McMullen & Sons food chief Lee Brooks admits that designing new menu items during lockdown was something of an emotional rollercoaster – with his team still not entirely certain if some of its creations will ever see the light of day.
The pub chain’s 130 sites are all now trading again after what has been a turbulent 12 months for the industry, with operators having to contend with social distancing restrictions and temporary closures.
Asked if the pandemic has forced through a significant amount of menu change for the business, Mr Brooks said: “When we first went into lockdown we were working on smaller menus for when we came out the other side, removing some of the complex dishes, our lower selling dishes, just so we could focus on getting open.
“Very quickly after coming out of the first lockdown we realised we had the scope, manpower and kitchen team that could put our menus back. But obviously we then went back into a lockdown, at which point pretty much all of our concepts had new menus developed.”
Mr Brooks said that special menus were created in advance of Veganuary, for instance, but customers never got to sample the dishes due to the hospitality sector being closed.
“I couldn’t even tell you how many hours we spent developing dishes that we’re really proud of, but we will use them, they won’t go to waste. To a point it was the same with Christmas – we spent so much time getting our Christmas menus ready in the first lockdown, thinking we’d get to use them, but I think we ended up using some of them for a week.
“We’ve developed a lot of menus, some have not been used, some I hope to reuse and some will never be used! It’s a bit of an emotional rollercoaster really – it’s satisfying work and I don’t feel like it’s been a waste of time, but if they haven’t been used there is that question of whether those dishes will still be relevant in 12 months because that is a long time in food. The big question when we go to use them is will these dishes be good enough and stand the test of time? We won’t know the answer to that until January!”