Can you beat them at their own game?

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ARE YOU a pigeon or a penguin? In evolutionary terms, you're probably better off being a generalist like a pigeon, which can thrive more or less...

ARE YOU a pigeon or a penguin? In evolutionary terms, you're probably better off being a generalist like a pigeon, which can thrive more or less anywhere and adapt its diet accordingly, rather than a penguin - which has a serious problem when the ice melts or the fish move on.

The nation's high streets are full of penguins, brands which do one thing well and don't move too far outside their comfort zone. The fascias may be flash, but what do these brands actually do that pubs can't?

With the economy getting tougher and consumers savvier, the penguins' strategy of charging a premium for the one thing they do well starts to look a little shaky. There's a real opportunity here for the pigeons of the pub trade, which can vary their offer at different times of day, to dig up the best titbits in terms of increased custom.

Coffee​: Latte, espresso, cappuccino - dress it up how you like, it's a cup of coffee. The likes of Costa, Starbucks and Caffé Nero have colonised our high streets, and just count how many who walk past the door of a city centre pub are carrying a paper cup.JD Wetherspoon has already proved that pubs can do good coffee at a price which will have the specialists choking on their profit margins.

The upfront investment in a decent coffee machine may seem daunting, but you only need to sell a few cups, matched with a pastry or flapjack, each day to see the benefits.

Sandwiches​: Four quid? For a takeaway ham sandwich? Are you having a laugh? Adding a couple of rocket leaves and a squirt of posh salad cream doesn't mean you should have to take out a mortgage. Takeaway or eat in, a lunchtime deli counter offering sandwiches made freshly to order is something most pubs can do effectively. Leaflet local offices and other businesses with special offers, and they'll be queuing up. And don't get us started on what these sandwich places charge for a bag of crisps…

Burgers​: Chances are, your pub food menu already features at least one burger. Have a think about the quality. Could you buy something a little more premium or even make your own fresh burgers?

With a few imaginative toppings and an upmarket bap, you're suddenly taking on the gourmet burger boys at their own game. A chalkboard burger menu outside or in the window will work wonders. And yes, we do want fries with that.

Steaks​: Even before the days of the Berni Inn, steak and chips was a pub food staple. The specialist steak houses tend to trade on the quality of the beef - but despite the name, the average t-bone has more in common with Buenos Aries than it does with Auchtermuchty.

Find a local farm supplier, and with a choice of peppercorn or stilton sauce, you can offer a British steak menu that'll keep customers coming back until the cows come home.

Chicken and kebabs​: At first glace, this may be a sector of the market pubs would rather not touch. Deep fried grease with salmonella on the side. Yuck. But think about it - customers leave your pub, stand in a queue for a dodgy takeaway, then stand in another queue for a dodgier minicab.

You could do a deal with a local taxi firm, allowing customers to book in the pub and sit comfortably while they wait for their cab, enjoying a snack in the meantime.

A basic closing time menu, say sausage, chicken or kebab with chips, wouldn't stretch the culinary skills of most pub staff.

Indian and Chinese​: They leave your pub towards the end of the night and go off to an Indian or oriental restaurant for more beer and a meal. And you just watch them go?

Admittedly, there are some highly skilled ethnic restaurants out there which you wouldn't even attempt to compete with - but frankly, there are also some very ordinary ones and definitely more than a few which are very nasty indeed.

There are already plenty of pubs out there which do a curry club - and like it or not, we have to thank Wetherspoon again for pointing the way here. A basic choice of four or five ethnic dishes, accompanied by specialist bottled beers, is another string to your bow.

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