Giving dry a try

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Related tags: Food offer, Bread

Setting up a food offer needn't cost the earth or tax your culinary abilities. Andrew Burnyeat shows you how to avoid those sleepless nights as you...

Setting up a food offer needn't cost the earth or tax your culinary abilities. Andrew Burnyeat shows

you how to avoid those sleepless nights as you take your first steps

in the dry trade

If you keep it simple, you don't have to break the bank to get into food. However, with so many established food pubs around these days, setting up a new food offer can be pretty daunting.

Just doing the maths deters many people. The gross profits required to justify that

initial investment can be very high, and the investment itself can take on the appearance of a very deep hole, capable of swallowing up unsuspecting pubs.

Most licensees looking to get into food assume they'll need to find in the region of £20,000 a year to pay a chef. Then there's all the catering equipment.

In some cases, this twin investment is vital. But in others, it's not.

It might be worth looking at setting up a simple food offer, either to get things going or for the longer term. A lot of pub food is over-complicated, leaving room for a less ambitious offer - but that doesn't necessarily mean you'll need a microwave!

Sandwiches - see the potential

The Pineapple at Dorney, Berkshire, bases its food offer around sandwiches. From a standing start eight years ago, Punch lessee Stewart Jones has created possibly the biggest pub sandwich offer in the UK. His pub sells 1,005 different varieties of sandwich. Around 50,000 sandwiches a year are eaten at the Pineapple.

The pub is always fully booked at lunchtimes and attracts business clients from the large industrial estate in Slough - the real-life location for Ricky Gervais's fictional hit TV series, The Office. More than half the pub's customers are women.

Sandwiches come under several menu headings, including vegetarian and children's.Despite the absence of a trained chef in his kitchen, Jones insists this is an upmarket offer requiring a great deal of skill and research.

He says: "Our kitchen staff are highly trained and we spend a lot of time looking at the menu, improving it and working with local suppliers. We use five different types of bread and everything we serve is fresh."

So what's his advice to anyone wanting to get into food? "You don't necessarily need to get into complicated à la carte food with a full-time chef," he says. "But you do need a good idea that will work for you and your pub, something that's achievable and that your customers will like. A lot of that comes from research - looking at the locality and what people want."

Overcoming 'fear of food'

A clue as to what's in demand can be found in some general, national trends. People seem to want a basic offer, executed to a high standard. Everyone loves a sandwich, for example, but people really love a fresh one made from locally-sourced bread with a filling that gets the mouth watering. Marks & Spencer have latched on to this with their "This isn't just food, it's M&S food" ads.

"Roast your own meats, trying to get as many home-made elements into it as you can," says Jones. "Do what you do, and be the best at what you do."

Union Pub Company catering development manager Ben Bartlett says: "We need to take away the fear of food that a lot of licensees have. You can do this by looking at all aspects of your offer - the ingredients, design, your suppliers and so on."

Part of the "fear of food" comes from the fear of health and safety regulations in today's world of superbugs and animal diseases. Bartlett says: "You need a basic health and food hygiene regime. With that, you don't need to consult an environmental health officer before you can get going."

Pizza is another popular food that can be done exceptionally well. It doesn't need a qualified chef to make a varied range of popular favourites, with a few of your own creations mixed in as "specials".

Fiona Wells, channel marketing manager at Brakes, says: "If your pub is limited in terms of space and equipment, it's amazing what you can still offer - for example, buy a pizza oven."

Less daunted now? According to Stewart Jones and co, with the right approach, you have nothing to fear but fear itself.

Achievable local dishes in your area

Northern Scotland: haggis, clootie dumplings

Central Scotland: mealie puddings, Selkirk bannocks

North East: canal floddies, pease puddings

Lancashire: Lancashire hot pots

Yorkshire: Yorkshire puddings, jugged hare

Wales & West: rarebits

Midlands: Staffordshire oatcakes, pork pies

East Anglia: potted Cromer crab

London: Chelsea buns, lamb cutlets Reform

Southern: Ripe tart (from the village of Ripe, East Sussex)

South East: hufkins

South West: lardy cakes, junkets

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