Giving customers the chance to try unusual and less widely available ingredients helps to keen customers engaged. For Karen Errington, co-owner of the Rat Inn, in Anick, Northumberland, this can mean buying eye-catching products which are in season and only available for a limited time. “Sea trout is the same species as brown trout but due to leaving the river to feed in the seas, its flesh becomes closer to wild salmon in texture, taste and colour and is highly prized,” she says. “The best way we find to help our customers enjoy this beautiful fish is to cook it simply and allow the earthy flavour of the fish to stand out. It’s not an inexpensive fish but customers are happy to pay a premium price, enabling us to achieve a GP of around 65% at £17.95 per portion.”
Ugly Fish Fryday ran from 5pm every Friday throughout May across Thwaites’ seven Inns of Character. Each pub’s website promoted the Friday offer of “more facially challenged fish which can still taste fantastic”. Each Friday chef patron Anson Bolton at the Millstone at Mellor, Blackburn, Lancashire, considered availability and often used cuttlefish, mahi mahi and grouper. The top seller was monkfish in a basket with salsa verde, rocket & caper salad, lemon and chips (£15.95). Bolton used social media to publicise the Friday catch, which proved a great talking point for the service teams and guests. The inns running this promotion saw an average of 5% to 10% uplift in fish sales compared with a normal Friday.
Fish for nippers
The Seafood Pub Company’s four pubs in the north-west – soon rising to six, when two new Lancashire pubs are added later this year – together sell around 600 children’s meals in two portion sizes monthly, helped by a seafood menu across the group that features a joke alongside each dish. “Jokes have an important place on our children’s menus as we believe in making their visit just as enjoyable as for grown-ups,” explains managing director Joycelyn Neve. “Children aren’t badly behaved in our pubs because we don’t treat them as kids, but as miniature adults. We give them what they enjoy (not a million miles away from the adults’ food) with plenty of ketchup and daft jokes to chuckle at. And crucially, we know that children don’t come in one size – so our meals come in ‘small tum’ and an older ‘hungry’ size.” Fish and chips, mushy peas and ketchup (small tum £4.95 / hungry £7.50) is accompanied by the line: “What do you call a fish without an eye? Fsh!”
Offering an extensive range of sauces with local mussels drawn from the River Exe, at the doorstep of Heavitree Brewery-owned leasehold the Anchor Inn at Cockwood, Devon, is key to the success of this busy food-led pub. Served with 26 different sauces, mussels come as a starter with warm crusty bread (£8.95) or main with chips & warm crusty bread (£14.95).General manager Scott Hellier says: “Mussels and seafood are our menu’s main attraction. Serving fresh, quality produce, delivered daily by River Exe Shellfish Farm, and offering wide variety of flavours helps us cater for all tastes. Among our best-sellers is Loire, with garlic, white wine and fish stock, but they all have a good turnover: we can sell 100 kg in a quiet week and up to 500kg at a peak weekend. “We’re well known for our sharing starter, comprising mussels in a trio of French, Italian and Brittany-style sauces, and our shellfish selections for up to four to share.”
Show us your mussels
Moules and frites with a glass of Muscadet are an affordable midweek treat at Enterprise Inns lease the Earl of March, where the combination costs £12.50 on Tuesday evenings. After a steaming bowl of moules, crisp pomme frites and a chilled glass of Muscadet, customers are offered freshly prepared liqueur crêpes served with Royal Bourbon vanilla ice cream for an additional £2.50. Chef-proprietor Giles Thompson says: “Our moules, frites and Muscadet offer is extremely popular, at least doubling trade on an otherwise quiet evening. Locals look forward to it as it offers such a treat combined with a chance for an informal get-together. We don’t make a great deal on the offer – its benefits are all about giving customers a reliable event they can put in their diaries and encouraging new and repeat trade from the friends they enjoy introducing.”
At free-of-tie private lease the Ring O’ Bells in Widcombe, near Bath, chefs love collaborating on the weekly Seafood Night menu, prioritising fresh, seasonal ingredients for French classics and original and modern dishes “to encourage customers to look beyond prawn cocktail or fish & chips”. The night boosts Wednesday trade by at least one-third, motivates staff and raises the rural pub’s profile. “We’re not in central Bath so we’re giving customers a good reason to visit,” explains chef John Headley. Sous chef Dave Giddings plans the seafood menu on Mondays, according to seasonal availability from Cornish supplier Wing of St Mawes (www.wingofstmawes.co.uk/home), with any spare fish used for specials. Bouillabaisse is a top seller (£8-£9 depending on prices), Set prices for two and three courses (£22/£26) offer significant savings. The flexible team also provides a short meat and vegetarian menu on Wednesdays, in response to requests.
Never using frozen fish is the USP at Rottingdean’s Enterprise lease, the Queen Victoria, in Rottingdean, East Sussex. Crab and lobster caught off Rottingdean beach are bought frequently in small quantities directly from the fisherman, while wet fish comes from a Newhaven fisherman also acting as a local wholesaler, at Enterprise Inns lease the Queen Victoria in Rottingdean, East Sussex. “Last summer, we sold 145 crabs and 183 lobsters,” says co-tenant and chef Ian Wilson. “They aren't cheap, but they’re excellent quality. We work to a cash margin rather than GP, making £10 to £15 per unit.” The village pub also sells about 2.5 kg of smoked haddock weekly, including serving it as a main or as a starter/light bite with locally baked brown bread and Sussex butter. Home-made mackerel pâté is popular too.
Cold water are king
Prawn dishes account for 40% of all seafood eaten out of home, with prawn cocktail being the most popular dish, accounting for 10% of all seafood dishes.
The Fleece Inn in Barkisland, Yorkshire, uses cold water prawns from Royal Greenland in seven dishes on its menu and offers a ‘Fish Friday’ themed menu. The most popular dish is Royal Greenland prawn & Bleikers Yorkshire smoked salmon, Marie rose sauce (£8). Since Royal Greenland prawns were introduced as the sole prawn supplier two years ago, substantial cost savings have been made. The pub's prawn sandwich accounts for 18% of lunch orders. By making the switch to using Royal Greenland’s cold water prawns, the Fleece has been able to make a saving of 17% compared to using warm water varieties. Over 11 months, this saving equates to hundreds of pounds. Manager Lee Roberts says: concluded: “The cost saving is an additional bonus to us, as we selected to use the prawns due to their taste, texture and sustainability credentials."