The Operator of the Year for Menu Development, sponsored by Unox, recognises that kitchens aren’t just places for operators to prepare food for customers or guests — they are also a test-bed for devising new menus, product creations and dishes.
This honour will therefore be contested by operators that have enhanced, improved or grown their menus over the past year, recognising the investment that goes into making this happen.
We are delighted to announce that the 2021 shortlist includes the following operators:
Cote Brasserie has endeavoured to enhance its menu while staying true to its ethos of celebrating French classics that are freshly prepared every day. Since the ending of lockdown restrictions, the chain has reopened its restaurants with all the French favourites expected by customers, as well as a series of exciting seasonal dishes. With its beef bourguignon, which is slow-cooked for six hours for maximum taste, chefs have added crisp French bacon to make it even more flavoursome. New items have also been added to its popular brunch menu. Cote has completely reviewed the concept of a modern French brasserie, which has involved looking extensively at consumer needs for the future alongside operational kitchen design to deliver zero gap execution by skilled chefs.
Following a temporary suspension in 2020, Greggs’ new product development pipeline has clicked back into gear in style. The company’s food development team has devised an expanded range of vegan-friendly products, including baguettes and breakfast sausages, as well as options for other diets and dayparts. It continues to offer greater choice in growth categories such as coffee and hot food, reflecting consumer demand for dietary variety. Further progress has been made in developing the health credentials of its products, reducing fat, salt and sugar wherever possible and offering more low-calorie items. It has increased its in-store capabilities with the roll-out of more sophisticated coffee machines that can offer decaffeinated and dairy-free options, while delivery sales have been boosted by sharing-box combinations and additional pizza toppings.
The lockdowns provided valuable time for Loungers’ food team to be in the development kitchen and make significant progress without the need to focus on the day-to-day operations of the business. Simplifying its kitchens had long been one of Loungers’ key priorities and a menu reduction exercise brought about by Covid-19 has really pushed this objective on. While the menus have got smaller, there has been no adverse customer reaction. The dishes have continued to evolve and improve, while the company has achieved quicker delivery of dishes to customers, higher levels of efficiency and simplicity in the kitchens and a reduced number of ingredients. The payback will only increase as it returns to opening restaurants at a run-rate of 25 sites per year.
Known for creating amazing theatre for customers through its creative cocktails, The Alchemist continues to rise to the challenge of producing an all-day dining menu delivered with a twist. Lockdown certainly hasn’t dampened its enthusiasm for developing dishes that support the drinks offer and demonstrate the highest regard for sustainability. Adding to its already successful list of products such as ‘Rubies In the Rubble’ ketchup – made from rescued fruit that would otherwise end up in landfill – the company’s new plant-based burger and ‘Phish Finger’ are the perfect fit for the flexitarian diet. Sourcing unique, innovative quality products which are fun and Instagramable is a priority, with chorizo doughballs with syringes filled with cheese sauce and and handmade skull-themed chocolates capturing the imagination.
Creative menu development has been at the forefront of Tortilla’s strategy as it has rolled out several new restaurants, including a dedicated servery concept for leisure locations, to bolster its status as the largest fast-casual Mexican brand in the UK. Its menu is fully customisable and while the grilled chicken burrito remains its most popular item, the company boasts a growing vegan offer. Its most high-profile new dish, the ‘vegan chilli no carne burrito’, became the fifteenth vegan option out of 21 freshly-prepared toppings and fillings that Tortilla serves when it was unveiled this year. The launch followed a 23% increase in vegan and vegetarian orders at Tortilla, to 16% of mains. More than 70% of the menu is now vegan.
The 2021 FEJ Awards ceremony and gala dinner takes place on Thursday 23 September, the first evening of the Commercial Kitchen show, at the Hilton Canary Wharf.