Monday 26 October 2009

Eating the whole barn

One of the few recent success stories in the pub dining market has been the rise of Whitbread’s Taybarns all-you-can eat concept, typically converted from former Brewer’s Fayre outlets. They are now serving over 10,000 people a week in some of the busier branches and there are plans to open 30 more next year. Predictably, the food snobs are outraged, claiming it will lead to binge eating. “The irony is that if you give people complete and unadulterated choice they eat a narrower range of food simply because they can - you can eat burgers every day if you like” says Professor Martin Caraher, professor of food and health policy at City University London. Ah yes, we can’t be giving the plebs freedom of choice, they have to be told to eat what’s good for them. You’ll eat that lentil salad whether you like it or not!

While undoubtedly to some extent the format will appeal to gluttons, in reality, as I have argued before, people have for various reasons become more choosy with their food and are increasingly frustrated by the conventional combinations dictated to them by standard menus. The key appeal of all-you-can-eat is not so much quantity as freedom of choice. Indeed, given the excessive portion sizes in many conventional eateries, it’s likely that some of the customers of all-you-can-eat venues actually value the fact that they only need to select as much as they want, and they don’t end up being embarrassed by leaving substantial quantities on their plate, so in fact end up eating less, not more. This point is reinforced in this article where Whitbread manager Simon Ewins says Taybarns orders the same amount of chips for 8,000 meals a week as the previous pub ordered for 2,000. Probably a lot of those chips with the 2,000 meals were left on the plate.

Taybarns may not be a gourmet’s paradise, but I suspect it’s here to stay. However, might we see in the future the all-you-can-eat concept attracting the same kind of Righteous indignation that all-you-can-drink does?


  1. I love the video on the beeb. Fat people eating. There is an editorial line to these things, for sure. Never eaten in one of these, but done all you can eat chinese and indian. They are great for an informal gang of lads starting an evening, none too good to impress your lass. What they offer is standard pricing, value for money, know what you are going to get.

    The best time to go to this sort of thing is when they are busy. Plenty of choice and high turnover on the hot plate make it a good crack. At quieter times you have limited choice and food hangs around and dries out.

    Oh and skip lunch so you can stuff yourself and get your moneys worth!

  2. Martin, Cambridge31 October 2009 at 10:32

    My family stayed at a hotel attached to a Taybarns in South Shields over the summer. Despite media alarm, I saw a relatively low number of adults (much less children) who most people would describe as obese.

    My sense was that rather than eating to excess, most customers just like the variety of food they got. I suspect their avaerage calorie intake was little more than in the excellent beer and Thai combination I opted for in the Jarrow brewery tap down the road !


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