But it’s important to look at why pubs do offer wide-ranging menus. There’s a well-known saying that “the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing”, and that very much applies to pub food. Basically, (and forgive me for a broad generalisation) there are three types of beer sold in British pubs – bitter, stout and lager. Every pub will have at least one example of each. You may not care for particular brands, but it’s unlikely that they’re things you really can’t even force down, or have to avoid for dietary or medical reasons.
However, when it comes to food, as I wrote here, there is a far wider range of restrictions. Some people, such as coeliacs, need to avoid certain food types for genuine medical reasons. Others, such as many sufferers from Asperger’s Syndrome, find themselves with a strong psychological aversion to some foods, while obviously vegetarian and vegan diets are limited for ethical reasons. And many people are simply, for whatever reason, faddy.
If you’re in a the centre of a city or large town, you can afford to specialise in one food area and still get sufficient customers to make it viable. Indeed, if you do it well, you will get a reputation for your food that spreads well beyond your immediate area. This is certainly true of Friends of Ham, and used to apply, for example, to the famous cheese and paté lunches served at the Royal Oak in Didsbury. A local example of this is the hot dog centred menu in the Baker’s Vaults in Stockport.
Even if you’re a destination dining pub, you can take advantage of the fact that most customers will be travelling by car, and thus have a wider choice of potential venues, to provide a distinctive food offer that may gain you a reputation, although a lot fewer do now than once did. I remember in the 80s being happy to go out of my way for good pizzas and Mexican and Austrian food, but you can’t do that now.
But, if you want to appeal to as wide a range of customers as possible, and especially if you want to attract mixed-age family groups, you have to ensure that your menu is sufficiently wide-ranging that nobody is going to look at it and say “there’s nothing for me on there”. And, if it means placing a strong reliance on Brake Brothers and the freezer cabinet, so be it.
I would like to see more specialisation on pub menus, but I well understand the reasons why there isn’t. And “a sensibly limited menu” is a food snob phrase that fails to take account of real-world people’s dietary limitations and preferences.
(The photo, by the way, is a traditional Hungarian chestnut cake in the form of a hedgehog, and certainly not a real one)