Monday, 30 July 2012

Let’s start with the basics - Fuller's Tenants Extra May 2012

Let’s start with the basics. My brief, according to the last issue of Tenants Extra, is to tell you ‘what’s hot and what’s not’ in the pub food world. So we should define our terms. Sorting out the difference between a ‘restaurant’ and a ‘pub that serves good food’ used to be fairly straightforward. When I regularly shortlisted entries for the annual Pub Food Awards, my mantra was “pies and fries are fine, jus and drizzle crosses the line.” 

That meant that sometimes a very well-run business might end up in the reject pile because its menu or service style didn’t feel ‘pubby’ enough. It’s harsh, but when you’ve got to whittle 100 or more hopefuls down to a shortlist of four, you need to have a system. 

Many consumers decide where they want to eat out by the way they define the venue. People who would only book a ‘restaurant’ for a special occasion will happily meet friends and family at the ‘pub’ for Sunday lunch or a midweek meal.

You might argue that if a business calls itself a pub, that should be good enough, but the definition is often made by someone else. Industry analyst Horizons recently published research estimating that at least 5,000 UK pubs now generate 50 per cent or more of their turnover from food sales.

Horizons’ number crunchers have decided that any operation that hits this magic figure should be redefined as a restaurant. At least their dividing line is clear – sell one too many portions of sausage and mash and your days as a pub are over.

For others, the lines are more blurred. I know some people who define it by service style. For them, white cloths and table service means ‘restaurant’, bare tables and orders at the bar means ‘pub’. Others look at the menu to seek out the all-important pub food classics such as fish & chips, burgers and steaks.  

These days, I suspect it’s as much about the atmosphere and the warmth of the welcome as it is what’s on the menu. After years of pondering, I think I’ve come up with a definition that works. If you’re made to feel uncomfortable about not picking up a menu, it’s a restaurant. On the other hand, if you can order a pint of bitter and sit at a table to sup it without getting a funny look from the staff, you’re in a pub. I’m sticking with pubs. Cheers!

This 'Kitchen Porter' column orignally appeared in Fuller's Tenants Extra, May 2012

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