PubChef editor Jo Bruce speaks to David Hancock, editor of Alistair Sawday's Pubs and Inns guide.
JB: Do you think many customers are not prepared to pay the high menu prices some pubs are charging because it is being served in a pub and there is still a perception that is should be cheaper?
DH: Yes, I think this is the case. It is taking a while for people to really understand that our good food pubs are our new country restaurants serving freshly prepared food from quality ingredients, albeit in an informal, relaxed atmosphere, with unclothed tables and unfussy service, and you may even have to order your meal at the bar.
JB: What do you think are the optimum prices pubs should be charging for meal?
DH: £15 for a main course, unless it's an expensive main ingredient like turbot or Dover sole, or a decent steak.
JB: What of diversifying their businesses have you been impressed by with pubs in the guide?
DH: Chefs/owners passionate about local, seasonal produce who have the space have added small shops selling local foods and goodies made on the premises. Where pubs have seriously tapped into the local food network of suppliers they have opened up their car parks on Sunday morning for farmers' markets and this generates a healthy Sunday lunch trade as visitors fill the pub after shopping. Others, with less space, have created deli-counters to sell their home-made chutneys and preserves etc.
Some cracking village pubs offer space for theatre, showing films, local clubs and village meetings etc, generating a real community spirit and extra trade.
It is also good to see pub owners really developing their outside space - extending their dining areas during the summer months - or having regular hog roasts, beer festivals and music.
JB: What British dishes have you welcomed the return of on pub menus?
DH: Potted shrimps, Lancashire hotpot, good old-fashioned trifle
JB: What would be your desert island pub dish?
AS: A quality, aged rib-eye steak with (or without) pepper sauce.
JB: Describe in three words your ideal pub menu?
DH: Short, seasonal, locally-sourced
JB: Do you think a good food offer is enough to bring people to pubs?
DH: No. The key to the survival of rural pubs is good food. However, you can have great food but a really soulless atmosphere and poor management. What draws folk back is a big welcome from a hands-on landlord (or well-trained staff) whose personality is etched into the very fabric of the building. Good food, fine beer, decent wine, a crackling log fire and a well-loved pub run by a character landlord will see the discerning pub-goer beating a path the door time and again.
JB: What things are most likely to make you never return to a pub again?
DH: Long laminated menus listing bought-in frozen foods; surly, indifferent service if you're paying decent money for food; lack of attention to detail (unlit fires, garden tables littered with plates & glasses etc), poor real ale offering; when a pub has morphed into a restaurant - reserved signs on all tables, no locals drinking at the bar, no bar snacks, alarming main course prices.
JB: How can wet-led pubs survive these days?
DH: By being more community focused and becoming the hub of the village. A wider community role will aid survival - becoming part-time shops (if no other exists in the village) and offering more activities like quiz nights, sports teams, even theatre performances or cinema space if they have a little used function room.