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Pub food ideas: Sharing food

By Sheila McWattie , 15-Nov-2012
Last updated on 15-Nov-2012 at 18:21 GMT2012-11-15T18:21:40Z

Pub food ideas: Sharing food

From simple late-night snacks to an elaborate New Year’s Day lunch, sharing foods offer chefs opportunities to experiment creatively and enable customers to tuck into dishes that promote a convivial atmosphere. Sheila McWattie looks at different ways to attract groups of customers with sharing dishes and snacks.

Fun dining
Be At One, famous for its cocktails and hosting, has launched its first informal dining concept — Be At One Kitchen — at its new Guildhall bar in the City of London.

Developed in partnership with restaurateur Ossie Gray, its sharing platters, small plates and snacks for sociable dining feature a mix of international tastes, including Spanish-style tapas dishes, Italian-inspired crostini and Eastern-influenced tiger prawn and Asian slaw sliders.

Gray says: “Developing a dining offer complementing Be At One’s cocktail range has been incredibly exciting, and builds on Be At One’s commitment to using the freshest ingredients with a menu that delivers bright, strong flavours in an unpretentious, accessible way. It’s about fun dining, not fine dining.”

Creating difference
The originality highlighted in Be At One’s new food offer is a key theme that most chefs value in creating sharing foods. With more than 25 years’ experience, the last thing executive chef James Browne wants to devise is a “clichéd” sharing dish.

At Clapham freehold the Jam Tree — one of three in south-west London — Browne is passionate about creating difference, and the sharing dishes exemplify his range of speciality tastes and ingredients, inspired by Britain’s former colonies.

“My customers don’t necessarily arrive wanting to eat. But we’ll push up wet and food sales if they can’t resist our unusual snacks or more substantial dishes such as Indian thali for two or four (£12.50 per person), including lamb Madras or vegetable curry, tarka dal, aloo gobi, mixed pickles, chutney, saffron and cardamom rice, chickpea salad, raita, samosas and poppadoms.

“Don’t just offer sharing roast beef with gravy — guests should know you’ve taken three days to make that gravy from scratch. But most of all, sharing foods are about tapping into impulse buying. When the smell of Buffalo wings or sticky squid is impossible for late-night drinkers to resist, you’re on to a winner. They’ll soon come back for more, and maybe try your cheese platter instead.”

Building business
Making the most of a theme you’re known for builds loyalty and reputation, especially if you’re branching out, as Julian Newick is discovering at his new venture — a pub that also serves as a bookshop in a converted chapel in Broadstairs, Kent. Committed to locally sourcing every food and drink item he sells, Newick says putting a platter of Kent cheeses in the middle of a huge rustic table works wonders at his Lifeboat Ale & Cider House in Margate.

“Regulars know we don’t serve full meals, as we don’t have a kitchen at either venue, so when we opened we immediately offered quality sharing food, served with minimum fuss. On a quiet night in a small town such as Broadstairs, cheese increases our wet sales and cultivates interest in Kent’s excellent produce.”

Optimise your offering
Lobster is on-trend and pubs offering sharing foods are finding innovative ways to serve it — even in a giant sharing sandwich, as the Wensleydale Heifer in West Witton, North Yorkshire, which has a 10-dish lobster menu, demonstrates.

Owner David Moss advises: “Use what’s available in a slightly different way. The Heifer has a well-established reputation for giant fish and chips. Now we’re offering lobster (£22.50), sea bass, and steak (£14.95) in giant sharing sandwiches.

“Sharing foods also encourage our guests to stay overnight — our special platter delivered to their room on Christmas morning, for example, may tempt them to book. Establish your reputation with key dishes, and build on it by considering what makes your pub memorable. People still ask for our chocolate fondue — it’s no longer on our menu, but if people who remember it fondly request it, we’ll happily make it,” he says. “And our platter of every starter and assiette of desserts are big sellers.”

For Gordon Stott, head chef at the Sun Inn in Dummer, Hampshire, sweet treats are a major draw at his newly-revamped freehold where his ‘mini-desserts assiette’ showcases dishes with a wow factor. His mini versions of blackberry & apple crumble, sticky toffee pudding, winter berry ice cream, dark chocolate fondant, and classic bread & butter pudding always make an impact at tasting evenings.

Catching commuters
Commuters are key customers at Spirit House’s leasehold the Moderation, in Reading, Berkshire, where ‘That Friday Feeling’ offers a free starter platter with a bottle of wine purchased between 5pm and 7pm.

Director Andy Becalick says: “As a tenant, it makes sense to make the most of my wine sales. Make it impossible for peckish commuters to leave without contributing to food takings and enjoying at least one extra drink. Dwell time is vital to growing your following, so whether you’re in the town or country, find a way to ensure your customers aren’t hungry when they have to face the journey home.”

Country casual
“Sharing dishes promote communication, creating a friendly, casual atmosphere,” says Sisi Ryder, co-tenant at Punch lease the Phoenix Inn in Hartley Wintney, Hampshire.

“Keeping chickens whole and jointing them to order for two to share retains moisture and flavours. On Sundays we sell 25 to 30, with a GP of 72%. We also serve oysters in threes — couples often order six or nine and we’re seeing more families encouraging the children to try them. Served with shallot vinegar and Tabasco, they’re a fast starter and go well with Champagne or Petit Chablis. The GP isn’t high at 62%, but they take our offer into a different league and increase wet sales.

“On Valentine’s Day 2012 we started offering our ‘ultimate’ sharing dish of lobster & fillet steak. Our New Year’s Eve dinner will be themed ‘Surf & Turf into 2013’, with a starter platter including scallops and foie gras, followed by lobster and Châteaubriand. Our consistent, fresh approach gives customers the confidence to order more expensive items.”

Top 5 tips

  1. Offer snacks for drinkers to share to increase the spend per head
  2. Think about the tastes of the food on offer and ensure there are drinks to match
  3. Make sure enticing food smells are drifting through the pub — it will boost sales
  4. Get cheese on the menu — it’s great for sharing and increasing sales
  5. Offer sharing desserts or mini puddings on a platter, so people can eat without the guilt.

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