Sunday 14 June 2015

Liquid lunch

On his Oh Good Ale blog, Phil has been recounting his experiences doing the local CAMRA Mild Magic trail, which makes interesting reading. One particular point he makes is that, in many of Manchester’s satellite towns, lunchtime pub food has largely become a thing of the past.
Lastly, I made the surprising – but perhaps predictable – discovery that pub lunches are basically a thing of the past: there are Spoons and there are high-end bars serving equally high-end food, but in between, and outside the city centre, there’s pretty much nothing. I guess that workplace puritanism has grown, and lunchtime drinking declined, to the point where serving actual lunches no longer makes sense for most places; the cheap and cheerful pub meal has gone the way of the cloche of curling sandwiches or the jar of pickled eggs.
For decades, we’ve constantly been told that food is the future of the pub, and in many of the more prosperous suburban and rural areas this has proved to be true, with it becoming increasingly difficult to find any pub that isn’t to all intents and purposes a restaurant. But, as I’ve remarked before, in urban areas, especially the less prosperous ones, the tide has flowed the other way, with many pubs that served cheap’n’cheerful food in 1985 having stopped doing so entirely, and many too having stopped opening at lunchtimes Monday to Thursday, even in shopping centres. Thirty years ago, plenty of pubs would offer a straightforward menu of sandwiches, toasties, burgers, ham, egg and chips, maybe a pot of chilli. That kind of basic food offer is now largely a thing of the past and, if shoppers want a bite to eat, they will increasingly turn to caf├ęs, which seem to have enjoyed a surprising renaissance.

In places like Stalybridge, Hyde and Denton, you will now struggle to find any lunchtime pub food at all outside of Wetherspoon’s, if there is one. One popular and well-regarded Stockport pub just outside the town centre recently tried serving lunchtime meals, but stopped after a few months due to lack of demand. Even in Stockport town centre, while there are five or six non-Wetherspoon’s pubs offering a reasonably broad menu, there’s nothing like the choice there was thirty years ago.

The reasons behind this are all the usual suspects – the general decline of the pub trade, the reduced tolerance of employers for their workers to go to the pub at lunchtimes, and the fall-off in footfall in many of the smaller town centres. Very often, only Wetherspoon's are still flying the flag for lunchtime pub food. In recent years, I’ve been in towns which are not obvious tourist magnets where the only place I could find any reasonable-looking pub food was Spoons, which indeed was often the most upmarket-seeming venue. And, in some locations, you have to wonder how often they sell many of items on their extensive, standardised menu.


  1. I think a number of pubs have lost their way when it comes to lunch. Whilst I may be prepared to pay £10+ for a burger as part of an evening out, I'm less inclined to do so for a quick bite at lunchtime. The gulf between fast food (Greggs, McDonald's etc) grows ever larger. For £5 at Spoons though you get somewhere to sit and a drink. No wonder they do well. For the same money at some pubs you're on the snack menu where the potion sizes are hilarious.

  2. Yes, a lot of pubs seem to pitch their food offer rather too upmarket for the likely clientele.

    Whatever happened to the two slices of bread, cut into quarters, plain cheese or ham sandwich, which was once a staple of pub menus and could still sell for £1.99?

    I also notice more and more well-regarded London pubs no longer opening at lunchtimes, for example the Charlotte Despard, home of Legz the cat, which doesn't even open on Saturday or Sunday lunch.

  3. Plain cheese or ham.

    Ban that ciabatta, brie and grape filth.

  4. We were in Durham with friends a few weeks ago and popped in the local Spoons for lunch. Four pints, I had Ruddles Best, and 4X ham, egg and chips clocked in at just under sixteen quid. Admittedly we used our CAMRA vouchers, but even so. The staff were brilliant - old school - serving one punter whilst taking the verbal order for the next. And the beers & food were nine too shabby either.

  5. I think there could still be a market for basics such as ham, cheese and egg rolls priced reasonably. Often that's all that's you need at lunchtime: I certainly don't want a full meal then.

  6. My local in a leafy suburb of Bristol does rolls (cheese, beef, ham) for £1.50 and sells out of them. It also does basic lunches like ham, egg & chips for around £5.95.

  7. Stanley Blenkinshop16 June 2015 at 10:14

    'elf and safety and the dreaded HACCP is what persuaded many landlords to give up the ghost when it comes to pub grub.
    The days of knocking up a few cheese baps in your own kitchen and leaving them on the counter are gone.
    Too may Jobsworths justifying irrelevant jobs.
    I mean who the hell needs different coloured chopping boards,knives and a high-tec,properly-ventilated stainless steel kitchen costing thousands for the bread and cheese to go in the baps ?
    Nobbies Nuts are far less aggro.

  8. Yeah, Stanley - it's not as though food poisoning ever did anyone any harm, is it?

  9. Stanley Blenkinshop16 June 2015 at 12:00

    Do you think food inspectors carry out the same ludicrous nanny-state controls over prepping food in their own homes ?
    Do you reckon they use a separate colour-coded chopping board for meat,veg,bread,fruit etc when they're knocking up a tasty repast at Chateau Dunbullshitting.
    No,I thought not.
    As you were.

  10. What the inspectors do in their own homes is completely irrelevant. And asking a question and answering it yourself proves nothing.

    Regulations exist because people have become seriously ill, and some have died, through lack of hygiene in catering establishments. There are more than half a million cases of food poisoning each year.

    As YOU were.

  11. "...Spoons, which indeed was often the most upmarket-seeming venue"

    Ain't that the truth. During the years when I only really left London to get to an airport, I was blind to the fact that the Spoons is often as not the best & smartest pub (or at the very least one of them) in a provincial town with, on balance, the nicest atmosphere, the best beer offer (by far) and, yes, sometimes the most appealing food offer. Remarkably that's true of, for example, Windsor, Chichester and Salisbury, all places with money sloshing around and tourists.

    (I know I'm picking out on statement that doesn't represent the main thrust of your post)

  12. "I think there could still be a market for basics such as ham, cheese and egg rolls priced reasonably."

    The award-winning Hope in Carshalton, Surrey does them. In cling film, in a basket on the bar. A quid or a quid and a half, can't remember which. I had two last time I was there and they were perfect.

    Just thinking of that pub makes me happy. It really is one of the best in the country.

  13. Being given a knife and fork to eat a sandwich is a real oxymoron.


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