Tableware - Ware it's at

By Max Gosney

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Dishware

What you serve your food on can be as important in making the right impression on your customers as the food itself. Max Gosney reports This year's...

What you serve your food on can be as important in making the right impression on your customers as the food itself. Max Gosney reports

This year's colour will be white, worn in an informal style and any matching accessories should be square shaped. Yet these are not the latest fashion fads hitting the catwalks of Milan but the top trends in tableware at Britain's pubs. Licensees are growing bolder in their choice of plates, napkins and cutlery in a bid to stand out from the crowd, according to tableware suppliers. And as food sales become increasingly important to profitability, going shopping for a new wardrobe at your pub could reap rewards. Though many pubs have been quick to embrace individuality and care when sourcing ingredients for their menu that appetite for adventure has rarely made it from the kitchen to the dining room according to Fiona Formby, marketing manager at 3663.

"Traditionally pubs have been guided by price when choosing tableware. The emphasis has always been to get the cheap stuff in."

The resulting abundance of bland stainless steel cutlery and uninspiring tablemats has hindered the perception of pub food adds Fiona. "People want to eat out for the experience. Presentation can play an important part in the meal experience and customers don't want to eat off a paper plate."

The conservative approach of many caterers is beginning to change, according to tableware supplier Continental Chef Supplies (CCS). Valda Goodfellow, joint managing director of CCS, says:

"We have seen a significant shift from our customers buying matching plate ranges to more emphasis being placed on specific plates suitable for specific dishes."

Whether ordering knives and forks or napkins, licensees are seeking to break with tradition. "Chefs are increasingly looking for products which set their style, away from the more established serving options," adds Valda.

The trend is leading to an influx of novel presentation methods for dishes, according to Chrissie Beatty, marketing manager at CCS. "Pubs and bars are increasingly looking for products which give the 'wow' factor and give them an edge over their competitors." Large stem glasses, square and rectangular plates and materials such as slate have been in high demand among caterers.

Formal restaurant-style environments are being eschewed in preference for a more informal pub ambience."Licensees are making the most of natural materials, such as oak, and there is a preference for rustic tables in the top gastro pubs," says Chrissie. Sparkling white tablecloths are ill at ease with the expectations of your average pub goer says James McDowell, co-director of Kushti Ltd, a company which runs three acclaimed London food pubs, including the Greyhound at Kensal Rise and the Highgate in Kentish Town.

"We'd never use table cloths, because at the end of the day we are a pub not a restaurant," he says. "The way you decorate your table gives the customer an idea of what to expect from their meal. If you do it simply, then people will understand that they are dining in a pub and not a Michelin-starred restaurant."

Pubs should employ classic, high-quality dining products according to James. Slim glasses, white bone china plates, and paper napkins are simple and economical steps to success, he says. "Shop around with a vision of what you are trying to create and don't oversell it. The only accessory I would advocate is candles, as they can create a great atmosphere for little extra cost."

A little imagination can go a long way adds James. "We've served desserts such as raspberry fool in large wine glasses and tend to avoid using side plates. It's something customers respond too."

Even Michelin-starred pubs, such as the Olive Branch in Leicestershire, opt to keep their table decoration as informal as possible. Ben Jones, co-director at the Rutland Inn Company, which own the Clipsham pub, advocates restraint from wannabe dining-room decorators. "We wanted to keep our cutlery, crockery and tableware in tune with the features of a rustic country pub. The idea is not to have people walking away after a meal at your pub saying: 'wow - did you see that cutlery?'" The Olive Branch's all-white crockery is like the food it displays, argues Ben, robust and simple.

Patience and an open-mind are crucial when sourcing the right materials, according to Ben. "We looked for ages and ages to find good cutlery. Eventually we found a set with white plastic handles from Habitat (£25 for 36), which give much more impression than standard stainless steel."

The pub also sourced a matching black handled set from Robert Welch and now uses the white set to accompany starters and the black framed knives, forks and spoons with main courses.

Adding value to a customer's dining experience need not cost a fortune. "Basic materials like wood can be used to create a talking point," says Ben. "We serve a desserts board which features quince and goat's cheese tart, apple crumble, chocolate roulade and mulled fruit terrine placed on a wooden board to share. And our napkins are tied with twine to give them a country feel." But pubs must avoid scaring off their target customers in their desire to be different warns Ben.

"It's great to be unique, but things shouldn't get too wacky. Always keep it appropriate to the pub."

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