On the face of it, lunchtime should be an easy win for the pub trade. Even in the darkest days of postwar pub food, many boozers could manage to rustle up a pork pie or a cheese sandwich to help soak up a lunchtime pint.
More recently, many pubs have developed a full lunchtime offer, from sandwiches and soup to the full three-course business lunch. However, the evidence is there to show that other food operators are claiming big slices of a lunchtime market that pubs should at least think about targeting.
Peter Bartlett, who created the Breadwinner sandwich brand in the early 1980s and is now a food industry consultant, says: "My original business really took off when Maggie Thatcher abolished the lunch hour."
A lunchtime stroll through any busy working area will reveal the sad truth of this. For many, if not most, workers, the luxury of a full hour in the pub is aspirational most days. They can be seen queuing in sandwich bars to take lunch back to their desk, or grabbing a quick cappuccino and croissant in a coffee bar.
The prices that these time-pressured consumers are willing to pay for what is, more often than not, a very ordinary sandwich, ought to make pubs think. Consumers don't see pubs as places that serve quickly at lunchtime.
However, it is possible to change this perception. The Punch Tavern in Fleet Street, London, current holder of the Publican Awards Food Pub of the Year title, operates a lunchtime self-service buffet that features hot and cold food. Customers can eat in or take away, and the buffet allows the pub to serve far more customers during the lunchtime rush than the kitchen could cope with.
Martin Lines, marketing director at Nestlé FoodServices, says: "By developing a menu using simple but tasty ingredients, a lunchtime menu can satisfy hungry customers in a quick, efficient and profitable way."
By preparing the fillings for sandwich and jacket potatoes in advance of service, pubs can keep on top of orders and offer a speedy service.
For more substantial dishes, using ready-to-use and pour-over sauces, which staff can make up quickly, can be a winning formula. Nestlé FoodServices has launched a guide, Maggi Menu Solutions, which provides a selection of exciting ways to incorporate the range of stocks and sauces into dishes.
The recipes include Moroccan chicken and Boston baked beans jacket potato fillings, modern sandwich fillings and hearty soups. For more substantial main course offerings, there are dishes such as lamb shanks with redcurrants and rosemary and thyme venison, along with a number of easy-to-prepare pasta dishes.
With customers increasingly health-conscious, even when eating out of home, the cards include full nutritional information for the dishes, including calorific value and levels of fat, sugar and salt.
"It's also important to consider meal deals and promotions as part of a lunchtime offering," says Martin. "When you bear in mind that 40 per cent of meals consumed are determined by location, it is vital to incentivise a customer to choose your venue over another.
"They are a great way to offer better value for customers and can even promote upselling; for example, a free drink with every sandwich ordered can encourage the purchase of an additional side order or pudding - giving the pub caterer the opportunity to increase the margin made on food."
Leon French, Brakes' marketing manager for dairy and delicatessen, also stresses this value message: "During the working week, the average person only has 27 minutes a day for lunch, so service has to be quick. And with the competition for workers being sandwich and burger bars, pub food has to be affordable.
"One of the best sellers for pubs is sandwiches, as they are the ideal fast food. From ordering to serving, they take just minutes. Customers can rest assured their food is being freshly made to order, plus sandwiches can be eaten without any cutlery. For pubs, sandwiches are incredibly versatile too, as spreads and fillings can be omitted or changed to suit tastes or dietary requirements."
Leon recommends using ready-made sandwich fillings. "Making, say, five different varieties each day is incredibly time-consuming, whereas with ready-to-use fillings publican can spend more time on other parts of their menus."
Brakes has launched a New York Deli Filling made with slices of turkey, peppered pastrami, pickle, sauerkraut and a light ranch dressing. There is also a more traditional ham and cheese variety.
Leon continues: "While egg mayonnaise and prawn mayonnaise will probably remain among the UK's favourite sandwich fillings for some time, the innovation in new, exciting fillings, and in particular the different types of breads used, has enabled the sandwich to remain enticing to consumers."
Brakes has a Premiere Artisan Bread range that includes baguette, multi-cereals, bloomer and focaccia.
Leon adds: "Gone are the days when bread was secondary to the main dish. It's now becoming the hero and, as a result, pubs need to think more about trading up to speciality breads and matching them with the dishes they are serving. For example, if you are serving a ploughman's or a home-made soup, the bread that you put on the side says a lot.
"With sandwiches such a popular lunchtime option, it's important for pubs to offer as wide a range of sandwich fillings and bread varieties as possible, while maintaining speed of service."
Sandwiches with Sacla'
The Sacla' range of Mediterranean sauces, pastes and pesto from RHM Foodservice make ideal accompaniments to Italian-style sandwiches made with breads such ciabatta, and conveniently save time on making sauces or marinades from scratch.
RHM's chefs recommend Sacla' Pesto both as a sandwich filling and as an ingredient to add when making bread. For example, Sacla' Green Pesto can be mixed with McDougall's White Bread and Roll Mix to make green pesto marbled bread, which can be sliced and used to make innovative sandwiches. Make up the bread dough, spread Sacla' Pesto over the surface, and then knead lightly to give a marbled effect. Form the dough into a round loaf and prove in a warm place before baking until slightly golden.
Alternatively, use Sacla' Red Pesto to make an Italian-style prawn mayonnaise with rocket and chilli sandwich filling. Mix the pesto with diced red chilli, diced rocket and mayonnaise, and then fold in the prawns slowly until thoroughly mixed through.
For a hot sandwich option, mix cooked meat or vegetables with one of Sacla's Vine-ripened Tomato Sauces, or spread Sacla' Sun-dried Tomato Paste straight onto bread, as it provides an ideal flavour upon which to build an Italian sandwich.