter than ever at a difficult time for the economy so they will really have to work hard at getting customers to spend at Christmas.

“It is the time of year when consumers will be looking for traditional dishes as usual but there is a real opportunity for caterers to surprise and delight them by offering new takes on established styles of festive fare. This will help refresh and update the appeal of the festive dining occasion and broaden the appeal of seasonal menus.

“There are lots of ways that caterers can transform seasonal favourites by giving them a modern touch, perhaps simply by changing one of the key ingredients to give an established dish a makeover and create something quite different. For example, caterers could serve up something really new and contemporary, such as a Basmati Christmas cake, which will appeal to people who don’t like traditional Christmas cake and there are many of them out there!

“Such a unique culinary approach will stimulate the taste buds of diners, encourage more of them to sample new dishes and create consumer interest and ‘noise’ around the outlet which can only be good for business in the long term.

“It is particularly important for caterers to stand out from the crowd this Christmas because the business is so competitive at the moment and so everybody is fighting for the huge amount of revenue that will be up for grabs. Christmas is a key time because it represents such a big share of their annual business and getting the festive menu right is very important commercially because it has such a major impact on profitability.

Tackling the ‘Christmas Menu Challenge’:
Lyddy says the versatility of rice can help caterers tackle the “Christmas challenge” – by offering food that will be relevant to the growing number of non-meat eaters. “Christmas menus tend to put the focus on meat dishes, because turkey is often at the heart of the meal, but it is also a time of year when outlets need to engage with vegetarians and non-meat eaters.

“Risotto really comes into its own at this time of year because it is a perfect option for a starter or as a vegetarian main – helping outlets cater for the growing number of vegetarians. This easy-to-prepare dish provides chefs with the opportunity to excite and engage their veggie customers as well as appealing to customers wanting a slightly healthier and lighter dining option.”

Not ‘The Time to Cut Corners’:
Tilda is also warning that caterers should not cut corners at Christmas by downgrading their rice offering to save money. “Ultimately, this approach is a false economy. We appreciate that caterers have faced growing cost pressures over the past couple of years, on top of a highly-challenging economy, so are having to make savings in terms of the ingredient costs.

“However, rice is such an important element, particularly with regard to the curry experience, that it is important not to go for a cheaper option because it may well prove costly in the long run as a poor quality rice will inevitably undermine the overall enjoyment of the meal.

“Caterers should focus on premium products at Christmas because it is the time of year when more people eat out, so is a real opportunity to showcase the quality of the experience. It makes no sense to risk serving up an inferior offering just to save money on ingredients!

“Some chefs look at the price of a bag of rice but that’s really not the ultimate cost: they need to consider the yield once they actually cook it, take it out of the pan and see how much is stuck to the surface! The great thing about Tilda is that the yield is consistent so the cost to operators is always the same and this helps them plan budgets with total confidence in terms of ingredient costings.”

Looking ahead to the festive season, Lyddy says the economic situation and pressure on consumer spending will continue to have an impact on eating out trends in the final months of 2012.

“Some consumers think that rice only has a festive role in the days following Christmas when it is traditionally used as part of the turkey curry offering that is normally prepared from festive leftovers!

“However, we would like to think that rice has a much bigger role to play as part of the Christmas eating experience – and we hope that caterers will appreciate that and take steps to be more creative this year. Caterers who try to be distinctive and different with their menu will see the benefits during what is going to be another highly-competitive Christmas trading period.”

Click here for our fantastic Basmati Christmas Cake recipe.