Peach Pubs, which runs 14 venues in market towns in the Midlands, and Ribble Valley Inns (RVI), which operates four northern pubs – The Highwayman Inn, The Three Fishes, The Clog & Billycock and The Bull at Broughton – as a spin-off from the one Michelin-starred Northcote, might not look like they have much in common.
Both, however, fall into that category of ‘food-led pubs’ or ‘food pubs’ which, across multiple sites and on a more regimented basis than stand-alone gastropubs, try to offer a high-quality product.
Both groups run modishly designed venues where service is minimised (at RVI venues, you order at the bar), customers and orders are turned around relatively quickly, and food sales are built around a core of permanent dishes. And that constitutes deli boards, Caesar salad, risottos, steak, in Peach’s case; fish and chips, fish pie, burgers and Lancashire hotpot at RVI.
Pricing is keen in such venues, with several key dishes typically ducking under £10. Peach, says founder Lee Cash, calls its pubs ‘gastropubs’ (their split is 55:45, in favour of food) in the absence of anything better. “At the beginning we were like, ‘it sounds like a disease’, but it’s a marketplace word that people understand.”
The challenge, he says, is in communicating the difference between a Peach ‘gastropub’ – where 60 per cent of the menu changes at each venue seasonally and the company prides itself on its ethical sourcing of quality ingredients – and the “commoditised copy of the gastropub”, run by the big pub companies.
To that end, effective messaging (on-site, online, on menus, in promotional literature) that reinforces your brand values is, ultimately, much more important than what you call your venues.
RVI calls its venues 'inns', to suggest honest, homely hospitality, but also decorates its pubs with moody black and white photos of suppliers.
Those 'dining pubs' (a fussy, unfashionable title, arguably) and urban 'pub-restaurants', which aren’t part of a chain, need to emphasise their points of difference. Rebranding themselves as 'food pubs' – where, literally, the food comes first – may be a first move in the right direction.
How to spot one
Food is of a high standard and can command an equally high price but diners will often find themselves cheek-by-jowl with drinkers. Menus are mainly à la carte, with a cheaper offer at lunch, and function rooms can cater for larger groups. The gastropub style of daily-changing specials makes more of an appearance
- The Highwayman Inn (Nether Burrow, Lancs)
- The Prince Arthur (Hackney, east London)
- The Fleece (Witney, Oxon)
- The Avalon (Balham, south London)