It has been interesting to monitor a number of recent reports demonstrating that UK consumers plan to continue to eat and drink away from home, despite ongoing pressure on the family purse strings.
And side by side with this, it has been equally enlightening to know that while most pubs continue to report falls in sales, those that offer food are actually showing an increase in sales.
While the strains on personal budgets mean consumers have to make serious choices about how to spend what disposable income they have (if any), it seems that the one pleasure they are most loathe to give up is the ability to have an enjoyable, sociable night out at the pub — especially if they can eat there too.
It appears too that pub operators are increasingly cottoning on to this developing pattern, and delivering nourishing, healthy food for all the family, alongside traditional sales of alcohol.
We've noticed also that the cannier operators are responding to this trend by seeking to alter their traditional wet-led propositions.
The giant Mitchells & Butlers (M&B) is, of course, leading the way, thanks to its powerful food-led brands such as Toby Carvery and Harvester. Its plans for expansion in this area come as little surprise as food sales outstrip drink sales for the first time in the company's history. But M&B is not alone in sensing the time is ripe for expanding food-led propositions.
Right now, for instance, Christie+Co is working with Brunning & Price to find suitable, family-friendly, characterful properties to extend the brand across the UK from its current north-west focused operation.
But as much as offering something extra, such as quality food, is helping operators like Brunning & Price to capitalise on their strengths, location plays an important part too — at least that's what the potential investors are telling us. Pubs that can deliver a prime location, with a quality food and drink offering, should enjoy a reasonably rosy future — and that goes as much for the stand-alone freehold freehouse as the managed pubs of the larger operators.
It would also be too simple to believe that food-led pubs will only benefit from this upsurge in custom during difficult economic times — after all, the habits formed by consumers now may well stay with them as financial conditions improve. Traditional wet-led pub operations are already feeling the strain, so a more diverse offering may be their only way forward.