A Sc-hot proposition: Burns Night at pubs

By Tony Halstead

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Scotland Robert burns

Burns Night: opportunity for pubs
Burns Night: opportunity for pubs
Burns Night presents one of the few opportunities in January for licensees to entice people into the pub with a big event, says Tony Halstead — and...

Burns Night presents one of the few opportunities in January for licensees to entice people into the pub with a big event, says Tony Halstead — and it doesn't have to just be about tartan and haggis.

The clans are gathering for the celebration of one of Scotland's great institutions, the annual Burns Night Supper.

The anniversary of the birth of the country's greatest poet, Robert Burns, on 25 January has been a feature of Scottish life since the great bard's death in 1796.

Today the festivities come in all shapes and sizes and take place all over the globe. From elaborate dinners complete with pipe bands and pipers to more simple events such as a haggis supper, it represents a huge opportunity for licensees looking for a way to generate business in what is usually the quietest month of the year.

It needn't involve lots of work or a huge outlay of cash either.

Scottish music, Scotland-themed food, some decorations and plenty of whisky are all that is needed for a successful bash.

Food wholesalers and spirits suppliers often weigh in to support Burns Night events at venues across the country.

The Black Grouse, the premium brother of The Famous Grouse for example, is once again running a variety of promotions across the on-trade with 350 special "whisky of the month" kits supplied to pubs, and the brand is also sponsoring various Burns Night suppers and functions throughout the UK.

Driving Burns Night trade

"Licensees can accrue high food profit margins from a well-thought out Burns Night," says Jeremy Woodward, managing director at licensed trade wholesale supplier Woodward Foodservice.

"Haggis is making a resurgence in popularity thanks to top chefs putting it on everyday menus," says Woodward. He adds: "The popular product and the fantastic Scottish tradition will offer a margin-busting evening during the quietest month of the year."

Or you could decide to reflect a more modern version of Scotland by serving Aberdeen Angus burgers and Scottish beers from brewers as diverse as BrewDog or the Caledonian Brewery. And, since both Glasgow and Edinburgh have lively music scenes, why not reflect this by playing music from bands such as Belle & Sebastian, Franz Ferdinand, Primal Scream or many more?

So it's not all about haggis and tartan, after all, although who knows what Burns would think about that?

Case study: the Clarendon Hotel, Morecambe, Lancashire

Proving you don't have to be in Scotland to make the most of Burns Night, licensee Jackie Dawson has been running events for 17 years at the hotels she has managed for Lancaster-based pub operator Mitchell's.

An appearance by the Lockerbie Pipe Band plus two professional pipers is just one of the attractions people look forward to at the Clarendon.

But Dawson says attention to detail and creating a sense of atmosphere and theatre are both essential to the success of the evening.

"We decorate the dining room and extend this to the tables with tartan ribbons and heather, and we supply a miniature bottle of whisky or other spirit to each guest.

"You have to create the right atmosphere — and the fact that all our regular attendees dress up adds to the occasion," she explains.

"The band is always the highlight of the event and everyone looks forward to hearing it play. Getting a toastmaster or chief guest with the right sort of theatre to address the haggis and recite the Selkirk Grace is also tremendously important," Dawson adds.

A Scottish-themed menu starting with haggis followed by dishes such as Scottish beef and pear & whisky tart is always well received.

"We are charging £25 per head this year with the whisky and decorations factored into the cost. Luckily the pipe band entertains free of charge, although we offer them free bed and breakfast," she adds.

"It's a good profit-maker for us offering 62% GP on the food and 45% GP on the bar, which is very busy on the night," Dawson says.

Top event-building tips

• Offer tots of free whisky and factor the cost into the price of the ticket.

• Engage a toastmaster or accomplished master of ceremonies. A sense of theatre is essential when it comes to "addressing the haggis" and reciting the Selkirk Grace.

• Music is important to set the atmosphere. Go classic with a piper or a fiddler, or use your pub sound-system to play traditional tunes.

• Besides the traditional haggis, neeps and tatties, think about less obvious options such as cullen skink, venison, Aberdeen Angus beef and raspberry cranachan.

• Decorating your room and tables in a Scottish theme to create the right atmosphere will help — but it doesn't have to be tartan. Take inspiration from Scottish heather, or the famous Scottish art deco designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh

• And it's not just about Scotch whisky. Consider stocking some Scottish ales to accompany the event as well.

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