Christmas Presence

Joy to the world, December is in full swing – our industry comes alive! I love it. One of the best bits of Christmas is researching what brands are doing to make the most of the party season such as an advent calendar of seasonal marketing. Everyone’s chasing the Christmas leisure pound but, with a recent article in The Times suggesting Christmas as we know it has started later and slower this year, the smart, seasonal marketing will make all the difference. 

One noticeable element when searching online is the prevalence of Christmas-themed bottomless brunches. This is the experiential Christmas with brunches out catering to all tastes. A few minutes of Googling brings up plenty of options, from a 90s-themed brunch to a naughty Santa-themed version (there is even a Muppets theme), with many traditional options in between.

Elsewhere, arguably the best tactical marketing to be seen is at Greggs, which has been selling Christmas merchandise including sausage roll phone cases (jumping on the cemented ‘secret Santa’ phenomenon) and Greggs-branded Christmas jumpers (smart with the growing interest in Christmas Jumper Day). Spot the trend and align to your brand. Clever and not too complicated.

In terms of quick service restaurants one major brand that’s really dialled up the novelty factor is Eat, with a roast dinner in a Yorkshire pudding wrap, a Keralan turkey curry and pots of pigs in blankets. Pret has really pushed the boat out too, as you might expect, with the introduction of seasonal drinks (an indulgent crème brulee latte and mint choc chip latte) offered alongside Christmas lunch baguettes, festive salads and mince pie cookies.

This season has seen brands apply a Christmas “twist” to their offer once again, particularly within fast casual. Subway is serving a Christmas Cracker sub with turkey, bacon, cranberry, orange chutney, sage, stuffing and gravy. All the trimmings – the novelty’s nice but perhaps not a perfect fit for its fast casual, time-poor audience.

McDonald’s approach has been smarter, linking the value of its late-saver menu to the big night out occasions prevalent during Christmas. One line from its social media marketing – “grab a late-saver menu snack and still have enough money for a taxi ho-ho-home” summed it up – helping McDonald’s become front of mind with carb-craving revellers attending Christmas parties.

Christmas represents great commercial opportunity but also great responsibility. What has been heartening is the increasing number of brands offering free drinks to designated drivers; far too many to name but hats off to the likes of Casual Dining Group and Greene King, who have really embraced the principle.

The ethos of doing the basics right rings particularly true at Christmas. Some of our (super talented) research and insights team were at Westfield London last weekend conducting research for one of our clients. They returned enthusiastic about Bill’s and its ability to ensure it had a core basic right – opening. Bill’s was the only breakfast to be found inside the shopping centre – benefiting from families who had come in early to visit Santa’s Grotto before many shops had opened their doors. Bill’s was one of few brands in the vicinity with the nous to see there is more to footfall than simply looking at retail opening hours and aligning accordingly.

In the final days building to 25 December, rather than preparing a turkey feast some of us keen to avoid the hassle of cooking and washing up are booking Christmas dinner out. Recent research by Worldpay showed spend in restaurants on Christmas Day increased 5.7% in 2017. This year brands including Toby Carvery, Miller & Carter and PizzaExpress have capitalised on this trend by offering Christmas Day set menus consisting (mainly) of festive twists on core dishes.

Giggling Squid’s approach to Christmas Day is bold – bucking the trend of tradition and keeping on-brand with a fully Thai menu – perhaps one that will appeal to experiential-seeking millennials? Perhaps we’ll see a rise in non-traditional Christmas dinners in 2019 as consumers continue to nurture more exotic pallets. I am also interested to see how Deliveroo performs this Christmas.

It’s encouraging to see many brands are offering something different this Christmas in a bid to stand out for the increasingly promiscuous consumer. Moving towards the Christmas periods of 2019-20, I wonder if our sector will be offering more all-vegan Christmas menus, less traditional flavours and focusing on zero waste innovations. Perhaps we’ll leave that to their new year’s resolutions.


Written by Ann Elliott.