The number of pub closures has dropped slightly from a rate of 18 a week last year, thanks in part to CAMRA’s success in achieving new local planning protection for pubs in England, but remains high at 14 a week.
Four years ago, the rate was much higher at a rate of 29 per week in 2014. Since then, a number of initiatives have been launched by CAMRA alongside MPs to ease the rate of decline in the on-trade.In march 2017, the treasury announced it would ease business rates for 90% of pubs, providing a £1,000 discount to business rate bills for all properties with a rateable value below £100,000. [ . . . ]
Dotted around our fair city are plenty of pubs with chin-stroke-inducing names. A plethora of these reference obscure traditions. Some tell of unusual past lives the building once had. Others, are named for figures of local interest. And finally some are named after people — or animals — that only exist in works of fiction. Today, we’re focusing on that last category, fictional characters immortalised in London’s pubs.
The Owl and the Pussycat, Ealing/Shoreditch
There are two The Owl and the Pussycat pubs in London, both inspired by Edward Lear’s masterpiece. Let’s start with the lesser known of the two, The Owl and the Pussycat micropub in Ealing. This is west London’s first micropub, and it’s taken up residence in a former children’s bookshop. The pub serves beers from the owners’ Marko Paulo microbrewery based in the back room, along with kegged beers, which is rather unusual for a micropub.
Amusingly, the pub’s website has an employee of the month competition. By August 2018 the pussycat had won the title 13 times, compared to the owl’s paltry eight.
The other pub named after Lear’s poem lives in buzzy Shoreditch. Or perhaps it’s the other way round; on some Friday evenings it feels like Shoreditch’s buzz emanates from The Owl and the Pussycat and the swell of people spilling out onto the street. This is much more than a post-work drinking hole though — there’s an extensive menu offering pies, roasts, fish and chips and other pub classics. But if it’s booze you’re after, then head upstairs to the dedicated cocktail bar enticingly/unnervingly (delete as appropriate) called The Jago.
The focus on doing a Christmas roast menu can often mean pubs miss another obvious opportunity: festive bar snacks.
James Scott, who is the executive chef for the multi-award-winning New World Trading Company, has a few tricks up his sleeve that can help you create a great festive snacks menu.
James stresses it is a good idea to get ahead of the game and plan your pub’s festive snacks early. He says: “We find customers are making enquiries for Christmas parties a lot earlier than previous years, so it makes sense to be ready.”The process all begins as soon as one Christmas ends and we start collecting feedback in preparation for the following year. This way it is still fresh in our minds and we start getting some ideas and inspiration down on paper around January/February.”
If you keep things simple and use a template similar to your existing snacks menu you can avoid making too much extra work for yourself.
“The price points for the Christmas nibbles are based on our current menu price points for bar snacks,” James continues, “just with a festive theme. The key is to make them affordable to guests.
“We used our normal suppliers — we asked them if they had any ideas for the nibbles. Christmas pudding sausage meat was intriguing to us, so we played around with it and decided to do it as a sausage roll.”
So when he sat down to put together the Christmas snack menu, where did he start?
“We haven’t previously done a Christmas nibbles menu,” James says, “so we wanted to have a bit of fun with it. If you are in the bar having a drink rather than a sit-down meal, these are the perfect Christmas-themed snack for that.
“We took this as our focus, alongside the wider feedback we received on Christmas, what has worked in the past and what we believe guests want.”
Getting the look
Presentation of snacks is central to their success and for delivering the wow factor for people — although practicality plays a part as well.
James says: “The dishes are presented in small cast iron pots — they are the perfect size for nibbles and are robust enough for the wear and tear of a busy period.”
Another vital element is to make sure the new menu does not have a negative impact on the back-of-house team.
“It will mean a little extra work for the kitchen team,” James says, “but we use some of the ingredients or recipes in the main menu anyway.
“Training will be given to the chefs and general managers over November to ensure it is fresh in their minds and they will get to sit down and have a pre-Christmas meal where they will be served the menu and nibbles to get them into the festive spirit,” he adds.
And do not forget to push the menu out to your customers when you are ready to share it — after all, you will need to drive footfall to make it a success.
New World’s festive menu will be presented to local punters before being rolled out across the company’s pubs.
James continues: “We will also be including it in our email marketing, point-of-sale and shared with members of our new loyalty scheme ‘My New World’.
“Once we get in the festive period, these will also form a key part of our Christmas and social media campaigns.” [ . . . ]