Previous CGA research after the reopening of hospitality in April showed how operators had scaled back menus to an average of 14 main dishes during outside service—just over half of the pre-COVID average. Operational constraints, unpredictable demand and the risk of wastage in the outdoor-only period all prompted venues to reduce choice.
However, the return of indoor service and the greater freedom to trade has allowed venues to broaden their range again. MealMetrics data shows menus had an average of 30 main dishes on offer in July—more than double the April number. It also indicates that spending on main dishes has increased from pre-COVID levels, with an average of £10.94 paid in July, 14% higher than the average of £9.58 in July 2019. This is in line with CGA research that suggests consumers are willing to make eating out a spending priority after 16 months of lockdowns.
Returning diners also seem to be ordering more starters than they typically did before COVID. Their share of food sales in July was 7% higher than two years ago, while the share of desserts and sides nudged up by 1% each.
Classic dishes continue to dominate mains spending, the research shows. Burgers and steaks each took a 17% share of sales, with roast dinners (13%), chicken dishes (8%) and fish and chips (6%) completing the top five choices. Nachos and calamari are the most popular starters with a sales share of 9% each, just ahead of chicken wings (8%).
The widening of menus is a welcome sign that eating out is starting to return to normal, and it’s encouraging to see that many consumers are spending freely,” says James Ashurst, CGA client director.
“While people are tending to stick to tried and trusted dishes, the growing share of starters suggests that COVID has changed eating habits in subtle but significant ways. Suppliers will need to keep a close eye on evolving preferences and help operators adapt their menus accordingly.”
CGA’s MealMetrics research analyses more than £9bn of till sales data to give suppliers and operators many more insights into dishes and drinks on menus, including distribution, rate of sale, average prices and seasonal trends.