Pub and restaurant operators and other caterers have widened menu price ranges in a response to the economic downturn.

The research from foodservice consultancy Allergra Strategies, revealed at the inaugural Development Chef Summit organised by M&C Report’s sister title Restaurant magazine, found that starter entry prices were down 1.9% while exit prices were up by 3.7% in data to February last year. The gap in the cost of main dishes was more pronounced with starting prices down 3.7% and top prices up 3.5%.

Desserts were 3.5% down on entry and 1.2% up on exit with side dishes the only course found to have only increased - entry prices were up 1.4% and topped at plus 2.2%.

To October last year prices have only gone up, again with side dishes displaying the biggest rises - entry price is up 5% and exit up 3.4% with the average also coming in at the highest increase of all courses at 4% up.

Starters entry prices are up 4.3%, exit up 1.5%, mains 0.7% and 4.1% and desserts 5.7% and 2.9% respectively. Average course prices are kept flat to protect value proposition while entry prices are targeted for price rises as business confidence increases.

“Menu engineering is very important for consumers who are looking for more,” said foodservice strategy director Simon Stenning.

One of the biggest factors facing the hospitality sector in coming years is the UK’s ageing population. Between 2010 and 2020 the number of 15 to 24-year-olds will decrease by 8.8% resulting in an estimated 3% fall in total meals eaten out a week by 2020 while the number of over-65s will increase by 23.3% equating to a 65% growth in meals eaten out by 2020.

“Knowing how to deal with an ageing population is a real problem,” said Stenning. “It is not just a case of dealing with older people as grandparents will take their grandchildren out.”

Stenning emphasised the need for a further split of demographic data to account for the differences between 65+ and 75+ caused by later retirement ages and subsequent greater disposable income until later in life.

Other long term consumer trends impacting the hospitality sector include healthier eating (46%), more knowledgable and demanding customers (45%), price and value consciousness (44% / 36%) and growing ‘food culture’ (35%).

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