Pubs can aspire to be health heroes too

By Sophie Atherton

- Last updated on GMT

Great plates: ensuring customers are given proper, well-cooked food will help them kick start their year in the best way possible
Great plates: ensuring customers are given proper, well-cooked food will help them kick start their year in the best way possible
The season of guilt has begun but your business can be a place for those seeking wholesome fulfilment.

Now that all the festivities are complete, the season of remorse and resolutions is upon us. All across the land people are berating themselves for having too many beers, eating too much chocolate, having those three extra roast potatoes, not using a measure as they poured the (giant) gin and tonics and for flopping on the sofa instead of taking that Boxing Day walk.

Yes, hot on the heels of the season to be jolly is the month of feeling guilty. Hence the cynical timing of Dry January ​and anything else that exploits people feeling bad about a little bit of over-indulgence.

I don’t need to tell you what a pain in the backside this is. Those who run or work in pubs know that it’s one of the main reasons January can be so quiet. Sure, people need to recover from Christmas and New Year’s Eve, but it’s never taken me a whole month to get over a party.

What I, and I imagine many pub-going punters, want is to get back to normality. Part of this is a return to moderation in eating and drinking while recognising that, yes, we have had a bit of a blowout over the past couple of weeks. But no guilt, just a quiet acknowledgement that we all need to look after ourselves if we want to stay happy and healthy.

So there’s no reason not to go to the pub for dinner in January is there? Except that, as reported recently in The Morning Advertiser​, there might be. Because according to scientists from the University of Liverpool, many pub meals contain hundreds more calories than a fast-food burger and fries​ and, in some cases, enough calories to last someone nearly all day.

Add the calories in a couple of pints or a few glasses of wine and you soon see why even those who don’t suffer post-Christmas guilt might decide to avoid the pub for a while.

Cling and ding

Around the same time, the Liverpool university scientists revealed their findings, I was indulging in something that perhaps should make me feel guilty. Reading the AIBUs (Am I Being Unreasonable?) on Mumsnet. Believe it or not, now and again it turns up some fascinating and useful insights into attitudes on beer, pubs and eating out.

On this occasion the discussion was about if it was unreasonable to be fed up at being served the equivalent of a microwaved ready meal in a chain restaurant. The post hinged around a specific chain but ‘Mumsnetters’ soon let their wider dissatisfaction at what I learned is known as ‘cling and ding’ be known. Pubs were not exempt from criticism.

It certainly rang a a few bells with me. My resentment at handing over good money for something that has come out of a microwave continues to grow.

It began a few years ago in a pub that served me a jacket potato that was frozen in the middle. The latest episode was finding the sort of lumps in mashed potato that only occur in the instant kind. This was in a meal, ordered in a pub that boasts all its dishes are made using only locally sourced, seasonal produce, fresh fruit and vegetables. The Mumsnet discussion was full of similar disappointments and many declarations along the lines of ‘this is why I rarely eat out anymore’.

I know the last thing hard-working licensees need is another stick to beat themselves with but, just as I know the shortage of trained chefs isn’t something that will be solved overnight, I also think there’s opportunity here for pubs – and the beginning of the year is the right time to do it. It could be as simple as arranging a pub walk as an event to draw in the punters, perhaps in collaboration with a local walking group. If you have a pub that serves food and want to go a step further then it’s time for a menu audit.

Boost to wellbeing

Don’t fall into the sweet potato fries or salad swap trap. The former isn’t as healthy as anyone thinks and the latter is usually insubstantial and unseasonal. Proper vegetables are the answer and lots of them. Punters will leave feeling satisfied but not bloated and that’s a recipe for making them want to return.

We already know that the social aspect of pubgoing can be an enormous boost to people’s wellbeing. It’s time the pub built on this foundation and resolved to become a hero of physical health too.

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