The premium food league season has begun

By Gary Lloyd

- Last updated on GMT

Upgrade your food offer to snare extra spend: top pub chefs offer their advice
Upgrade your food offer to snare extra spend: top pub chefs offer their advice

Related tags Food Gastropub Branding + marketing Training

As the country begins the crawl out of the pandemic, pubs need a point of difference to attract customers, and elevating your food offer is one way to differentiate your business from rivals.


Helping pubs bite back with premium snacks

Driving force: KP Snacks can give you a premium nibbles offer

With consumers returning to pubs and bars in droves, KP Snacks is helping the trade build sales and profit with its premium range of snacks. Offering CSN products gives pubs and bars a great opportunity to encourage their customers to trade up by offering a little treat to accompany a drink and social occasion, which in turn also increases the customer spend during their visit.

From tasty nuts, perfect when paired with a cold beer, to premium crisps, KP Snacks, the no1 supplier of bagged snacks in pubs and bars, has a recognised premium portfolio to help pubs gain those sales.

Our premium snack brand, Tyrrells, pairs exquisitely with a variety of wines and will make enjoying social occasions feel like a more special and high-end experience. Tyrrells Sea Salt & Cider Vinegar crisps can be enjoyed with a sauvignon blanc for an enjoyably tart snacking experience. While Tyrrells Mature Cheddar & Chive pairs with white burgundy to deliver fresh and complementary flavours.  

The KP Nuts portfolio includes a broad range of exciting flavours that cater to all tastes and occasions. With five packs sold every minute[1]​, KP Nuts are a must-stock. Our new KP Aromatic Thai Chilli Coated Peanuts help capitalise on the growing trend of flavoured and coated nuts. The new product delivers two delicious textures as consumers bite through a crispy outer shell to reveal a tasty peanut inside. The delicious, coated peanuts offer the perfect combination of explosive flavour and satisfying crunch. It joins a popular range that includes salted, honey roasted and roasted peanuts.

Pubs and bars can maximise premium snacks sales by following a few simple tips: 

  • Credibility: stock a range of best-selling snacks and NPD to meet all your customer needs 
  • Availability: ensure your range is always available to purchase 
  • Visibility: position your snacks with high visibility to drive sales

Visit KP Snacks at

[1]​Kantar OOH Panel 52 Weeks 22nd March 2020

Top pub chefs claim changes such as refining each dish they serve and using the best ingredients possible can change a standard, or good, food offer into a premium one while research shows pubs are adding more dishes to their menus in a bid to improve sales.

Food, drink and nutrition insights expert Lumina Intelligence has found more items have been added to menus for spring/summer 2021 versus autumn/winter 2020, despite remaining 20% smaller than before Covid began to close industries across the UK.

Lumina Intelligence’s Menu Tracker​ has found the average dish count across chain, managed pub/bar and fast-food restaurants has risen by 5.5% for spring/summer this year compared to autumn/winter 2020, with an average of four menu items being added.

Although fast-food operators have seen the biggest increase in dish counts on menus, up 6.9% to 47 dishes, managed pub/bar restaurants have seen menus grow 4.4% to 63 dishes on average and chain restaurants up 5.8% to 64.

Charlotte Vincent, head chef at the Five Bells Inn, in Cullompton, Devon, believes a pub chef must make a dish their own to succeed in pushing the offer into the top bracket.

She says: “It’s the chef that puts the stamp on it. If a menu is basic, I have to bring my own ideas to it. If a chef is well known that helps but I wasn’t well known when I came to the Five Bells but I’ve kept my cooking consistent.

“I buy good-quality food and ingredients, and I cook it well. Nothing is microwaved here but on a cheaper level, it is. You are paying for an experience and, at a pub level I love that, but our prices don’t reflect that whatsoever.

“We don’t buy cheaper cuts and cook them longer. I buy a lot of game. It’s never expensive to buy but it is difficult to cook well. We do a lot of that. I lift it to a level that so the customer feels they couldn’t possibly eat anywhere else.”

Vincent, who is a finalist for Best Pub Chef at this month’s Great British Pub Awards, also pens her menu cleverly so it draws customers in and, inevitably, they end up spending more money on their meals.

She continues: “I put smoked oysters on and we sell hundreds of them every week. People think they don’t like oysters and say ‘ooh, I’m not eating an oyster’ but they try it because I’ve cooked and smoked it, and it’s not raw, and enjoy it. It’s about changing people’s perceptions with a twist to the food.”

Constant honing of individual dishes is the key to improving a pub’s food offer, which also leads to sales increases, according to Steven Smith of the Freemasons at Wiswell, in Clitheroe, Lancashire.

Smith says: “We’ve been going for 12 years now and it’s just been about us refining the product slowly over the years without going too much away from what we are, which is a pub.

“If you’re going to do chicken liver parfait then make sure it’s the best you can do – and make it your own. Everything we do is quite familiar but very refined. We always have a soup on that is paired with a truffled Lancashire cheese hotdog which has evolved over years, and no one else does these. It’s synonymous with the Freemasons and takes the soup to a world-class dish.

“We make each dish the best possible version it can be and, while we want to be the best pub in the world, we want to stay true to ourselves.”

The chef-owner of the Freemasons, which was one of only 14 pubs to make it onto the top 100 venues in the National Restaurant Awards last month – taking 38th​ spot overall – explains it’s not just the honed dishes customers get at the pub, the skill and taste is everywhere.

Awesome dishes

From the homemade lamb fat & rosemary brioche to its hot dogs (which were featured in The Telegraph​ recently) to the lemon meringue pie to the fruit teacakes, which have become signature staples at the Freemasons.

Smith adds: “Everybody knows you get these awesome dishes. We add layers and stay one step ahead of the new pubs that are opening all the time.

“It takes you from an ordinary pub to an extraordinary pub. We have a 250-bin wine list, not many pubs will have that.

“We work hard as well. We put time and effort in. A normal pub kitchen would have four or five chefs but we have 10.”

Staff numbers are a concern for Vincent at the Five Bells Inn, she explains: “I have four chefs aged under 21. I would like six but I can’t get that many, which is a really bad sutuation. And we have about eight out the front.”

Lumina Intelligence’s research cites issues with staff too. It indicated the ongoing battle with staff shortages, supply chain disruption and price fluctuations has led to operators facing considerable uncertainty while planning this year’s menus and would have contributed to continuing to restrict some items.

Lumina Intelligence senior insight manager Katie Prowse says: “While we have seen dish counts rise since restrictions have eased, menus still remain significantly smaller than before the pandemic.

“While we expect menus to continue to grow, operators are still navigating staff and produce shortages. With a smaller menu, operators can potentially rely on fewer ingredients and fewer staff, which mitigates the potential need to close due to staff illness or lack of produce.

“Smaller menus also help manage costs and with hospitality businesses trying to recoup the revenue they lost during the past 18 months, owners will be keen to drive efficiency.”

Back to the kitchen, chefs are clearly trying to use seasonal and local produce where possible and being sustainable.

Vincent explains: “Everything apart from the fish comes from within 10 miles of the pub. Earlier this month, I saw a deer every day on my walk so I told a guy I wanted to put it on the menu. I felt really bad but it’s because it had a happy life, it was so local and fresh, so I really did it justice.

“I don’t go for cheap cuts to serve as main dishes but don’t avoid them because I will use them for stocks.

“I have really good relationships with all my suppliers. I know the farmers and I want to see animals have had a good life.

“I have personal relationships with those suppliers and that comes back to costing so they will try to do me a deal. Because my knowledge is really good and being an outgoing and friendly person, they try to help and, because of social media, I have big following so I tag them in on that so it works out as a ‘you pat my back, I’ll pat yours’ but in a respectful way where we’re all making money and the customers is getting a good meal and at a good cost. It’s one big wheel of good.”

Food at the Five Bells Inn: hay smoked Elston Farm lamb rump with red wine reduction

Vincent is strict on the fish on her dish when it comes to being a sustainable business. She says: “On my menus, I go seasonal. I wouldn’t put game on when it’s not in season and with my fish I only go for level one to three. Anything above three, you shouldn’t be eating because their breeding isn’t good at that moment. Through summer, I had sea bass on while it was level two to three but all of a sudden it hit five so I immediately switched that out and am using fish that is available and I’m not depleting the ocean on the Five Bells’ count.”

Smith’s Lancashire pub also can’t be knocked for its sourcing of quality ingredients and environmentally friendly attitude.

Smith says: “Sourcing is about 50:50 for local and outside produce. At this time of year though it’s local meat and fish. We have Morecambe Bay sea bass and Whitby Bay cod. The meat comes from Lancashire and Yorkshire-based farms and we take Herdwick lambs from the Lake District.

“It depends on the time of year. If we have to travel to get correct product, we will. It’s about having the best we can have. With Brexit, it’s even more important to buy British.

“We are definitely into sustainability. It’s really important that we have a zero-waste policy. For example, we sell a lot of fish and that always does well then with the fish trimmings we make a seafood gratin every week.

“It makes us more sustainable and profitable. It’s just clever management.”

Team ethic: Charlotte Vincent and her chefs at the Five Bells Inn

Reliant on the skills of chefs

Of course, it is vital pubs make money so how do they manage to do so while providing a top-class food offer that clearly uses great produce and plenty of cooks?

Smith says: “We do use a lot of cheaper ingredients, and more so after lockdown. We have to especially with a £27, three-course lunch offer. We can’t be giving a fillet of beef away at that price. We’ll use meat such as lamb shoulder, cheaper chicken cuts, offal and game during the right season from local sources.

“That’s where the chefs come into their own. It’s a lot of work but we are reliant on their skills to deliver a great product.

“And, as demands grows, you can charge more. We’re certainly not cheapest but are in the higher echelons for ‘pub food’, if that’s what you want to call it.

“We buy the best lamb, duck and fish, though. Nothing is substandard and we charge accordingly.”

Smith explains the lunch at £28 comes with “some little snacks” and represents “great value”, while Sunday lunch is priced at £37 for three courses.

He adds: “With the taster menu, we knocked a couple of courses off and charge £65, and it’s been fantastic for us and gives customers an extra special experience.”

Constant evolution: Steven Smith chef-owner of the Freemasons at Wiswell

The Five Bells Inn’s Vincent is also keen to stress the value customers are given.

She says: “Main courses are really good on GP because everything is priced per dish. I write the menu in a tantalising way because people will always opt for the three-course menu or two and spend a bit more. The main mark-up is certainly on main courses.

“What I’m trying to do is upgrade the food offer without breaking the bank. When customers walk through the door, they are surprised to get the food at the price they are paying, and at the standard they get. I would say eight of 10 people say the food is Michelin-star level but I don’t want a star. I want people to get that experience without having one.

“I make everything here, including the bread. I don’t buy anything in. I think we will get a Michelin Plate but I want the message to be ‘this food is really good and could have a star if they wanted it’.

“It’s a pub and I want it to remain a pub. Any higher and the service would have to elevate up and it would lose its pub experience for me. It would become a white tablecloth venue.”

Like everywhere, Vincent says the pandemic “floored” the Five Bells Inn confessing that she has worked at the venue for two years but it has been shut for most of that time.

The pressure on pubs is clear but good use of ingredients, choosing local and sustainable food, smart menu writing and evolving your signature dishes into ones without rival could put you well ahead of the chasing pack.

Signature serve: the Freemasons' hot dog starter

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