Morning glory for pub breakfasts

Related tags Breakfast Full breakfast

With licensing reform set to allow flexible opening, licensees can cash in on breakfasts. Kerry Rogan butters some toast and sees what is...

With licensing reform set to allow flexible opening, licensees can cash in on breakfasts. Kerry Rogan butters some toast and sees what is available.

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, or so the saying goes.

But, until now, it was something that did not really concern licensees. After all, by the time pubs open their doors at 11am or even midday on a Sunday, most people have already eaten their cornflakes and are almost ready for lunch.

Things are beginning to change however.

Licensing reform has got the go ahead and before long publicans will be able to open whenever they like. Most of the publicity surrounding flexible hours has focused on later opening but it will, of course, also mean licensees can open their doors before 11am.

Last year's World Cup in Japan and South Korea saw many pubs opening early to show the matches. Serving food was a condition of early opening hours for many and the breakfast boom was born.

Pubco JD Wetherspoon has successfully launched a breakfast menu in its 650 outlets across Britain. Each pub now opens at 10am to sell cooked breakfasts, pastries and coffee, as well as alcohol.

"We'd done breakfasts for a long time in our airport outlets," explains food manager Phil Sermon. "The customers thought it was a good idea and so we rolled it out nationally."

Wetherspoon's breakfast menu has been a big success. Coffee sales are booming and variations, such as the Dutch breakfast of ham and cheese.

Introducing any new food offer is a daunting prospect, but many experts agree that selling the right breakfasts could be a big growth area for pubs.

Former publican Paul Hartley calls himself a breakfast evangelist. He runs consultancy business and is adamant that pubs can reap huge rewards from offering the right morning food.

"Selling the right breakfast menu can quadruple morning trade," he says.

And the tricky part, apparently, is deciding what is the right menu.

"You have to decide who your customers are," says Tony Davison, commercial manager for foodservice at Marlow Foods.

"If they're people on their way to work they'll want to grab a quick snack but if you're catering for holidaymakers, for example, you can offer a full breakfast.

"And don't ignore current food trends. A full fried breakfast is not the be all and end all. In fact, I'd be so bold as to say if that's all you're planning to do, you're going to fail."

Paul Hartley agrees.

"People will go to a greasy spoon café for a fry up, but it's a treat and they'll only go there once," he says.

"If you give them really energising breakfasts and they leave your pub bouncing with health and feeling great they'll come back again and again."

He suggests serving fruit smoothies, croissants and waffles as well as cooked breakfasts with a twist such as a bacon sandwich with smoked salmon or fried quails' eggs on a muffin.

Paul offers a service to help publicans struggling to think of creative breakfast ideas. For a fee he will visit a pub, create a breakfast menu and source ingredients locally or, for those with a smaller budget, he will offer ideas over the phone, free of charge.

Weekends or weekdays?

As all publicans know your customers will change according to what day of the week it is - and it will be more apparent at breakfast than at any other time of the day.

Weekday breakfast is a very different meal from lazy weekend meals.

"When I had a pub we had completely different menus at weekends and during the week," says Paul.

"We even had different staff to serve it!"

Paul recommends thinking about the time taken for breakfast.

"During the week people need to be in and out in 20 minutes. They don't have time to hang about so whatever you serve has to be light - it can't be too tricky.

"At weekends people have more time to spare, so they can relax over a bigger breakfast and take their time."

When to serve breakfast is another consideration. During the week hours need to be earlier so customers can pop in on their way to work or visit the pub for a breakfast meeting. But at weekends it's worth extending the hours breakfast is served right up until lunchtime because people get up late and don't want to be rushed.

Make sure people know about it

Meeting friends for breakfast is big news in the States but it's not yet become an established part of British culture.

That means if you're going to start serving breakfasts you need to shout about it.

"Breakfasts are a great opportunity for the pub trade but the scary part is attracting the customers," says Marlow Food's Tony Davison.

"The only way to do it is to actively target customers. Mail drop local houses and businesses with copies of your menu. You can offer to hold business meetings at the pub or even to supply local offices with coffee and pastries for in-house meetings - they'll tell other people about what you're doing."

Paul Hartley agrees.

"Think about who you're catering for. If it's market day, target shoppers with quick, easy breakfasts. If you're near offices, make sure the workers know what you're doing."

And don't forget to tell your regular customers. Put up posters in the pub, put breakfast menus on the tables whatever time of day it is or give drinkers a small menu to take away with their receipt.


The past decade has seen an explosion in the popularity of coffee. Brands such as Starbucks, Costa Coffee and Café Nero are common sights on the high street and will be tough competition for pubs wanting to offer a breakfast menu.

So it is vital that publicans introduce good coffee. JD Wetherspoon's successful breakfast was launched off the back of its introduction of "proper" coffee and the right breakfast drinks can make or break an early morning outlet.

According to Martin Armitt, trade marketing director for Douwe Egberts Coffee Systems, pubs sell 17 per cent of the coffee drunk outside the home and the figure is expected to rise to 20 per cent in the next two years.

He says there are three things to consider when serving coffee:

  • Quality - source a quality coffee. It may be more expensive but will appeal to today's fussy customer
  • Water quality - something that is often ignored. If your pub is in a hard water area, you will need a water filter or softener. Douwe Egberts will supply one free, if it's needed
  • Quality delivery - After 30 minutes coffee oxidises and loses flavour and aroma. Coffee systems that brew cups individually deliver fresh coffee and cut waste

Donna Plumb from Nescafe also suggests publicans offer a range of different coffees. "Speciality coffees are now accepted as the norm," she says. "The speciality coffee market has rocketed 60 per cent from 2001 to 2002." Latte, cappuccino and mocha are speciality coffees that could prove popular in pubs.

Breakfast facts

  • Richard the Lionheart would not start a war before breakfast
  • Prince Charles's great-uncle Lord Mountbatten, who was killed by the IRA in the 1970s, would not leave the house without a full English breakfast. This gave rise to the phrase "the full Monty"
  • In the 19th century a typical breakfast could have included venison, lamb chops and broth in the winter. It was often washed down with breakfast ale, which caused some inebriated workers to have accidents during the industrial revolution.

Related topics News

Property of the week


£ 60,000 - Leasehold

Busy location on coastal main road Extensively renovated detached public house Five trade areas (100)  Sizeable refurbished 4-5 bedroom accommodation Newly created beer garden (125) Established and popular business...

Follow us

Pub Trade Guides

View more