Thursday 29 December 2011

Price and value

I was recently rather surprised to see a comment about one of Brunning & Price’s pubs in the South-East describing their food as “hearty stuff at moderate prices”. Up here, I’d describe them as unashamedly expensive and up-market, and I doubt whether that is much different down there. Let’s take their nearest outlet to me, the Sutton Hall near Macclesfield. The menu, which obviously is likely to change, currently offers, for example:

* Braised shoulder of lamb with dauphinoise potatoes and redcurrant gravy £16.75
* Pan-fried seabass fillets with a chorizo, caper, lemon, herb and tomato dressing £15.25
Now, of course they are perfectly entitled to charge those prices, and I’m not saying the food isn’t worth it, but those dishes on a pub menu are unquestionably expensive, ambitious and upmarket. There are cheaper main courses, but nothing, not even ham, egg and chips, below £9.95. To be fair, their sandwiches are not so much out of line with other food-led pubs.

To my mind, I would expect main dishes – excluding prime steaks and the like – in middle-of-the-road pubs to cost maybe between £7 and £9. Below £6 is cheap’n’cheerful, whereas over £9 is getting a bit steep, north of £10 and the eyes start to water.

The whole question of pricing in pubs, whether for food or drink, is far from simple. You have to consider the quality and choice of what is on offer, convenience of access, general atmosphere and the preferences of your companions. There may be forty pubs within easy reach of you, especially if you can travel directly to a town centre, but realistically on each occasion you’re unlikely to be choosing between more than a handful.

Recently, for beer of around 4.0%, I have paid £1.60 in a Sam Smith’s pub, £1.99 in Wetherspoon’s, £2.15 in a Holt’s, £2.46 in a Hydes’, £2.53 in a Lees’, £2.71 in a pub company outlet, £2.80 in a Robinson’s (one of the more upmarket ones), £3.30 in a Brunning & Price and £3.60 in the Pointing Dog in Cheadle Hulme, all within 15 miles of my house. This demonstrates the huge range of prices that are on offer. I won’t be going back to the Pointing Dog in a hurry, though. The Sam Smith’s beer was just as good as most, and rather better than some.

Each pub has its own target market, and the £3.30 in the smart B & P pub will be acceptable to those who have come for a meal and are only going to drink one or two pints, but won’t appeal to the local six pints a night men. But you do need to be careful that your pricing aspirations don’t go beyond what your customers think is reasonable, otherwise they will start to drift away. People still have a strong sense of fairness and value for money. Also, the headline prices of a pint of bitter and lager are likely to stick in the mind, and be readily comparable to other pubs, and so it makes sense not to be seen to be out of line on these.

And price competition is much more intense in town and city centres, where there is much more of a choice of pubs, and where the influence of Wetherspoon’s is likely to have been brought to bear.

It must be said too that people are often happy to condemn pubs they don’t like as expensive, while happily tolerating similar prices in those they do like.


  1. Tripped over your blog and will endeavour to follow it once a teenager gets home to show me how. Am I alone in being wound up by the term 'pan-fried' on a menu what the hell else would you fry something in?

    Tom B

  2. "Pan-fried" is as opposed to "deep-fried", I think. I'm no fan of pretentious menus, but that is one of the less objectionable terms.

  3. Always remember a good few years ago a pretentious 'Gastro pub' advertising, as their 'chefs special', handchalked on a blackboard, GUINEA FOUL with all the trimmings........
    Priceless. (this was a Chef & Brewer outlet approx. 9 yrs. ago.)

  4. As more pubs evolve into restaurants we can expect to see prices rising.
    The only reason many pubs leave the pub sign up is simply trying to fool the passing drinker into thinking its a pub. Well its not.

  5. Martin, Cambridge30 December 2011 at 14:13

    Good points and interesting to see the comparative beer prices.

    You're very fortunate to live somewhere where beer can be had at well under £3; £3.20-£3.50 is very consistently charged in Cambridge outside of Spoons, even for Greene King.

    Conversely, you can get proper food for £7-8 in many of Cambridge's free houses (try Mill Road), and the Adnams-owned Castle sells the sort of interesting lunch you'd approved for not much more than the price of a Broadside.

    It may be the affluent students, but there does seem to more of a market for eating out beyond the week-end splurge here. Brunning & Price food prices would raise eyebrows here too.

  6. There does seem to be less variation in food prices across the country - although even with beer it's now driven more by the type of neighbourhood than the general geographical area. Plenty of places in Manchester City Centre are now charging over £3 a pint for ordinary-strength beer.

    Look at the menu prices at the Fox, which is in a fairly affluent part of West London and has a Jaguar parked outside on the photo. Nothing really over £8, and nothing over-formal and ambitious.

  7. Excellent summary, not sure if it allows us to draw any conclusions though, apart from the fact that beer in pubs is frighteningly expensive down south - outer London is £2.50 to £3.00, inner London is £3.50 and upwards.

  8. In a sense, that's the point, that you can't draw any conclusions from it, except perhaps that a high price/high perceived value formula can work in close proximity to a low price/back to basics one, so long as you can differentiate the customers.

    There isn't a Spoons, or a Sam Smith's pub, in Sandbach, but I doubt whether either would damage the trade of B & P's Old Hall which is very close to the town centre.


Comments, especially on older posts, may require prior approval by the blog owner. See here for details of my comment policy.

Please register an account to comment. Unregistered comments will generally be rejected unless I recognise the author. If you want to comment using an unregistered ID, you will need to tell me something about yourself.