The explosion of gastropubs in the wake of the smoking ban helped reignite interest in the pub among a new, perhaps previously neglected audience.
In some cases, you could argue that some pubs went too far, and the food offer overtook the traditional pastime of drinking with friends down the pub.
Often drinkers would find themselves being squeezed out of their locals as the management threw everything they had into chasing the desired food pounds, devoting vast areas of their sites to food-only customers, with drinkers often ghettoised — herded into a tiny area of the bar to step on each others toes to avoid the plates of food flying by.
For some pubs, this move proved disastrous — those that ignored their customer base and ploughed on regardless down the gastropub route are even now struggling to get their businesses on track, with alienated customers, both drinkers and diners, reluctant to return.
However, despite those mistakes, food remains a vital and important part of the pub landscape, and one we ignore at our peril.
Recent research has shown that more than half of adults surveyed by Mintel said better food would encourage them to visit pubs more often (p1) — but before you rush to put cloths on every table, note that key word, “better”.
It’s not about turning your pub into the latest challenge to Jamie Oliver’s empire, it’s about doing a better job with what you’ve got, and working with the market you’re in.
Think about your food offer smarter — 72% of people said they were more likely to opt for a meal if it was homemade — when you’re visiting your local cash and carry, how is that matching up to what’s going into your trolley?
It doesn’t have to be a gastronomic miracle coming out of the kitchen, it just needs to tick a few key boxes: good quality, locally sourced, homemade, seasonal — those are the keywords that float consumers’ boats.
You may just be offering scampi and chips (with those peanuts), or even just ham rolls on the bar, but focus on the quality of the offer, and its provenance, and you’ll find consumers responding.
According to Mintel, drink sales will remain the engine driving the pub sector turnover — they’ll come for the drinks, but get your food offer right, and they’ll stay for the food.
The bigger operators understand this — Star Pubs and Bars is committed to shifting more into the food space, aiming to balance its revenue 50:50 between food and drink
across its sites.
And don’t forget that balance, in all things and not just diet, is important — don’t ignore those drinkers in favour of the diners, your pub should be home to everyone. Those guys standing at the bar, taking in all those amazing homemade smells, provide a great opportunity of becoming future dining customers.