Chris Brown, Turpin Smale Catering Consultancy
As an operator you want distinctive, high quality food that will make you a great margin and keep the customers flocking back. What do most of the small guys do? Buy standard, worthy items from 3663 or Brakes; make a sandwich or two and keep life simple. This may tick the food box but it will win you few friends and even fewer fans.
What are customers looking for? They will be won over by fresh; truly fresh. This means sandwiches that are timed, not dated. Muffins and scones guaranteed baked that day. We all know the wonderful taste sensation of genuine freshly baked with memories of Mum’s kitchen; why should customers be treated to day-old, and frankly stale, sandwiches and scones? Bake-off and bought-in products can be excellent although it is wise to avoid the standard petrol station selection. A small bake-off oven has the added plus of creating that intoxicating aroma of baking.
Customers buy with their eyes – restaurants tend to work off menus; cafes are much simpler affairs. So presentation is really important. The visual cues of plastic packaging = processed = industrial are powerful negatives. You will need to carry out and record a risk analysis to display items ‘au naturel’ but it is not difficult. Just remember everything in life carries risk and don’t be ruled by the vocal 10% who want everything wrapped and chilled to tastelessness.
Like it or not you are up against the major cafe chains with their specialist food innovation teams and advantages of scale. Pret, Starbucks and Costa are innovative and influence the market hugely. You really need to keep abreast of what they are doing or come on one of our London Café Tours. If you haven’t seen panini grill-heated pancakes, large macaroons, cakes on sticks – get with it by following our blog http://greatcafes.blogspot.com/
Retro is in – chocolate bourbons, fig rolls, jaffa cakes, jammy dodgers – and familiar items with a twist. A personal favourite is Peyton & Byrne’s chocolate chip Chelsea bun. Cup cakes have taken the country with their highly visual appeal. Three layer cakes appeal to our innate sense of greed. Standard cakes can be decorated with edible flowers and exotic fruit as so skilfully done at Bill’s Produce Store.
The all day offer of cakes and sweet items is the beauty of this critical menu segment and they go so well with morning, lunchtime and afternoon coffees. Lots of customers just drinking coffee and no sign of cake – you have it wrong and your business will be the poorer for it. One item you just must get hold of is a wedding cake stand. No self-respecting cafŽ is without one as the height and levels hugely assist buying with your eyes. Baking trays, colour, shapes, lighting and natural display materials are the ingredients for a cake display that will sell itself. If you do half as well as London’s Ottolenghi, you will be doing well.
Lunchtime café food almost always involves a low cost base ingredient – rice, mash, hummus, flatbread, sandwiches, wraps, pastry – where that all important margin can be made while still offering the customer great value. Crisps, and now popcorn, are popular incremental sellers. Fresh fruit, and now edamame beans, display your health credentials even if you sell little of them.
Bought-in and baked-off pasties, pies, scotch eggs, sausage rolls and even quiche are all big sellers if of demonstrable quality and fresh from the oven. They may risk your margin but, hey, you have saved on the labour cost.
The question of A1/A3 planning restrictions is a further and unwelcome challenge and if you are going as far as a fitting out a kitchen, take into account the investment and extract ventilation that will be required. Kitchens are clearly a plus but the truth is that few cafes can afford the space, rents and complexity involved. Needless to say Class A1 operators have become expert at ‘ancillary sales of hot food’ and the best provide distinctive, fresh, quality items from spaces that might best be described as ballet in a broom cupboard.
There are two key winning strategies regarding food. Keep it fresh and present it well.
Chris Brown, Turpin Smale Catering Consultancy www.turpinsmale.co.uk