Britain's off-trade winelist habits revealed

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Until now, nobody has had a clear idea on what wines are offered by Britain's off-trade. Our past decade's revolution in eating-out habits has been...

Until now, nobody has had a clear idea on what wines are offered by Britain's off-trade. Our past decade's revolution in eating-out habits has been matched by a similar revolution in our wine-drinking habits and the last 10 or 20 years have seen pubs needing a totally different approach to marketing both food and wine, but we've never known how far-reaching these effects have been.

For this reason, in association with sister magazine Hotel & Restaurant, PubFood resolved to find out, and to do this we relied totally on help and assistance from you, Britain's restaurant and pub owners and managers. The response from both magazines was tremendous, providing a total of 580 wine lists plus basic details on the size and turnover of your operations which now means we can genuinely claim to offer definitive statistical results. In fact, you did us proud. More than we expected. More than enough for us to confidently state our survey can pinpoint exactly what goes on in Britain's off-trade winelists.

In addition to our detailed analysis of every winelist component, we also allocated awards to those we felt merited recognition, with judging criteria including the range offered compared to the volume of business and its location, wines by the glass including sweet and sparkling wines, the extent of notes describing the wines, suggestions for wine and food matching plus the general appearance and ability to convey enthusiasm without condescension or compromise. Plus, most importantly, pricing, again matched with the style and environment of the particular establishment.

Of all the entries received from pubs, hotels and restaurants we selected 89 (15.35 per cent) as deserving a 'commended' rating, 34 (5.96 per cent) worthy of 'highly commended' while just 19 (3.28 per cent) reached our top grading of Excellent, and a quick look at the alphabetical lists below will show if you were placed in any of these categories.

But the best news is that of the 226 pubs which helped us with our survey 39 were 'commended '(6.7 per cent of total entries and 44 per cent of all 'commended' awards), 15 'highly commended' (2.6 per cent and, again, 44 per cent) and four judged 'excellent' (0.7 per cent and 21 per cent). Clear evidence it's possible to drink justas well in some pubs, and in several cases better, than in some of Britain's grandest restaurants.

What lessons can be learned from the results of our survey? Most important,that the gulf between pubs interested in developing wine sales as an important part of their turnover and those who give the feeling they only provide wine because they feel they must, is far too wide.

More especially as, although we obviously cannot quantify this, we had to bear in mind that pubs taking the trouble to respond to a wine list survey were probably pubs who already have a more than passing interest in the subject. And we need to ask whether just 58 pubs (25.7 per cent) gaining awards out of 226 pub entries is any cause for congratulation? On one hand, our standards for a 'commended' award were not terribly exacting and one might have hoped for a better showing, but on the other hand pubs showed a reasonable success rate when compared to restaurants and hotels who should be more geared-up for wine service compared to pubs who usually have beers and lagers to worry about as their front line volume drinks selection.

Unsurprisingly, considering population in the south, and especially the south-east where they drink far more wine than other regions, there was a reasonable regional correlation: five awards going to Scotland & N. Ireland, 13 to the North, 21 to W. Midlands, Wales and the West Country, 16 to East Midlands and South East but, surprisingly, just three to London. Not only did the western side of the country gain most awards, but scored highest with 'highly commended' and 'excellent' as well, as you will see from the below results.

One major criticism is that there were a staggering number of unnecessary spelling mistakes on wine lists, and it's not as if correct spelling is difficult to obtain - it's usually all written on the label. Despite this, there were any number of lists with up to 10 mistakes per page, some of whom obviously appeared to otherwise care a great deal about wine selection and presentation. Of course those who simply write in minimalist terms - 'Bordeaux £15.00' or 'Australian Chardonnay £12.00' - are less likely to make mistakes, but they are certainly not being over-generous with information to help a customer make an informed choice, at least not without him or her asking some relevant questions and hoping the bar or waiting staff are able to answer. It doesn't take long to assemble correct, properly-spelt information and, with today's proliferation of word processors, to present this in a comprehensible and practical fashion. And if you can't be bothered yourselves, many, if not most, of today's wine suppliers will do this for you.

So, to finish, it's not all bad news. A little more attention to detail, a few more wines by the glass - including at least one sweet wine for extra profitability - and a more representative selection of producer countries, and we'd be giving out far more awards, and Britons who increasingly eat-out in pubs could easily find wine lists surpassing those usually found in restaurants.

Pubs with commended wine lists

Battersea Boathouse, London SW11 3RQBlack Bull Inn, Moulton, North YorksChaucers Inn, Exeter, DevonColmar Café Bar, Aberdeen, ScotlandCoppleridge Inn, Shaftesbury, DorsetCrown and Cushion, Welburn, YorkshireDover Castle Inn, Teynham, KentGranville Arms, Barford, WarwickshireMaster Brewer, Folkestone, KentMayfields at Miskin Arms, Pontyclun, Mid GlamPlume of Feathers, Nr Shrewsbury, ShropshireReform Tavern, Woodseaves, StaffsStar and Garter, Silsoe, BedfordshireThe Anchor Inn, Alfreton, DerbyshireThe Angel Inn, Stoke by Nayland, SuffolkThe Bull Inn, Tirehurst, East SussexThe Catash Inn, North Cadbury, SomersetThe Chequers, Colchester, EssexThe County, Darlington, Co. DurhamThe Cow Dining Room, London W2 5QHThe Cricketers Arms, Saffron Waldon, EssexThe Dog Inn, Harvington, HerefordThe Duke William, Nr Canterbury, KentThe Dules Head, Romsey, HantsThe Fishermans Arms, Ulveston, CumbriaThe Fox and Barrel, Tarporley, CheshireThe Hideaway, Dumfermline, ScotlandThe Hit or Miss Country Inn, Nr Amersham, BucksThe Lamb on the Strand, Nr Trowbridge, WiltshireThe Malt Shovel Inn, Harrogate, North YorksThe Nags Head, Nr Beverley, East YorksThe Old Boot Inn, Stanford Dingley, BerksThe Ratcatchers, Cawston, Norwich, NorfolkThe Roebuck Inn, Ludlow, ShropshireThe Three Horseshoes, Norwich, NorfolkThe Three Kings, Fornham All Saints, SuffolkThe White Horse, Eaton Bray, Beds.White Horse, Ridgewell, EssexWilliam IV, Albury Heath, Surrey

Pubs with highly commended lists

Duke of York, Billericay, EssexFive Bells, Nr Leighton Buzzard, BucksGrace Neills Bar, Co. Down, N.IrelandShower of Herrings Inn, Argyll, ScotlandThe Crown at Turners Hill, Arlingham, Glos.The Duke of York, Clitheroe, Lancs.The Foxham Inn, Chippenham, WiltshireThe Hack and Spade, Richmond, N. YorksThe Halfway House Inn, Kingsand, CornwallThe Old Mill Inn, Pitlochry, ScotlandThe Pilgrims Rest, Lovington, SomersetThe Star Inn, Malton, North YorksTescombe Tavern, Teelscombe Cliff, East SussexThe Walton Arms, Accrington, LancsWheatsheaf Inn, Haslemore, Surrey

Pubs with excellent wine lists

Kaye Arms, Grange Moor, West YorksThe Front Room, London SW6 2DZThe Watermill Inn, Hayle, CornwallTrengilly Wartha Inn, Falmouth, Cornwall

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