Sunday roasts are dead in pubs. The dish is not working for the trade anymore. Or at least it is not working for JD Wetherpsoon (JDW), which was made clear when the pub chain announced last week that its Sunday Roast Club would end after Mother’s Day.
A Wetherspoon’s spokesman told the Publican’s Morning Advertiser: “The decision was made because Wetherspoon wanted to concentrate on its core menu. A Sunday brunch is not a direct replacement for the Sunday roast, but will be on offer. Other food clubs continue as normal.”
“Britain’s passion for roast dinners is stronger than ever, especially in pubs. Last year’s British Roast Dinner Week competition saw a record number of entries”
- Source: Chris Brown
JDW’s decision may have led many in the trade to question the relevance of the Great British Sunday roast, which has been the foundation of many pub menus for decades.
A roast is enshrined in British history. While there is no firm evidence of the dish’s origins, there is mention of roast beef being eaten on Sundays as far back as 1698.
The term ‘Sunday roast’ is claimed to have Christian roots, as Yorkshire families during the industrial revolution would leave a cut of meat in their ovens that would be ready to eat on Sunday afternoon after church.
Yet be confident that, while the UK’s largest pub chain has scrubbed the dish from all 900+ of its pub menus; such an act appears to be far from becoming a familiar story across the trade.
Research from Unilever Food Solutions, which sponsors the annual Roast Dinner of the Year competition, shows that 40% of the 2,000 consumers it asked wanted to see roast dinners on pub menus everyday. They are the number one pub meal, according to the same research, says Unilever’s channel trade marketing manager Chris Brown.
'1.2bn roasts every year'
“UK consumers eat their way through a whopping 1.2bn roasts every year and top the list of things consumers love about Britain [T mobile research].
“Britain’s passion for roast dinners is stronger than ever, especially in pubs,” Brown adds. “Last year’s British Roast Dinner Week competition saw a record number of entries.”
Sunday should be and will be the busiest day for most pubs armed with a decent roast, says Dan Cramp, general manager of last year’s Best Roast Dinner competition winner the Larwood & Voce, Nottingham. It is a dish that should be the staple of every pub menu, he says and he doesn’t believe JDW’s decision reflects in any way what’s going on in the wider trade.
“I don’t think that everyone has to up their game because Spoons [JDW] can’t make the roast work. I don’t think it’s got anything to do with the wider trade. People just don’t tend to go to Spoons for a roast dinner. You go there for a pint and a burger, but not a roast dinner,” claims Cramp, whose pub has a four week-long waiting list for roast dinners.
There are many reasons to keep the Sunday roast on the menu, but the question of why JDW decided to remove the staple from its menus is still being debated. While the pub giant was vague in its response as to why it is ditching the roast, others in the trade have their own opinions.
According to Cramp: “If you’re going out for a Sunday lunch, then it’s got to be one that’s as good as your mam would make. There is so much information about food out there now that quality is high on the agenda.
“Everybody wants to know where what they’re eating is coming from and that’s where Spoons is sometimes lacking – it’s got a reputation for cheap and cheerful food. If there’s a pub around the corner with an award-winning roast, then you’re going to go for that. People aren’t going for the cheapest option anymore.”
Andrew Fishwick, whose Truscott Arms pub, in Maida Vale, won the 2014 Best Roast Dinner competition, agrees with Cramp. Customers at the Truscott, he says, look for ingredients of exceptional quality in their roasts.
“Gone are the days – hopefully – when grey tasteless meat and frozen packet veg are acceptable,” muses Fishwick. “By focusing on quality you can make your Sunday roast the cornerstone of your food offering.”
Fishwick also believes JDW’s decision to banish the roast is reflective of the current trend in the pub market. Pubs, he says, can no longer be all things to all people. JDW may have recognised that Sunday roasts are not something they can do well enough and have decided to pull the offer, he adds.
Sales rose 20%
A good Sunday roast can also boost a pub’s sales, as shown by managed pub and bar operator TCG last year, after sales rose 20% following trials of the dish at five of its sites.
The group, which has 20 sites across the UK, says its trial last summer increased food sales by more than a fifth, despite it not being a traditionally popular time of the year for a roast.
One Enterprise pub, the Hobnails in Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire, serves more than 2,000 roasts a week through its carvery offer, which commands prices between £8.95 Monday to Saturday and £10.95 during busier periods on a Sunday.
"We have invested substantially in our Sunday lunches for our spring and summer menu, adding seven new roast options, representing our Big Plate special roast in a giant Yorkshire pudding and introducing a roast beef burrito"
- Source: Greene King spokeswoman
In 2013, the winner of the Best Roast Dinner competition, the Sunray, in Osmington, Dorset, saw sales increase by 44% after the win and saw bar sales rise by £1,000 a week.
Larger chains were also preparing to feel the benefit of the Sunday roast over the next few months. The Hungry Horse chain, which is owned by Greene King, would keep its Sunday dinner offer high on its weekend menu.
A spokeswoman explains: "We are keeping our Sunday roasts on the menu and look forward to welcoming new guests who are no longer able to get their Sunday roast elsewhere.
"We have invested substantially in our Sunday lunches for our spring and summer menu, adding seven new roast options, representing our Big Plate special roast in a giant Yorkshire pudding and introducing a roast beef burrito."
As the drama of JDW’s decision to stop serving Sunday roasts calms, it appears it is inevitable Britain’s favourite will remain popular in pubs across the land. As Cramp eloquently puts it: “Long live the roast!”