BRING THE VACATION TO THE STAYCATION

In our other staycation article, we look at how to make your restaurant, bar or cafe standout to customers and bring them an experience they won’t forget. Here, we’re going to take this even further, by giving you some brilliant food, drink and ambiance-creating ideas that will transport your customers to another country, without even boarding a plane.

Hotels and B&Bs are starting to fill up in the UK, with people hungry for some R&R, time with the family and largely, just looking for a change of scenery. From the food and drink to the music and decorations, when customers enter your eatery we need to make them feel like they’ve just stumbled into Spain, got the Eurostar to France or taken a trip over the Atlantic Ocean to America. We need to bring the vacation to the staycation, and give customers the holiday they didn’t realise they were missing. 

ITALY

Italians are known for creating exciting, memorable flavours from just a few ingredients. The base of a lot of pasta dishes are simply garlic, tomato, a herb such as basil or parsley, and olive oil, but it’s the quality of the ingredients that makes them standout. Pizza is a similar story, perfectly baked dough topped with the best mozzarella and fresh basil. The trick to pizza is a good dough and a very hot oven – if you don’t have these, we’d leave it to the professionals. 

The ambiance:

  • Traditional red and white checked tablecloths
  • Italian music playing softly in the background
  • Tins (usually empty chopped tomatoes) placed on tables holding napkins or with potted herbs.
  • Simple candles in glass pots
  • Blackboards with the menu or specials on
  • Wine bottles as decoration

The food:

  • Start with focaccia or fresh bread, golden olive oil and flakey salt. A platter of cured prosciutto and salami, burrata cheese, giant capers, olives, and breadsticks or crostini
  • For the main serve Cacio e Pepe (cheesy black pepper sauce), Bucatini all’Amatriciana (spicy tomato sauce), Frutti di Mare (seafood pasta), Risotto ai Funghi (mushroom risotto), or Saltimbocca alla Romana (veal wrapped in prosciutto and cooked in white wine and sage)
  • Grilled vegetables like aubergine and courgette are very common, as are artichokes. A traditional Panzanella salad with pieces of stale but moistened bread, with the tomatoes, onions, or basil, olives and olive oil, is always a great addition
  • Keep dessert simple with a Semifreddo, Tiramisu, Gelato or coffee with Amaretti biscuit

The drink:

  • Start with a typical aperitif such as a Negroni or Bellini
  • Try to match the wine with the food where you can but Trebbiano, Valpolicella, Montepulciano or Prosecco are always excellent choices
  • Finish in true Italian style with a Digestivo like Limoncello or Montenegro

FRANCE

French restaurants vary between fine dining and bistro, whichever is more suited to you, go with it. When you think of France, you think of cheese, baguettes and dare we say it, snails, but there are so many wonderful delicacies to excite your customers with.

The ambiance: 

  • Choose your colour theme, usually red or black and white
  • Use tablecloths and big napkins to add a touch of sophistication
  • Play French music in the background or have a live act.
  • Place candles on the tables
  • Blackboards with the menu or specials on
  • If you can find some great French artwork, place it around the restaurant

The food:

  • Start with smoked salmon blinis, oysters if you’re near the sea, charcuterie boards, french onion soup or a warm baked camembert. Fresh baguettes are a must
  • Keep it classic with Steak Frites with a Béarnaise sauce, a slow cooked Boeuf Bourguignon or Chicken Basque. For fish eaters, how about a Bouillabaisse (seafood stew) or Salmon en Croute – you could also make this vegan by swapping the filling for butternut squash, spinach and hazelnut or a wild mushroom mix
  • The French put a lot of care and attention into their desserts: Think Macarons, Apple Tatin, Crème brûlée or a Soufflé – if you’re daring enough

The drinks:

  • Start with Kir Royale (a combination of sparkling wine, crème de cassis and black currant liqueur)
  • Wine: St Emilion, Côtes du Rhônes, Chablis or Sauvignon blanc
  • Finish with a Grand Marnier, Cointreau or Chambord

SPAIN

Spain is all about sharing plates. From small tapas to giant Paellas, food is something to enjoy together. Why have one thing when you can taste a bit of everything? That’s the spanish culture through and through, laid back and very giving. They live in a totally different time zone though, with many people not sitting down to dinner until around 10pm – but we won’t adopt that characteristic. 

The ambiance:

  • Red or white tablecloths.
  • Little on the table, just glasses, a napkin and cutlery – save room for all the dishes.
  • Spanish music or a live band.

The food:

  • They don’t really do starters and mains, rather a selection of tapas that continue to come out when they’re ready. A few favourites include: Pil Pil Prawns (prawns cooked with garlic, chilli and olive oil), Croquetas de Jamón Serrano (Spanish ham croquettes), Pulpo a la Gallega (boiled octopus on top of sliced potatoes, topped with paprika, olive oil and salt), Pan Con Tomate (crusty bread with tomatoes crushed on top, and olive oil), fried calamari, Jamón and Manchego. Of course a Spanish Omelette is a must and a Paella is a wonderful idea – especially as people can pre-order this. Why not offer meat, seafood and a vegetarian/vegan option?
  • Spain isn’t really known for its sweet treats but there are a few: Tarta de Aceite (Olive Oil Cake), Churros (like donuts), Crema Catalana (a Spanish take on a Crème brûlée).

The drink:

  • Start with Mojito, Sangria, Tinto de Verano (red wine and lemonade), beer (or a Cerveza as they would say).
  • The Spanish are big lovers of Cava but also do some great wines: Verdejo, Rioja, Monastrell or Albariño.
  • Top it off with Vermút (a fragrant liquor) or even some more Cava… I said they like Cava.

MEXICO

Mexico is certainly one to have some fun with. From the food to the music and the outfits, this is one to throw yourself into completely. 

The ambiance:

  • Dress the waiters and waitresses in Sombreros and Ponchos
  • Get a few Sombreros for customers to wear if they wish.
  • Mexican music is always very fun and great to get people moving – after dinner dance?
  • Pre-dinner game of Pinata to break the ice

The food:

  • Start with nachos, lots of homemade guacamole, salsa, and sour cream. Offer toppings such as spicy beef, cheese, jalapeños, black beans, and pulled chicken
  • For something more refined go for a marinated shrimp salad (like a ceviche, with peppers, tomatoes and onions)
  • Tacos and fajitas are the way to go for a true Mexican evening. Offer a variety of fillings such as slow cooked shredded pork, steak, pulled chicken, lentils, tofu, and lots of peppers and onions
  • If you’re going for fish, why not try a white fish like tilapia and serve it with a classic salsa of corn, peppes, spring onion and black beans
  • Puddings have a real crossover with America and Spain, with sweets like Churros and Flans rating highly. Something slightly different is the Tres Leches Cake (a cake made with three milks), or a Margarita pie – if they haven’t had enough…

The drink:

  • Mexico is another one famous for its love of cocktails, made mostly using tequila. Here are a few of our favourites: Margarita, Paloma, Michelada (a beer cocktail), Cerveza Margarita (beer and Margarita together, almost like a Desperado – these are also a good, easy option)

AMERICA

Most people just think of meat, fried food and big portions when they think of America. While that’s true, America is a bit like England in the way that they have lots of restaurants offering lots of different cuisines. But we want the proper, Texas BBQ type for our menu.

The ambiance:

  • Go big with everything: Big wooden sharing boards, big pots for dips…
  • Paper napkins (American food can get messy, as people eat with their hands)
  • Serve food on plates or trays with a beige paper under it
  • Diners can add bold red stalls if they can find them too
  • Country music in the background is a nice touch

The food:

  • A proper Texas BBQ is a big platter of meats with lots of sides and sauces: ribs, steaks, pulled pork, and slow cooked brisket.
  • Serve with white bread or corn bread, corn on the cob, pickles, raw onions, coleslaw and jalapeños
  • For vegans, offer a meat-free burger or BBQ’d cauliflower steak, well seasoned with similar spices to the meat
  • Get some dips in too: BBQ sauce, blue cheese sauce, Ranch dressing – you could even go South American with a guacamole or salsa
  • Puddings are just as filling: Peach bellini cobbler, lemon meringue pie or pecan pie

The drinks:

  • Start off strong: Martini or a Manhattan
  • Milkshakes – maybe a thick one for pudding or a small one to start? Even with a shot of something strong in it…
  • Cocktails are a true theme: Cosmopolitan, Tequila Sunrise, Long Island Iced Tea…
  • Finish with something whiskey or bourbon – Jack Daniels or an Old Fashioned cocktail

The idea is to take your customers on a journey from the minute they come to your eatery to the minute they leave. It’s all about the small touches and attention to detail that make a difference. We supply a lot of the ingredients needed to put these menus together, just choose your country and get creative!

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