Monday, 20 October 2008


"I like food" one of the phrases often said by a quiet and unassuming employee we once had here. God bless him, Joel Stacey was killed in a tragic cycling accident in 2007. I remember his love of food and the positive contribution to our place with great joy. Perhaps you had to be there but the almost childish statement he made about any reference to the intake of solid calorific substances was extremely endearing.

I like food very much too, probably equal to beer. When I say food I mean good home made stuff, not the belly fillers that make up the vast majority of the fuel people use to keep their metabolism going. It perhaps started with making solid, baked fermented wheat products, similar to beer but with a shorter production cycle and often referred to as bread. This first happened, probably before I can remember, in my Grandmother's kitchen.

If I had to choose between never having good beer again or never having good food again the choice would be very tough indeed.

So why do I want to talk about food on my beer blog? The reason is simple, it's because food has now become far more important to most on trade outlets that do sell beer than the beer itself. Until the beer, and more importantly real ale industry come right out and admit this wholeheartedly, then we are going to have problems.

"We know that" you say. "We accept that pubs have to do food" you say. But you do not embrace it. If every pub served the same beer and had the same interior and style then there would be no reason to look for other pubs.

Food is the reason most people visit pubs. Most people look for something different these days. If all there was on the menu was scampi, gammon or fish and chips most of us would get fed up.

So why is there this inverted snobbery surrounding the so called gastro pub? It may be an unfortunate phrase, there are some terrible examples for sure, but why is the concept a bad one? If it's a pub and serves good beer and allows you to drink beer then it's good.

I accept that there is an interesting situation where some places make it difficult to have drinks only, due to the volume of food the establishment serves, but this only goes to show how successful this style of place is.

If we wish pubs to survive we have to accept that some will have to find new markets. The inverted snobbery of some commentators in the beer market are damaging the ability of the pub market to move forward into this century.

Moreover, it is with great conviction that I believe the real ale industry is missing out on the ability to move into the lucrative market of fine dining. Many good chefs are now bestowing the virtues of specialist beers. If we keep knocking the restaurant trade by poo pooing all "gastro" operations we are missing a great opportunity. I think we should start campaigning to get cask ale into restaurants rather than saying that restaurants are bad for the pub and beer industry.

So, please, don't criticise a place because the food is too fancy for you. Move forward. You don't have to like more up to date cuisine if your tastes or wallet don't allow, but remember that pubs won't survive if they all have to be the same.


Jeff Pickthall said...

Here's a quote from Protz's blog - "Sell food if you can, keep it simple and at affordable prices, and avoid becoming a gastropub."

No explanation is offered for this "advice". I find it a bit odd for him single out gastropubs for disdain, yet, as a desperate measure to give pubs a boost, he suggests a re-introduction of smoking.

BTW I dislike the word "gastro" for a pub because my mind follows it with "enteritis".

The Woolpack Inn said...

Thanks Jeff,

Thanks Jeff,

Funnily enough, my feelings about the word "gastro" match yours exactly!!

Yes, Rogers disdain for what I see as good quality food is more of a problem to me than his apparent "working class" perspective, although the two might be linked.

Tandleman said...

I think Protzy has lost the plot on this one. Well certainly the smoking ban bit. As for food, his advice isn't that bad, but it does need some explanation. If he had said "keep your food relevant to your customers requirements and in keeping with your facilities" that might have been better. Food is essential to a lot of people in pubs and to a lot of pubs. As long as there is a choice for everyone and drinkers aren't seen as a nuisance, that'll do for me.

Oh and I agree we should encourage good beer in restaurants. It doesn't have to be cask, just a good, well thought out list in bottles at non silly prices will do.

Velky Al said...

While it is true that I am one of those rare breeds that hunts out a pub because of what they have on tap, I also like a pub that has decent food. It doesn't have to be all fancy pants and coulis laden, it just has to be good.

I think most consumers don't actually give a toss if a place is a "gastropub", as long as they get a good pint and if they feel like like it a good mean, and vice versa.

The Woolpack Inn said...

I'm not quite sure why Jeff got two thanks, it wasn't intentional and I'm certain one is sufficient!

The interesting thing, tandleman, is how you do make the food offering relevant. It can be extremely difficult to cater for absolutely everybody in every situation.

velky al, the real problem we have is that there IS a market for "fancy pants". We are probably in that market and it's unlikely we would have survived this long without it. But there are other pubs very close that offer a range so the customer does have the choice.

We are building a customer base that like what WE do and don't like what our competitors do, for food that is. We also know there are potential diners who will never eat here and love our competitors.

That last point I'm really happy about. When we tried to please everybody we struggled because we where all fighting for the same customers and some where not getting what they wanted anywhere.

"If you try to please everybody you will please nobody" (Aesops)

Velky Al said...

Dave, if I were living in your neck of the woods and your beer was better than the competition, then I would pick your pub over them regardless of whether the food was fancy pants or otherwise - have to admit it would be interesting to see how we each define fancy pants. I know some people who think doing traditional British food, but doing it well is fancy pants, as though British food by definition is crap.

The Woolpack Inn said...

Ah, that, velky al, can be the thing - everybody's definitions are different.

..but we do try and have the best beer, can't say we don't occasionally take our eye off the ball, but if our beer is sub-standard then we like to be told!!

Velky Al said...

I had a look at your menus on the website, and I would say that the food you serve is just the kind of thing I like. I think I was unclear in my definition of "fancy pants".

The Woolpack Inn said...

Thanks velky al, I'm glad you like our menu. Some like it and some don't. The core point here though is that everybody has a different idea of what "good" pub food is. What makes it harder for us in the trade is that this difference is getting wider.

What makes it exciting is that if everybody accepts that the difference is there, we can make the pub and beer trade a very diverse and successful industry.

What concerns me is that, as mentioned by others, Roger Protz is the main objector to anything that moves outside his definition of appropriate pub food. Many pub owners, including me, care about what Roger says. This is inhibiting progress as his advice is heeded by many in the industry and used against the pubs that are progressive and represent the future.