Monday, 30 July 2012

Regular readers will be delighted to learn - Inapub April 2012

Regular readers will be delighted to learn that I have faced minimal issues when it comes to eating and drinking out in pubs over the past month. OK, the card reader wasn’t working in one West End pub, requiring me to pay for a meal in cash, but that’s hardly a crisis.

Of course, the challenge the professional pub correspondent faces when everything goes well is that it doesn’t leave much to write about. Thankfully, I have a good experience to report. A friend, one of those people with an eye for bargain, persuaded a group of us to book an online voucher deal at the Cock Inn, at Headley in Surrey. Yes, the Cock inn – you can all snigger once. 

The offer was a three course meal for two for £22. I have to admit I was cynical. “It will be a very limited menu,” I told anyone who was prepared to listen, “and they’ll try and persuade us to buy all sorts of extras.”

In fact, while there were some dishes on the menu that had a price supplement, there was a wide choice of starters and main courses. Our party was made up of six couples, and despite the fact that the pub was very busy, with many people taking up the offer, the service was good, the staff friendly and all everyone’s food arrived at about the same time.

Even with drinks, the total bill represented excellent value. My back-of-the-beermat maths said the hit on margins was balanced by the careful choice of dishes and the high volume of trade, with every table in the pub occupied.

The need to come up with such compelling, value-for-money offers is highlighted by the 2012 consumer report from Which? This found that 38 per cent of people say they are socialising at home instead of going to the pub, while one in four said they have had to dip into their savings to buy food or other daily essentials.

These are stark figures, which explain why so many pub and restaurant operators are using vouchers and deals to drive trade. This remains a challenge, with many finding that fickle consumers disappear when a better deal comes along. However, the Cock Inn has come up with a well- planned, well-executed offer which clearly works for the pub.

One gripe, though - my home-made steak and ale pie was excellent, but served in a casserole dish with a pastry lid. All together now: “That’s not a pie, it’s stew with a crouton”.

Let’s talk burgers. Is it too much to ask pubs to explain exactly what they include inside the bun? Too many menus are disappointingly short on detail. Personally, I love a bit of freshly-chopped onion, but I’m less keen on a slice of floppy tomato. When eating out as a family, the potential for disappointment multiplies with the range of preferences.

 This 'Pub food with Porter' column originally appeared in Inapub, April 2012

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