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How has lockdown changed pub menus and how are publicans going to start to grow their food business again?

By MA Editorial

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Booker, Food

The Morning Advertiser talks to Simon King, sales director at Booker and Makro to understand what trends the wholesaler has been seeing during lockdown and how this will help operators moving forward.

Now that the pub sector is beginning to open back up, what do you think are the main challenges facing publicans?

Many of our customers are independent, single site operators and this has been a very tough time for them. However, we have been working hard throughout lockdown to ensure we are in a place to offer practical solutions for those who have continued to trade throughout lockdown and now for those customers who are starting to reopen their businesses.

Our teams are waiting with a warm welcome back to these customers, while continuing to support and help those that have traded through. We will be delighted to help and support wherever we can.

The first thing that we are seeing publicans focus on is the need to get their cleaning regime right and get Covid secure. This has never been so important for the health and wellbeing of their colleagues and customers and is a crucial part of giving their patrons confidence to visit their pub.

At Booker and Makro we have a range of professional cleaning products called Clean Pro that have been specifically developed for the demands of a catering kitchen, a busy bar, customer facilities etc. Clean Pro products offer great value for money on a range that customers can trust.  For instance the range is tested to EN standards 1276/ 1499/1500/ 13697/ 14476. 

To help customers further, we have developed a cleaning guide so publicans have a starting point when beginning to develop their new cleaning solutions.   This covers things like essential cleaning products, how and where to use them and the key areas to remember.  This is available on our website for anyone to download.

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Some publicans have been operating a take-away or delivery service through the lockdown.  Has this proved to be successful?

Yes it has for many of our customers and I believe that many will continue to do this to help boost their profits during what remains a difficult time.

We are all operating in a very different world and this has meant that we helped some customers innovate their offering to adapt to their current circumstances. To comply with social distancing, many publicans have removed tables which has resulted in a lot less covers so take-away and/or delivery seems to be a neat way to plug that gap.

One aspect that is very important to consumers regarding take-away is the packaging for their food. This has very clear implications for food safety and quality, however consumers are still very environmentally aware. This is where we have tried to help. We continue to increase our range of ‘greener’ packaging which includes a variety of food boxes, cutlery, napkins, straws and stirrers. These boxes are great for food quality too and we have seen more and more customers buy into the range. We even have the UK’s first biodegradable, recyclable and compostable coffee cup, which some customers have been using as a container for hot sauces and gravy.

Gourmet Onion Stack Burger+ beer

Offering a take-away or delivery service is a really exciting opportunity. Having a strong range of core dishes is a good place start and pubs have been reflecting on what were their bestsellers before lockdown came into place and the ability they have be translated into a takeaway meal. If you were famous locally for outstanding burgers and chips, maybe this is something that you can look at, or if they were always fully booked on a Sunday, is a traditional roast a starting point for them.

So having a slimmed down menu is something that you would suggest to customers?

Our customers know their business and the best way for them to operate it. What we have seen is the customers that are offering a smaller menu that covers the most popular traditional favourites seem to be selling the most. These are roast dinners, fish & chips, burgers – all classic comfort pub food dishes. Doing a smaller choice of meals well, given the limitations of social distancing in kitchens, has been appreciated by many consumers that our customers have been serving during the lockdown and this is set to continue. We have also noticed that as businesses are slowly opening up, more and more offices are having deliveries during the day for their teams. These are completely new customers for that pub as they would not have visited the premises for mid-week lunch before the lockdown.

How quickly should a publican be making these changes?

The key thing for any publican is to do this at their own pace and what they and their teams are comfortable with. There are lots of new measures that we have and are still adjusting to and this takes time. One thing I can guarantee is that every publican will receive a warm welcome at Booker and Makro. As well as being able to shop in our branches, we also offer a free delivery service at cash & carry prices, which gives our customers more time in their business. On-line ordering is really simple, with our branch teams being available to help with any support or advice. Our butchery counters are open, where our skilled butchers can offer their ideas on any styles or cuts of fresh meat and then get everything prepared to our customer’s exact requirements. Our team of Catering Development Managers are also on hand in our branches to help and I would encourage anyone with any questions to call in and see us.

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Is there any additional help or support that Booker and Makro can offer?

One thing that is unique for Booker customers is that they can use their card in their local Tesco to top-up with any last minute items that they may need. Using their Booker card, we will produce a voucher of up to 3% value of your Tesco purchases to use in Booker.

Finally, I’d just like to reassure our customers or any publican that we are here to serve them and help them grow their business and if there is anything we can do, please call into your local branch.

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