Monday, 30 July 2012

Back in the deep, dark days of January - Inapub March 2012

In the deep, dark days of January, I tried to book a table for four on a Saturday night at a number of Surrey’s more food-focused pubs. Since we was almost a month past Christmas, and still a week until the first payday of 2102, I hadn’t anticipated it being too much of problem.

The first pub I tried said it was fully booked in theory, since they had a number of large parties booked, but added we were welcome to turn up and try our luck, since they “might be able to squeeze us in”. That didn’t really appeal as a plan, so I tried a second pub, which was honest enough to admit they were booked out. That was enough to convince me that the received wisdom, that January is a quiet time for the trade, doesn’t always hold true.

At the third pub I tried, a member of staff cheerfully took my booking, only for one of his colleagues to call me back 10 minutes later to say that the pub was closed on the night in question for a private function. The fourth took my booking, including a name and phone number, and all seemed well.

However, when we turned up and confidently announced ourselves, we were met by puzzled stares, full tables and staff who kept going back to look carefully at a diary that very clearly did not contain a record of our booking. 
All credit to the pub in question, the Blue Anchor at Tadworth, for finding us a table as well as for some excellent service - and a general reminder that booking systems need to be robust and reliable.

Predicting customer demand is always a challenge, and my experience suggests that more than a few pubs have been caught out by higher-than-expected levels of trade at the start of 2012. For many, a mix of frozen and fresh food is essential to offer the range of choice and speed of service that customers expect.

The quality of frozen dishes available to pubs has improved substantially over recent years, and the good news is that for the most part, customers seem more concerned about the quality of the food served than how it arrived at the kitchen door.

The British Frozen Food Federation served fresh and frozen versions of pub classics such as hunter’s chicken, mash and jacket potato, burgers and fish and chips to customers, with diners saying that there ‘was no obvious difference’ between the dishes. You can see a video of customer reactions online at

Menuwatch: The flavours of Moroccan spices are now almost a requirement for any pub wanting to show off its gastronomic credentials, turning up in everything from burgers and stews to salads and vegetarian dishes. Given that the cuisine comes from a culture when most people don’t drink alcohol, it’s amazing how well it all goes with a pint of IPA. Cheers.       

This 'Pub Food with Porter' column orginally appeared in Inapub, March 2012

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