Garden centres urged to 'menu engineer'

Menu engineering is the new buzz-phrase in garden centre restaurants, experts told HW at the HTA Catering Conference in Bromsgrove earlier this month.

Look for smaller steaks, potatoes instead of rice and tighter portions, chefs and industry experts said. They said fighting obesity, reducing food waste and going seasonal and homegrown are useful trends to justify smaller portions.

Searcy chief executive Duncan Ackery, who runs restaurants at venues including Tate art galleries and Bath Pump Rooms, said: "It's about being clever with your menus - value engineering and looking at your cuts. Fish has gone up 35 per cent and meat nearly as much, and the price for 1kg of rice is £5.50, which is astonishing. Fruit and vegetables are 20 per cent up at least.

"So we're looking at tougher portion control and less wastage. We're looking at dishes with a high-value protein element being slightly reduced."

TV chef Mike Robinson, who runs the Pot Kiln restaurant in Berkshire, said growing - and shooting - your own is the answer to recession and inflation: "We grow salad and young veg for seven or eight months of the year for our kitchen. Wild venison has gone up in price but I shoot my own nearby."

Food industry commentator Peter Martin said large catering companies are buying futures - buying a long way ahead to control prices. He said: "Everything is going up. Red meat is being replaced by chicken and kitchens are using other staples than rice."

Turpin Smale Foodservice Consultancy co-owner Chris Brown said: "Caterers will use the obesity line to justify cutting portions. Menu engineering is the phrase on everyone's lips at the moment."

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