While many customers across the country have been missing pub grub, there is a great deal of uncertainty from consumers about eating out again, as well as restrictions that operators must follow.
With these considerations taken into account, publicans have been assessing their kitchen capabilities and planning new menus to cater for reduced trade. Many have decided to continue takeaway and delivery offers as a substantial part of their operation, incorporating these menus with eating-in versions adapted for socially distanced dining.
Some publicans say they have decided which dishes have made the cut and those that have had to go, based on the popularity of their takeaway and delivery offers.
At the Victoria Inn in Threemilestone, Truro, Cornwall, a burger meal developed as a home delivery option will be added to the pub’s main menu when reopening. It’s ‘double doorstep burger’ has proved so popular it will now be a staple for diners too at the seaside site.
Small and simple
Sarah Watts-Jones, operator of the Hare & Hounds pub in Aberthin, south Wales, says the regular formulation of the pub’s takeaway menu has been similar to how the kitchen team would usually devise a small menu that changes on a day-to-day basis, influenced by seasonal produce.
Although she is unsure when she will be able to reopen again, owing to the devolved elements of lockdown regulations, the publican is hopeful it will be while the weather is good. Social distancing and lockdown elements mean the pub’s usual process of using its own produce has been thrown off course, though the pub is confident it will be able to offer a sorely missed experience to its regulars with fresh and local ingredients.
Watts-Jones explains: “We’re hoping that opening will be at some point in the summer, so the menu will be using the best of Welsh summer produce, such as strawberries, raspberries, Cardigan Bay shellfish. It feels so odd that we’ve missed wild garlic season and asparagus season. A section of our seasonal year is missing.
“We would normally use a lot of produce from our kitchen garden, but it’s not looking like that will be possible unless we get planting very soon.
“We may start with a smaller and simpler menu so that we do not need as large a team working and to keep costs down.”
Most pubs will have to reduce the scale of their kitchen operation to meet the changed level of demand, including staffing. Although the furlough extension process is beginning to look a little clearer, many publicans are awaiting more news. They hope to have details of the extent that wages will be subsidised and whether those furloughed will be free to work reduced hours soon.
When asked about their plans for reopening, one reader of The Morning Advertiser said their new menu would be one that required “as little prep as possible” to reduce staffing levels.
Lee Wilson who is the director of operations at Rockwater, a pub that was set to open this summer but has now begun operations through seaside kiosks in Hove, East Sussex, says he is prioritising customer experience despite the radical change in how food and drink is served.
He says: “I have always had the adage that great hospitality businesses are serving an emotional experience and not just a plate of food or a drink.
“There are huge amounts of people obviously longing to return, thinking about the good old fun times. The obvious challenge for everybody is about how do we create those great times that the pub industry is famous for, in what will be a new world?”
Regaining the public’s confidence in food businesses is crucial to the advent of his operation, Wilson believes, which is why he is starting with a limited menu.
He says: “We are trying to have something very simple. So that we can have one person producing levels of food – not under undue stress and pressure. We are conscious of our footfall numbers that could come to the beach and want to make sure we don’t overstretch people where they could make mistakes.”
At the moment, this means a menu with food that is easy to be prepared and refigured, such as charcuterie and cheese boards.
Wilson says working with local suppliers to ensure it is still possible to provide high-quality food within the restrictions has been essential. He says these relationships have helped in “keeping the food offer really tasty but really simple”.
Jordan Thompson, head chef at the Crate & Apple, Chichester, West Sussex, agrees with this sentiment. He explains: “It’s going to have to be faster food, simply done but without sacrificing the individuality of what should be your niche promotion. From a chef’s point of view, we are going to have to be quite clever, it will have to be faster food because we will be losing the turnover of custom by a large amount of people because of social distancing.”
When considering which dishes to ditch, his advice is this: “I would stick to simple. It should always start from being seasonal, for example, I would go with simple fish dishes like sea bass.
He adds: “I’ll go about shortening the menu but keeping it more local and seasonal without losing the artistic flair of what you are promoting food-wise – it’s the personality in a sense. Use your suppliers and the season to your advantage.”
While the worry of a second peak of the pandemic looms large, Thompson’s advice is to buy in fresh every day and be prepared to freeze stock from fresh. He adds: “You’re not going to lose a lot of stock that way.”
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