Lastly, I made the surprising – but perhaps predictable – discovery that pub lunches are basically a thing of the past: there are Spoons and there are high-end bars serving equally high-end food, but in between, and outside the city centre, there’s pretty much nothing. I guess that workplace puritanism has grown, and lunchtime drinking declined, to the point where serving actual lunches no longer makes sense for most places; the cheap and cheerful pub meal has gone the way of the cloche of curling sandwiches or the jar of pickled eggs.For decades, we’ve constantly been told that food is the future of the pub, and in many of the more prosperous suburban and rural areas this has proved to be true, with it becoming increasingly difficult to find any pub that isn’t to all intents and purposes a restaurant. But, as I’ve remarked before, in urban areas, especially the less prosperous ones, the tide has flowed the other way, with many pubs that served cheap’n’cheerful food in 1985 having stopped doing so entirely, and many too having stopped opening at lunchtimes Monday to Thursday, even in shopping centres. Thirty years ago, plenty of pubs would offer a straightforward menu of sandwiches, toasties, burgers, ham, egg and chips, maybe a pot of chilli. That kind of basic food offer is now largely a thing of the past and, if shoppers want a bite to eat, they will increasingly turn to cafés, which seem to have enjoyed a surprising renaissance.
In places like Stalybridge, Hyde and Denton, you will now struggle to find any lunchtime pub food at all outside of Wetherspoon’s, if there is one. One popular and well-regarded Stockport pub just outside the town centre recently tried serving lunchtime meals, but stopped after a few months due to lack of demand. Even in Stockport town centre, while there are five or six non-Wetherspoon’s pubs offering a reasonably broad menu, there’s nothing like the choice there was thirty years ago.
The reasons behind this are all the usual suspects – the general decline of the pub trade, the reduced tolerance of employers for their workers to go to the pub at lunchtimes, and the fall-off in footfall in many of the smaller town centres. Very often, only Wetherspoon's are still flying the flag for lunchtime pub food. In recent years, I’ve been in towns which are not obvious tourist magnets where the only place I could find any reasonable-looking pub food was Spoons, which indeed was often the most upmarket-seeming venue. And, in some locations, you have to wonder how often they sell many of items on their extensive, standardised menu.