Gone are the days when you needed a skilled chef and a team of staff for the kitchen to provide a food offer. Gone also are the days when you needed something even as basic as a well equipped kitchen.
Post smoking ban and in a climate where it is food rather than drinks that are being looked to for healthy profit margins, catering food suppliers appear to be falling over themselves to provide products that require minimum time, minimum skill and minimum equipment to prepare.
There are schemes like Punch's Top Table where five set meals including staples such as fish and chips and sausage and mash are supplied frozen, ready-made and require only a microwave, grill and a fryer to prepare. Also boil-in-bag or sous vide meals mean licensees can prepare something more complex such as Beef Bordelaise that require only a Bain Marie to cook.
This can be seen reflected in the list of kitchen equipment that the pubs surveyed use. And it is a list that has remained pretty much static. Nine four per cent have a fridge, 91 per cent a freezer, 91 per cent a microwave oven and 84 per cent a conventional oven. But if you really want to trace the boom in easy to prepare food, caused perhaps in part by licensees taking on food for the first time, it can be seen reflected in the six per cent increase in pubs that have deep fat fryers taking the number that have them to ninety two per cent of those surveyed.
However it appears that the number of pubs providing more up-market food is on the rise too. Thirty one per cent of respondees had a combi oven in their kitchen.
Keith Warren is director of the Catering Equipment Suppliers Association (CESA) which represents over 130 companies who supply, service and maintain all types of commercial catering equipment. He says: "The increasing sophistication of the pub food market is reflected in the fact that nearly a third of respondents have a combi oven - a hi-tech piece of equipment that involves major capital expenditure.
"Not long ago it was the sole prerogative of upmarket restaurants and hotels. Manufacturers have been targeting the pub market by designing models specifically to meet publicans' needs - for example, by creating smaller, more versatile units. Now more pubs are recognising its benefits - especially in terms of labour saving and menu flexibility."
But the fact remains that when it comes to choosing kitchen equipment, licensees make their decision largely based on price. Two thirds make their decision based on price, a figure largely unchanged from the 64 per cent that said the same last year. However interestingly there was a five per cent increase in those that said brand was important suggesting that licensees are looking for guaranteed quality and reliability when spending money on costly items.
And talking of costs, it can be seen as positive news indeed that licensees are now looking to environmental measures to cut costs. Just under a third, at 29 per cent said they had invested in energy-efficient equipment in the past year. A further 68 per cent said they had taken steps to save energy in other ways.
Are licensees suddenly crusading to save the planet? Probably not. With 59 per cent citing rising energy costs as a cause for increased menu prices and, somewhat ironically, 23 per cent stating that menu prices had risen due to green costs such as recycling, licensees are clawing back margins where they can and are working to protect their bottom lines.
However not many of those taking green measures are currently shouting about their eco-credentials to customers. Just 29 per cent tell their customers about it, a figure which with the increasing importance of the environment to consumers, will surely increase over the coming years.
The end of 2008 saw confirmation that the UK-wide Scores on the Doors scheme from the Food Standards Agency, whereby food hygiene ratings are voluntarily displayed by food businesses, was to get the go-ahead.
With the scheme now being implemented, those that want to take part may be frustrated by the fact that they haven't seen head nor tail of their Environmental Health Officer (EHO) for quite some time. Or not, depending on how nifty they are with a mop of course.
Although over half at 53 per cent had seen their EHO within the last six months, 26 per cent had last had a visit six to 12 months ago, 14 per cent between 12 and 18 months ago and five percent have been waiting for more than 18 months.
The average time that licensees have been waiting for a visit has also increased, from 7.1 months last year, to 7.29 months. Though the number of those that have been visited and given the all clear has climbed two per cent to 86 per cent.