Mothering Sunday, on 10 March, has become one of the trade’s biggest food occasions, thanks to the relaxed, informal and family-friendly atmosphere that pubs do best.
When the need is simply to get mum out of the kitchen for a good-value lunch you may not even have to change your usual Sunday menu. As Punch Taverns’ catering development manager Alan Todd says: “A good, wholesome roast dinner is a must.”
While a special menu can give you the edge over a rival, every independent pub can give a roast its own twist, most simply by buying meat from a local butcher or farmer. “But, more importantly, pubs must make sure classic roast beef and lamb dishes are on the menu, plus lighter choices such as chicken and salmon,” Todd advises.
Then, with everyone wanting to eat in the space of a few hours, it’s a matter of working out how you can maximise your capacity and turn tables quickly without making your guests feel rushed. You also need to think about the whole family, not just mum, says Punch drinks category manager Stephen Martin.
“It may be Mothers’ Day, but it’s important not to forget about the kids by providing activities to keep them entertained, and supply children’s menus,” he says.
“For dad, make sure you have a good cask-beer offering, as well as a range of wines, and make sure wine can be bought by the glass and not just the bottle — a glass sale is better than no sale at all. About a week before, I would advise licensees to sit down with staff to make them aware of any specials and promotions — and get them excited about the day,” he adds. “It will rub off on your customers.”
Punch has offered a range of support tools to its licensees, including an in-house design service for promotional literature. One pub that’s taken advantage is the Plough & Harrow in Whitnash, Warwickshire, taken over by Sigourney Gowlett last June following a £250,000 refurbishment.
“We have opened up the lounge and do proper food from a good chef,” she says. “Now people can walk up the road to their local to eat and they love it. We’re fully booked most Sundays.
“We get a lot of families in here because of the big garden and play area out the back, and we’re really pushing Mothers’ Day. We’ve created a three-course menu that people can pre-order, plus a special half-price menu for children under 10.
“And we’ve gone to a local florist for bunches of flowers that we can give to the mums, which will be a nice touch.”
The Plough & Harrow’s Mothers’ Day menu is £15.95 for three courses or £12.95 for two. As well as roast lamb and pork, it includes light dishes such as a chicken and bacon Caesar salad, vegetable lasagne and smoked salmon linguini, as well as a comforting steak and kidney pudding.
Desserts are likely to go well as a treat for mum, and the pub’s selection includes tarte au citron with raspberry coulis; bread & butter pudding; and chocolate fondant with clotted cream.
Offer a package to keep mum happy
With pubs being more family-friendly and food-oriented, Mothers’ Day has assumed greater prominence in the calendar. But the economic climate means potential guests are going to be tempted to save money by staying home.
Julie Ingham, of Continental Wine & Food (CWF), thinks pubs could steal an idea from the supermarkets and offer a ‘dine for less’ themed package by sourcing keenly priced but good-quality house wines, such as CWF’s Kissing Tree range — or, for something more special, a fashionable sparkling Prosecco.
“You can link a wine to a menu choice and then pitch a reasonable offer, promoting it from Valentine’s Day on chalkboards, in eye-catching displays or via email to your customer database, so you can win early bookings,” she says.
"Just don’t fall into the trap of trying to book too many people in. The experience can soon turn sour if customers have to wait hours for their table or feel rushed.”
One in five mothers don’t drink alcohol, but might like the idea of something with a bit of fizz, which is where Shloer comes in, reckons head of brand for the adult sparkler, Amanda Grabham.
“People already associate the brand with family occasions and Sunday lunch,” she says. “We’re reinforcing that through our Best Served Shared — on Sundays campaign, and we’re keen to work with licensees to develop bespoke Mothers’ Day promotional activity.”
Last year Shloer teamed up with a pub operator to run a Mothers’ Day offer on Facebook. People posted entries saying why their mum is ‘the best’ with the winners receiving a free bottle of Shloer in their local pub. It resulted in a 28% uplift in Shloer sales.
And with more women choosing a cask beer these days, it’s worth making sure you’ve an ale on the pumps that suits the female palate, says Andrew Roberts, MD of the Box Steam Brewery in Holt, Wiltshire.
“Drinking cask ales with food is becoming more popular and we’d recommend that country pubs create a special menu pairing a three-course meal with three guest ales.”
Alternatively, you could do the same with ciders, suggests Westons’ on-trade customer marketing manager Helen McIlveen. “It will not only give the customer a unique experience but also encourage them to trade up and try a more premium cider.”
Case study: Almond Family Pubs
The Almond family’s four carvery pubs are bidding to extend the Mothers’ Day occasion by encouraging people to bring their ‘second mum’ (grandmother or stepmother) along for a meal on the Saturday.
Sunday is already the busiest day at the Hesketh Tavern in Cheadle, a Star Pubs & Bars lease with a play area, the Three Bears in Hazel Grove and the Puss in Boots in Stockport, all in Cheshire, and the Fletchers Arms in Denton, Manchester, and company director James Almond expects the group to be “extremely busy” on Mothers’ Day.
“It’s usually our busiest day of the year, but we won’t profiteer by putting up our prices — we want people to come back to us on other Sundays! So it’s our regular roast — beef, turkey, chicken — plus something different such as duck or pork char sui.
“We up our game, put on extra staff and make a special effort. If a family has booked we allow them two-and-a-half hours on the table, so they have plenty of time for a dessert, and we’d expect a higher spend per head because of that.
“Another thing we’re doing for Mothers’ Day this year is to encourage people to book for the Saturday before by inviting one member of the party to eat for free,” he adds. “We’ve emailed 6,000 of our regulars about the offer and we’re hoping the Saturday will be the day when sons and daughters bring their grandmother or stepmother — a lot of people have more than one mother these days.”
The Hesketh Sunday menu has a Great British Carvery Buffet for £9.50, with fresh veg, stuffing, Yorkshire puddings and three gravies; a hot carvery bun for £5.95; and a veggie carvery (£6).
Children under three can have a ‘free plate’, so they can share their parents’ meal, and there is also a children’s carvery for £5.