After industry experts recommended pubs use food offers to entice customers into their establishments, many landlords have seen a turnaround in trade, although some have had to resort to extreme measures to see any effect.
While many pubs are offering heavily discounted offers such as two courses for £10, Punch lessee Charlie Gibbons is giving away free meals to guests at the Bull Inn in Eastry. As we reported this morning, hopeful diners and drinkers frequenting the pub between 5pm and 7.30pm will be able to claim one of four free meals on offer – lasagne, cottage pie, fish pie and cauliflower cheese, although places are limited to 12 covers per day.
While the scheme costs Gibbons £1 per head to provide the free grub, he estimates that the first week alone generated a wet sales increase of £200.
“I started it because afternoon and evening trade died — people have less disposable income. 2007 was our best year ever, but this year trade has been quiet since Easter. We’re not in trouble, but I realised I needed a new way to get bums on seats.”
Meanwhile, Tony Rabbits, the landlord of the Four Crosses Inn in Cannock, Staffs, has reduced his lunchtime menu down to just £1 per dish. According to Sky News Online, Rabbits’ lunchtime trade previously brought in just 15 paying guests, but he is now covering 300 in his 150-seater restaurant. He has even added a 40-seater marquee to cope with the influx of diners.
With items such as soup, meatballs, and chicken and chips costing the cash-strapped landlord just 30p per portion, Rabbits is left with a tidy profit. Diners can choose from four starters, 12 main courses and eight different puddings, all of which are homemade with the products sourced locally.
"Three or four months ago we were really struggling, we thought we would have to give it up," Rabbits told Sky News Online. "We are making a profit by doing everything ourselves, shopping and sourcing the food locally, we`ve got a local butcher who works along with us.
“I think we`ll just keep continuing it forever and a day. Business is booming, but we are not making a fortune because we have got escalating bills. But doing what we are doing we are managing to stay put at the moment."
Edwin van de Ven’s Scottish pub Reverie earlier this year began asking his diners to pay only what they thought their food was worth. Having only opened in January 2008, this is probably the riskiest credit-crunch beating tactic employed by a pub. Its owner is adamant the scheme is successful, not only for getting people through the door but for providing much needed feedback on food and service.
“It’s a win-win situation,” van der Ven said. “It’s an excellent opportunity to sort things out in the kitchen, and a chance for us to get our feet together, to walk before we start running.”
Two years ago, The Pigs pub in Edgefield, Norfolk began exchanging meals and pints for home-grown produce, but the effects of the credit crunch has seen the innovative scheme become even more popular as customers look to save money wherever they can.
Peter Backman of Horizons market analysts said that pubs are beginning to surpass restaurants by constantly innovating their marketing techniques, and argues that quality, value-for-money food is the main factor considered by diners when eating out.