Tuesday 13 August 2013

Meat and drink

I recently posed the question as to whether or not pubs should offer table reservations for diners, an issue that provoked some lively discussion. The reason why this is a subject for debate at all is that pubs have come to occupy an uneasy middle ground where they’re not really sure what they are.

A generation ago, the idea of pubs having table reservations would have been unthinkable. If you wanted a formal, sit-down meal you would go to a restaurant, which functioned as you would expect and undoubtedly would offer and indeed encourage reservations. But there was then a long-term move towards a more informal style of “pub dining” which saw many of the Beefeater-style restaurants stripped out.

It must be pointed, though, out that many fairly cheap-and-cheerful chains such as Frankie & Benny’s and Pizza Hut continue to operate on the full-service restaurant model, where you are welcomed by a waiter, shown to a table, have your order taken at the table, buy drinks through the waiter, and settle the bill at the end. A key reason for this is that it sets them a cut above McDonald’s and KFC where you order from a counter and take your food and drink to the table yourself.

Now the “pub restaurant” sector is slowly inching its way towards this – being shown to a table rather than selecting your own is becoming more common, drinks are increasingly being served at tables and the growth in the use of payment cards means that setting up a tab rather than paying as you go is becoming the norm. While at one time, eating a meal in an atmosphere that felt like a pub was seen as desirable, recently I’ve seen a number of refurbishments where one section has been laid out in a way that clearly says “restaurant” rather than “pub” – light and airy rather than cosy and intimate, the interior shown in the photo being a good example.

Before too long, the wheel will have come full circle and these establishments will have effectively regained all the features that once distinguished restaurants. And, sadly, they will have come to be regarded by most people as the definition of the term “pub”, which once meant something very different.

I continue to stick by my view that, in hindsight, it would have been better if pubs had never attempted to move into the territory of formal sit-down dining. At first, it must have looked like their salvation, but in the longer term it has proved to be their undoing.


  1. It reminds of the often quoted event of George Best ordering champagne to be delivered to his hotel room where he was in bed with a Miss World. "Where did it all go wrong?", the waiter by all accounts asked.

    Lets say you have a business that is successful, and you are making a quid hand over fist and need more mattresses to stuff it all in, but you know it's not really a pub anymore because all them went bust barring one or two with 20 obscure beers that win a beard club award every year. Then a pub enthusiast looks at your gaff where you are getting away with £20 fish and chips by stacking the chips like a game of jenga and asks you "where did it all go wrong?, poshing this gaff up has been your undoing"

  2. Rule of thumb: if there are tables laid out, go elsewhere - even if you're planning to eat.

  3. Nothing against successful businesses, Cookie. For example I can think of pubs that have successfully transformed themselves into convenience stores, wine warehouses and day nurseries. But I can still think it's a matter of regret that they're no longer pubs.

  4. if the beardy club were to use your definition of a pub, Mudge, they would work out that pubs have been decimated and by and large no longer exist barring few exceptions. Of course the number of drinks, beer or even real ale outlets is far greater in number and the range of such establishments pretty much mean there is something for those that prefer something nicer than real pubs.

    As pubs by your definition are only really appealing to 50+ year old blokes, maybe it's understandable

  5. Surely at Nandos you place your order and pay at the counter, unless they have strange posh(er) ones in the north west?

  6. I have never actually been to Nando's, so that statement is bollocks. However, they do take your order at the table at Pizza Hut, which is hardly the height of gastronomic refinement.

  7. yeah at Nandos you order at a counter like at Mcdonalds and then go sit down, cant remember if its brought to you or you go collect it when its done,but its sort of fast food restauranting of the type we havent seen since well Wimpy's :)

    I dont think we should get too worried about it, pubs in some cases need to have a food offering to compete with the places that use food and sell beer as an aside. I know one pub locally that takes an absolute hammering because it doesnt offer food, and is busy trying to get the builders into setup a kitchen so they can, its not going to be restaurant food, or even book table food, just somewhere you can eat & drink.

    and I know some go to far towards full on gastronomy menus, a place offering Lobster thermidore doesnt strike me as being particularly local pub for drinking orientated anymore, and I know some places get the mix horribly confused, there was a pub I know ran more as a restaurant so the bar staff were waiting on tables and there was never anyone to serve beer, but the ones that dont work usually go out of business, so its market led and I think there is still room for all food/beer pub style combinations.

  8. I don't understand why more pubs don't do like my local. They don't have a kitchen and can't afford a chef, but if you get peckish they will order you a takeaway and you pay for it over the bar, and then they give you a plate and knife and fork when it arrives. Its brilliant.

  9. it's the old line about "if it quacks like a duck".

    We've lost far more pubs than the statistics show, because a lot of pubs are really restaurants now.

    And it doesn't matter if you're in a building that used to be the Rose and Crown and it has Tudor beams. If I can't easily sit and get a drink because of reserved, set tables, you're a restaurant.

  10. Cookie,

    PS, I loved the "jenga chips" quote. Of all the Masterchef twattery out there, that's one I'd like to see ended, especially as it means you get about 9 chips.

  11. A lot of the rural pubs in Cheshire have now gone over that line, and it's disappointing how the local CAMRA branches continue to enthuse about them when they are basically restaurants that happen to serve real ale.

    Yes, Cookie, they are successful businesses, for the most part, but they are no longer pubs.


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