Helping customers forget their woes this Burns Night

Signature is one of the operators aiming to make the most of Burns

Poetry in motion: Signature, which operates 24 venues around Scotland, will be offering customers a range of dishes and drinks ahead of Burns Night on 25th January.

ROBERT Burns – no stranger to the on-trade in his day – wrote that whisky will ‘make a man forget his woe’ and ‘heighten all his joy’, writes Dave Hunter.

At the beginning of what will likely be another tough year for the trade and general public alike, that’s likely to be an appealing proposition to many. Who couldn’t use a little less woe and a little more joy, after all?

Signature Group, which operates 24 venues around Scotland, will be one of the companies encouraging its customers to forget their woes this month when it introduces Burns-themed food and drink offers across its estate.

Here, the company’s executive sous chef, Graeme Windsor, and Murray Tavendale, general manager of Signature’s Edinburgh venue, McLarens on the Corner, detail what the group is up to ahead of the bard’s birthday.

How big an opportunity does Burns Night present to bars and pubs as a tool for driving whisky sales in particular?

GW: With all 24 of our Signature Group venues being located throughout Scotland, Burns Night is key for us to drive our whisky sales. It presents the opportunity to be experimental in our drinks, cocktail and food offering, as our chefs and bartenders are able to work with whiskies and play with flavour to create dishes and drinks that will bring something new to the table.

With this occasion, we like to create accessible packages for our customers to sample a haggis dish followed by a selected dram.

What do you expect to be the most popular drinks and serves in the on-trade this Burns Night?

MT: One of our Edinburgh venues, McLarens on the Corner, has partnered with Highland Park to create some delicious whisky cocktails this Burns Night, with three carefully crafted serves using Highland Park 12.

Customers can choose from a Penicillin made using ginger, honey, lemon and Lapsang Souchong tea served in a smoke filled cloche, warm up with a Highland Hot Toddy or enjoy a traditional Old Fashioned.

Can you provide any Burns Night food pairing suggestions (and they don’t have to include haggis!)

GW: For those looking to try something different this Burns Night, we’d suggest pairing a plate of traditional haggis, neeps and tatties with a cold, crisp, Cold Town Beer.

Haggis is incredibly versatile, which some of our more experimental dishes can prove. In previous years we’ve tied Burns Night with Chinese New Year and offered a pan-Asian crossover at our venue Element on Rose Street, Edinburgh.

Our haggis bao buns with crispy haggis, crushed carrot, neeps and a gravy mayo are a massive hit. On top of that, McLarens on the Corner offers Balmoral lolly-pops and Meadowpark in Bridge of Allan serves a haggis, neeps and tatties slider, made up of matchstick fries, a haggis patty and neeps ketchup.

Across our venues we consistently monitor and profile our customer base so we can continue to create appealing offers.

For some venues, an exclusive three-course Burns menu for one night will work and for others incorporating a haggis inspired dish to the current menu will be all you need.

It’s important to consider that haggis, whilst versatile, isn’t for everyone and therefore our menus must reflect this and offer something that boasts a Scottish twist, but caters to all.

With the cost of living biting, encouraging customers out of their homes may be even harder than usual this January. What advice can you provide other operators to help them make a feature of Burns Night and drive footfall into their premises?

GW: Burns Night is one of our most ‘local’ celebrations of the year and where possible, Signature Group will source our ingredients locally which means that we are buying haggis from Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Stirling-based suppliers. We know it is becoming increasingly important for consumers to see their favourite cafes, bars and restaurants supporting their local suppliers where possible and we encourage other operators to follow suit where they can.

In terms of offers, providing a package and creating something attractive for consumers that is accessible in terms of price and provides a full-rounded experience will be key in driving footfall.

Unlike Christmas and New Year, Burns can often be disregarded or remembered at the last minute, so it’s important for operators to encourage their customers to get out and enjoy the celebrations in advance of the 25th of January.