After a month of overindulgence, many people decide January is the time for a detox. But it can be a difficult time for us in the pub trade as we try to entice in people who are counting the calories.
The trick could lie in how you phrase your menu. It's the way you sell 'em, and if you can describe your healthy dishes in a way that makes them sound like a treat, you could get the year off to a great start.
It's not just those choosing to cut out the fat we need to give special consideration to in in January. Many will take on the challenge of Veganuary again this year, so it's important to cater for all diets.
With the UK having discovered healthy eating in a big way in recent years, there are more options than ever before when it comes to creating a health-conscious menu. The problem we face is that when people think of going out to treat themselves to a meal, they tend to think of the kind of fatty and sugary fare that pubs are renowned for. Beer-battered fish & chips, 28-day aged steak and hand-cut chips, gooey sticky toffee pudding with lashings of cream... all pub classics with good reason, but hardly the kind of menu to pull in someone on a health kick.
At this time of year, maybe we need to rethink how we promote our menus. As well as offering new dishes, this could also include putting some of the healthier dishes on the specials board, so customers are given the options as soon as they walk through the door.
Annette Coggins, head of Foodservice at Tilda UK, says: "When it comes to boosting the appeal of healthy dishes, how operators describe them on their menus can make all the difference.
"Our independent research shows by using flavourful words, operators can sway customers towards certain dishes. The tastier they sound the more consumers will be willing to pay – even as much as £2 more! An easy way to drive higher margins.
"For example, if a menu includes 'Salmon & Kale with a Rice Salad', adding in the authenticity and provenance of the dish can help operators appeal to 78 per cent of consumers. What's more, 75 per cent would choose a dish that highlights the rice variety, e.g. Basmati, Jasmine or Arborio, over one that simply says 'rice'."
Put them in the picture
And it's not just the words on the menu that can help sway your healthy customers – images, too, are key to driving up profits.
Aaron Goldstraw is head of purchasing at Oliver Kay Produce. He says: "It is key that vibrant images and videos of tempting healthier dishes and the colourful fresh produce being used to create them are featured on social media channels during January, so customers know that a night on a diet doesn't need to mean a night in."
He also recommends pub caterers embrace well-known superfoods on January menus such as kale, spinach, watercress and blueberries or gut-friendly foods like peas, banana or ginger, adding: "Consider the health benefits of the ingredients you are using and communicate these in menu descriptions, such as "spicy, gut-friendly kimchi."
Healthy desserts are another challenge for pub chefs. You could try fruit-based treats or sorbets as a way to cut out the cream, or cut the calorie count by offering smaller mini-desserts.
Anna Sentance, gourmet marketing manager for Callebaut UK and Ireland, adds: "The new year brings fresh opportunities for operators to offer something a little different. To keep up with evolving dietary requirements, gluten-free alternatives and vegan options are key to catering for those with allergies as well as those who choose to consume alternative diets. More people than ever before are expected to sign up to Veganuary this year. Now is the time for caterers to review their menus and ensure these lifestyle choices are met."
HOW TO SELL YOUR HEALTHY DISHES
Offer a ''Saints and Sinners' section or whole menu with options for those on a health kick and those who aren't.
Communicate the freshness, seasonality, Britishness or localness of produce wherever possible in menu descriptions.Add personality to vegetable and fruit descriptions where possible, such as Popeye's favourite spinach, or gut-friendly garlic or ginger.
Really sell the ingredients by using words such as flavour-packed, tender, freshly picked, juicy and hearty.Use recognisable menu terms to describe vegan dishes such as; 'Minted lamb seitan roast', cauliflower 'wings', butternut 'steak' or vegan 'beef', 'chicken' or 'cheese'.
Offer a money off the bill voucher for those taking part in any health and wellbeing activities you are hosting, such as yoga, or new clubs at your pub in January.
Give people ordering two-courses from healthier options in January a bounce back voucher to enjoy a free dessert in February when ordering a main course.