Why is the pub industry so undervalued?

By Karen Errington

- Last updated on GMT

New attitude: most of the issues that affect pubs could be solved if they were viewed differently according to Karen Errington
New attitude: most of the issues that affect pubs could be solved if they were viewed differently according to Karen Errington
Making food pay is a tricky business as the margins are tight and fragile according to Karen Errington, the chef-owner of The Rat Inn in Northumberland

Pubs across the country are still closing at an alarming rate.

A good friend who operates a successful leasehold for a large brewer has learned 40% of its tenanted operations are in need of new operators. We have most definitely heard enough of the ‘B’ word and the continued frustration of not knowing when and if that will happen, and what effect that will have on the trade.

I had a couple of local businessmen in for lunch last week. When the bill was presented, I overheard them comment to each other that the meals were expensive.

I’m not going to bother banging on about overheads, or the fact that they’d chosen the most expensive item from the menu, but what struck me most about this comment was how undervalued as an industry we are and how most of the issues that affect us today could be solved if we were viewed differently.

Making food pay is a tricky business – the margins are tight and fragile.

The selling price of an item must reflect every cost the business has to sustain to produce the dish. It is easy to calculate your fixed costs but there are variables the customer does not see, such as ingredient price fluctuations, breakages, and unpredictable forces like the weather and (as happened to us a few weeks ago) a burst pipe under the kitchen floor that resulted in us not being able to trade for a week.

Don’t forget also the people who complain or decide ‘they’ve made the wrong choice’ then expect us as a business to absorb the cost of their non enjoyment by not charging for the meal. While we can let people select from a menu and cook it as requested, what we cannot guarantee (but are expected to) is that person will enjoy.

Low wages, long hours, staff shortages, tipping, flexible working hours and a better work-life balance and even the ‘no show’ problem all stem from the fact people do not value us well enough.

Let’s consider the two gents who came in for lunch, whom I know charge £50 to write a letter and stick a stamp on it and believe they are offering good value to their clients. I’m sure they have undergone lengthy professional training within their field, obviously reflected in the cost of that service.

But you know what? So have we. We are skilled professionals who have spent years perfecting what we do and are constantly learning – this is a business in which you cannot afford to stand still; yet we provide an undervalued service. The sad truth is that unless people are willing to pay more for their meals, major issues will continue to rumble on.

How someone charging £50 to write a letter can say the same amount for two great-quality, premium products, cooked and served by skilled people in nice surroundings is too expensive, is beyond me.

Actually, it’s an absolute bargain and it’s about time we all started shouting about it.

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