Simple temptations

Related tags Tomato Bread Oven

Experts agree that effective menu design means balancing quality with simple, tempting dishes geared to customers' tastes, the pub's facilities and its location

Joe Robb

It's risky to try to cover every eventuality by aiming to please everyone, resulting in a menu that's too big to navigate. If you offer too much choice your customers won't believe your food is fresh. You'll have too much capital tied up in stock that moves too slowly, while consistency will be compromised by too many processes happening simultaneously.

At Greene King we've introduced tapas or small meals - it's a great way for people to eat in pubs. They are quick and easy to assemble and mirror today's more sophisticated market. You don't have to offer a large range - instead, concentrate on twists on traditional food for your customers to enjoy.

For example, serve small portions of whitebait, scampi, calamari, tiger prawns, or baked goats' cheese with locally-made chutney, honeyed regional sausages, pastas, meat balls with Neapolitan sauce, beer-battered chicken with chilli dip...the list is endless. Match or exceed customers' expectations and devise an interesting menu with healthy options. Offer good value and review your range with customers regularly.

JOE'S MENU suggestion


l Home-made vegetable soup - seasonal vegetables, quality stock and fresh herbs, served with crusty bread

l Luxury seafood cocktail with mixed leaves and citrus dressing


l Home-made steak and ale pie with gravy, horseradish mash and seasonal veg and made with good-quality chuck steak

l Roasted herby lemon chicken with roasted vegetables and

potatoes - forecast sales and cook chicken fresh on the day

l Home-made seafood lasagne with white fish and mushrooms


l Orange marmalade bread and butter pudding - an excellent way of using day-old bread

Judi Houghton

After considering the competition and assessing skills, staff levels and equipment, you need to look at the menu.

It's essential that your menu is designed to suit your customers. Pubs often make the mistake of putting on dishes they like and leaving off what they dislike. Choose three of four starters, four or five mains with a range of options and three desserts.

Language is so important - it sells the dish. Many pubs do great home-made food, but fail to tell their customers. Printing menus can be expensive and could tie you down. Use headed paper to print your own or run the menu off a specials board - if a dish isn't working six weeks later, it can be removed easily from the menu.

Anyone going into food must be able to cost dishes - for example, if you know you can't charge more than £5.95, simply deduct VAT and the cost of food and work out the percentage representing your gross profit. It's a horrible job, but it has to be done for every dish. Some dishes make more than others, but that's okay as long as your figures balance.

JUDI'S MENU suggestion


l Home-made soup - always list dishes on the chalkboard and include two ingredients - "tomato and basil" or "mushroom and madeira" make more impact than just tomato or mushroom.

l Use local connections to draw attention to dishes, such as "Bury" black pudding topped with crispy bacon and melted cheese 


l Home-made steak and ale pie

l Home-made braised steak and onions

l Cheesy-topped cottage pie


l Home-made apple crumble and creamy custard - it sells well because it's such an old favourite

Peter Wright

Once a pub's operators have decided they are going to do food and consider their competition and customer base, they need to focus on menus. Base it on the capacity of chefs and service staff and make sure you can deliver what you offer.

There are a few pitfalls to look out for in menu co-ordination. Some chefs are guilty of too much finishing, using four pans to cook a dish. Others don't vary cooking methods, cluttering his char-grill or stove when he has an empty oven or salamander. Don't try to prepare over-complicated dishes.

If you are considering getting into food, there are three vital things to think about when putting your menu together: seasonality, seasonality and most importantly...seasonality! Today's customers want to know about provenance of food - does it come from the farm or a factory?

One dish to avoid is lamb shank - it's been done to death by gastropubs with very little imagination.

You can usually tell when some items become overly popular, as the purchase price goes up.

PETER'S MENU suggestion


l Bloody Mary soup, finished off with a teaspoon of vodka

l Poached egg, pancetta and crisp black pudding tossed with a herb salad


l Grilled rib-eye steak with Merlot wine reduction, fat chips and


l Pan-roasted sea bass, butter-tossed mushrooms, shallots and cherry tomatoes

l Gratin Dauphinoise of local vegetables and glazed baby



l Apple and cinnamon tart tatin, butterscotch ice cream

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