TCG is set to launch Wok Out – offering cartons of hot, freshly-cooked snack meals from front-of-house serving stations, or served at their tables by waiting staff from usherette-style trays – in over 30 of its venues at the end of the month.
“Wok Out is a great opportunity to build food trade in our pubs and bars, and we expect it to be a popular addition during the Euro 2102 finals and Olympics this summer,” said Nick Francis, commercial director of TCG.
“Too many licensees are familiar with the sight of customers deserting them for the nearest takeaway once the final whistle has blown. Wok Out will keep customers in the pub, and secure a share of the spend currently going to local food outlets.”
But, as the line between food-led pubs and restaurants becomes increasingly blurred, Horizons’ managing director Peter Backman believes many pubcos are going to run into a problem.
Speaking at the Horizons Annual Briefing last week, Backman said: “Within the managed pub sector, there are then a number of large companies which have a share of around 65 per cent of it. These companies are doing great things with food, so much so that many are now becoming restaurants in their own right.
No room to grow
“Managed pubs are increasing their share of the pub industry so much so that there isn’t going to be enough business in the managed house sector for them to grow, so they are going to have to do other things, which is what we are beginning to see.
“Many are now becoming ‘restaurants’ and some are also becoming quick service operators - Mitchells & Butlers have already started on this route with their new hot sandwich takeaway concept.
“So the overall success of the managed pub sector is actually going to cause problems for itself, because it’s going to have to expand out of the managed pub space and into the restaurant and quick service space.”
Backman issued a similar word of warning at the Travel & Leisure Conference in London last month. Then, he said that traditional pub food may not be the lifeline for publicans looking to tackle falling drink sales and pubs will need to emulate the high street restaurant market in order to survive.
TCGs’ new food concept is not the first time that a pub group has ventured into the eating out market. Last year, Orchid went for a piece of the ultra-competitive, but potentially lucrative Italian casual dining market with the conversion of a Hertfordshire pub into a new pizza pub concept, and family brewers Wadworth recently opened the Wadworth Brewery Cookery School in a bid to raise the food standards across its entire estate.
But, whether the pub market is large enough to sustain so many new food-led concepts, and whether these pubs would be able to one day become restaurants in their own right, only time will tell.