I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read that food is going to be the saviour of the wet-led pub. But it isn’t always quite as simple as that. Not too far from me, there’s a big Victorian pub in a prominent suburban main-road location tied to one of the local family brewers. It used to do a cheap and cheerful lunchtime menu of toasties, bacon barms, ham, egg & chips, pensioners’ specials and the like, which seemed to bring in a reasonable amount of custom.
However, the brewery clearly thought the food trade had more potential, so they gave it a makeover – nothing structural, just new upholstery and chairs and a general spring-clean, put the bar staff in uniforms and introduced a new and more ambitious menu with most main courses in the £7+ bracket. However, all this seems to have done is to drive away the old food trade but not bring in any new, more upmarket customers. I’ve been in at lunchtimes both during the week and at weekends, and have always been able to count the number of diners on the fingers of one hand. Sometimes there have been none at all.
Possibly the fact that the pub, both outside and in, still looks like a classic urban local doesn’t help matters. If the same food offer was transplanted into a cottage-style establishment ten miles further south, it might prosper. But it looks as though, in this pub, in this location, the owning company have made a wrong call on the potential food trade. You wouldn’t blame them too much if they decided to cut their losses and, as many other pubs have done, drop the food entirely and not even bother opening at lunchtimes during the week.