Customers want comforting classics from pub takeaways

By Emily Hawkins

- Last updated on GMT

Comfort food: operators say their customers want to recreate the familiar pub food experience at home
Comfort food: operators say their customers want to recreate the familiar pub food experience at home

Related tags Food coronavirus

As punters adapt to life indoors, pubs are doing their utmost to put food on their regular customers’ tables. And many have found people want classics rather than modish dishes.

In a short space of time, many pubs across the country have adapted their food offers to delivery or takeaway options. 

Operators explain how they have met their customers’ wishes for pub grub and met the needs of their communities in a time of stockpiling and limited shopping trips.

The Pityme Inn, located in St Minver, near Wadebridge in Cornwall, has put together takeaway food boxes for people struggling to find food in the supermarkets; elderly and vulnerable residents who cannot leave the house; and regulars missing the pub’s dishes.

Customers’ orders have been driven by a desire for comfort and familiarity, according to Chris Black, one of the inn’s licensees.

The pub has been delivering frozen meals since the lockdown period was announced, using lasagne, fish pies, pasties and desserts that people can defrost when needed, as well as groceries boxes with essential ingredients.

Comfort food

It has also been working with a local Women’s Institute (WI) to deliver food through a volunteer supply chain.

Black said: “It has been a mixture of pub classics, things that sell really well in the pub usually, such as our home-made burgers that we sell frozen so they are ready to cook and the same kind of products customers could order at the pub.”

He added: “Generally, we’re doing comfort food, such as we have a stock of fresh soups. It’s changing quite a lot as we get to know what people want. And that will change as people get bored of eating the same things so we will keep updating our social media and menu, as well as keeping people up to date with our weekly mailing list.

“It has been good, the community has got behind us, been a lot of support, it’s been quite handy to have some way we can still keep things going.”

Black says because the pub is still fortunate enough to be have daily deliveries from its supplier, it will continue to serve meals. It also has a refrigerated van, which Black says has helped the pub massively with safety concerns: “The risky bit is driving food around when things need to be kept cold, that was one thing and just having enough freezer space. Luckily, because we’re closed, we have stock we can use for the meals.”

He recommends pub operators ensure they have enough takeaway containers before they adapt their offer.

Black’s final words of advice are: “Listen to what your customers want, ask them what they need – their needs are changing to what they were when the pub was open. Keep listening and make sure your deliveries are safe.

“Think about ways to make your life easy enough and help people out, don’t try to do too much too quickly. Grow the offer as to what feels right for you.”

Locals love it

Charlie Garnham, owner of the Five Bells Inn, Devon, says her pub has been offering a range of meals, with “anything that still looks great after being put in containers and transported”.

She continued: “A lot of customers have been eager to eat things like our signature starter Scotch Duck Egg, so we made this into a takeaway dish and included home-made piccalilli, salad and chips.”

Also on the menu are burgers, fish and chips, chicken and chips with the pub’s own sauce, and espresso cheesecakes and chocolate brownies. The inn is operating a village shop too, selling vegetable boxes, home-made ready meals, eggs, milk and home-made bread.

Garnham says: “There’s a shortage of things like flour and eggs in the supermarket but our suppliers are still able to supply us with the normal items – the hens are still laying and the cows still need milking every day.

“Our locals have absolutely loved it. Each night we did a takeaway service, we’ve had many orders. They really want to support us and us them. They sent us photos of them enjoying the food and loved how the food tasted just as good as when they ate at the pub.” 

No need for unique dishes yet

The pub plans to close this service for the moment owing to the Government’s imposition of a three-week ‘lockdown’ so people are wary of travelling to the pub to collect their food but said it is confident it will go back into takeaway service after this is lifted.

Garnham’s advice for other operators would be to use compostable and recyclable containers and avoid buying plastic ones. She explained: “Keep thinking simple but home-made”. And that there was no need for pubs to try and stand out with unique dishes and innovative recipes because the nation wants pub classics right now.

Max Heaton’s Shibden Mill Inn in the Shibden Valley near Halifax, West Yorkshire, was another to adapt very quickly to the closure announcement.

He says: “I would definitely recommend it as an option for any small business looking to survive, especially one that has a chef-patron.” 

The Shibden Mill was one of many pubs that operated food-to-go offers briefly but then made the decision to call it a day, citing financial or safety concerns. 

The pub chose to halt its takeaway service because its head chef is engaged to a nurse at a local hospital and it wanted him to be as safe as possible at home.

Heaton explained: “The takeaway service was a massive success for the short period we ran it. We were overwhelmed by the support from our friends and regular customers. 

“The customers we have spoken to since have confirmed they were delighted with the service and were very disappointed to hear we had to finish the service in order to keep our staff and customers safe from the threat of coronavirus.”

The operator suggested other pubs could operate a collection service, leaving food outside at a safe point such as in a car park with allocated pick-up time slots, as a way to stay open without the health and safety worries of taking food out into the community.

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