What to do with food before closing a pub kitchen

By Emily Hawkins

- Last updated on GMT

Donate and preserve: two gastropub operators have shared their tips for shutting down a kitchen
Donate and preserve: two gastropub operators have shared their tips for shutting down a kitchen

Related tags Food Coronavirus

Many pubs are choosing to close entirely rather than continue their operations as a takeaway or delivery service. Two gastropub operators share their advice to pubs closing down their kitchens about what to do with leftover food.

Chef Patron Ben Handley is the chef-patron at the Duck in Stanhoe, Norfolk, and has closed his kitchen for the foreseeable future. 

Good deeds

London pub operator Fugitive Motel handed out surplus kitchen produce at the weekend following the closure of its Bethnal Green site in east London.

Staff from the pub took food to the Royal London Hospital and gave it to NHS workers. They took food boxes containing ingredients that would usually be used in its sourdough pizza and brunch menus.

My Post-5

The pub donated meals to the Purfleet Trust, which helps homeless people in the area. It handed out trays of lasagne, using up dry-aged beef and some of the wine it had in storage. 

Handley told The Morning Advertiser ​he considered offering takeaways as an initial “surival instinct” but given the pub’s rural location, it would not have been able to use a service like Deliveroo or UberEats.

He added: “News broke that all big chains were ceasing their takeaways – full stop. It scared me a little because if McDonald’s doesn’t feel it can operate a safe fast-food collection then we have no chance out here in the sticks. 

“I’ve always had the mentality that I don’t like to see a lot of waste and I’d rather give food away on a normal basis anyway.”

Survival instinct  

The pub also used a packing machine to hygienically seal food to both preserve and give away, including fish and ham hock pies.

Ben Handley is ready to open The Duck's kitchen
Ben Handley is ready to open The Duck's kitchen

He also gave food to staff, who left the pub with packages of eggs, flour and diary products with a short shelf life.

Handley’s advice to other publicans would be to “drip feed” any donations by freezing as much produce as possible, given the outbreak is likely to go on for several months.

“We haven’t just got a lorry-full we are chucking out in one go,” he said.

The Duck’s kitchen has been left in a state where it would be ready-to-go for when pubs are allowed to reopen. Staff cling film-wrapped plates and vacuum-packed them to go into storage, in addition to cling filming surfaces so rust does not get in.

Handley explained: “My advice would be to try to use what has a short shelf life and being really sensible about what you are using, preserve anything that you can. 

“I would imagine people in our industry are the least likely to be those panic buying in supermarkets, we have a good survival instinct.”

The Unruly Pig in Woodbridge, Suffolk, has also stopped its takeaway and delivery service called ‘Be Unruly at home’ after running out of fresh food, with operator Brendan Padfield deciding not to reorder food and risk it going to waste.

He explained: “Less than two days later, the Government effectively imposed a national lockdown, so we feel we luckily made a very timely decision.

“Therefore, again more by luck than judgment, we had successfully already run down/used much of our food stock.”

Lower prices 

To use up roast joints that had been ordered in for cancelled Mother’s Day meals, the pub offered a ‘roast pack’. This was a box that contained a joint of meat, all the prepped vegetables and already-cooked roast potatoes, Yorkshire puddings, plus ready-made gravy. 

Brendan Padfield closed his takeaway offer at The Unruly Pig but not before running down stock
Brendan Padfield closed takeaway offer at The Unruly Pig but not before running down stock

Padfield said: “We sold out. It was a fab way of using up stock specially bought in for Mother’s Day.”

The pub also set up ‘The Unruly Shop’, which sold vegetables, meat, wine, soft drinks and beer. “The already-prepped octopus (which was obviously vacuum packed) and trays of eggs on offer at good prices just flew out the door,” Padfield said.

His suggestion for other operators is this: “If you lower your prices enough, you will at least recover the outlay/cost (and a little more) and get some valuable cash back in the bank. ‘Go low, get the cash’ – that’s my advice.”

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