People occasionally ask me what the “K” in my “BKR” soubriquet stands for. If you asked me today, the answer would be “Ebeneezer” as I have a tale of Christmas humbug for you.
Last year, we published a little guide to Christmas menus, and indeed included a section for those seeking to eschew the festivities. This year, when it came time to write a similar piece, I paused for thought. And here’s why: I think Christmas menus are a really bad idea.
This may not be a popular notion, particularly with restaurateurs, but a strong part of my motivation in airing this view is that I think restaurants are selling themselves short. Why do December menus need to be so much less merry than during the other eleven months of the year?
For a considerable chunk of the population, December is still one of the main occasions when they eat out. Prior to questing, December was always easily my busiest month for restaurant visits. What people experience, both in terms of quality and price (i.e. value) is totally atypical from the excellence on offer at other times of the year. If restaurants want December diners to become valued year-round customers, they need to have a long hard look at their festive offerings.
I offer three examples, without naming names. Firstly, I tried to book a lunch at the start of December, this year. I airily asked “still serving your usual lunchtime menu?” Indeed they were not. They were serving their “Christmas menu”. It looked remarkably like their regular menu, with the addition of turkey as a main course, Christmas pudding as a dessert, and a fiver to the price.
Part of my dissatisfaction with this Christmas caper is illustrated by my second example: Edinburgh has August (Festival time) for this type of thing. Restaurants are quite apt to raise their prices during the Festival, to capitalise on our bonanza of tartan trouser-wearing Americans and other overseas visitors. Indeed one place raised its lunchtime prices by £3, in honour of the occasion, this year. For good measure, they’ve whacked another £7 on top of that for their Christmas lunchtime costs.
And just yesterday, I was walking past a place that was proclaiming its excellent December lunchtime value. Their “offer” cost more than double what they usually charge for a set lunch menu.
I am not usually so Scrooge McDuck minded, by any manner of means. All I want is for places to offer value, places to show themselves to best advantage, and for lunchers and diners to be given the opportunity to have the best possible chance to enjoy themselves in all of Edinburgh’s excellent eating venues.
Now I’m convinced there are arguments to support the current practice, particularly in our current tough economic climate: large group bookings can be challenging for places; late cancellations, the bane of a many small restaurant’s life, can be a real pain; and taking the same approach of sourcing local, seasonal, profuse (and cheaper) ingredients, at this time of year, can be more challenging, particularly if everyone wants to eat turkey. Taking advance deposits addresses some of this, but I accept doesn’t solve everything.
I’ve offered some thoughts, and I’d be very interested to hear the views of others, as I think this is something that requires some debate.
I want December dining in Edinburgh to be as merry and bright as it is the rest of the year. I’m not convinced that the current crop of festive menus offer this.