Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Render unto Caesar ... but only as much as you should do ... & other stuff

September is the month when HMG takes the then current inflation rate and calculates how much the Universal Business Rate will be in the ensuing April.

This year the with inflation at over 5% HMG look set to rake in an extra £1.35 billion in commercial business rates. 

With all the pressures on pubs such as increased rents, increased supply costs, increased energy costs and the iniquitous beer duty escalator still in force we should all be looking very carefully at our business rates and where appropriate doing something about reducing them. To that end I have written a small piece on the How To Run A Pub website covering this very subject. You can find it by clicking here

Other recently added articles are on Customer Service and Staff Pensions

I hope you find all three articles useful.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Of Mice and Men ...

... and rats, cockroaches, silverfish and all things that you really don't want to find in your pub.

This piece appeared in the Independent newspaper on 21/11/11 "Infestation Nation" and it strikes me that with the reduction in public services under HMG's austerity program that we as publicans and sometime caterers should use our usually high standards of hygiene to add to our pubs' USPs.

All too often you can switch on the telly and see news articles and "grime-fighter" shows where they point up the horrendous conditions that exist in many restaurants (especially take-aways if you care to dignify their operations as restaurants) and the threat to public health poorly run establishments pose. 

Seldom do public houses feature in the media in these stories and we should trumpet our efforts to keep the British public safe from pest-borne disease. 

Now more than ever, with so much pressure on our industry we should be looking for ways to talk up our successes (both the glamorous and the indelicate).

If you think you've got an infestation that needs dealing with and you need a local contractor go to The British Pest Control Association - you'll find a register there and general information that might help.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

The Game's Afoot ...

... well not so much a foot as a shoulder, a shoulder of venison that is.

Kindly donated by a friend who had no idea what to do with it, I agreed to use the meat in an old recipe I have for a venison and smoked sausage casserole. For added good measure, for those dining with us who wanted an additional sauce (some people need to mask the gaminess of it all) I also dug out an old recipe for redcurrant and port sauce - not only good with game but also a great compliment to chicken and turkey and can be served warmed of cold.

For the venison, once the meat was stripped from the bone and trimmed of as much fat and sinew as possible and diced I marinated the meat (about 1.5 kg) over-night in the fridge with a couple of table spoons of olive oil, some chopped garlic, 100 gm of fresh redcurrants, a teaspoon of finely chopped root ginger, a good sprig of Thyme and half a bottle of Castle Rock's Elsie Mo - a full bodied and very flavoursome beer. (Save the other half for the casserole if you can resist the temptation, if not go buy 2 bottles in, 1 for the cooking, 1 for the drinking!)

Next day I popped the venison (drained from the marinate) into some olive oil in a flame proof casserole dish on the hob to brown and seal the meat, diced 4 rashers of unsmoked bacon and 400gm of smoked pork sausage to add to this glorious meat fest. Once it was all nicely browned, I removed the meats and kept the juices in the dish to sweat a couple of large finely chopped onions, 2 large diced carrots, 500gm of button mushrooms and 500gm of diced white potatoes.

Once everything was nicely coated in the juices I added about 100gm of plain flour, the marinate and the remainder of the beer and turned up the heat until it was just simmering, keeping it moving to prevent the flour lumping. Then I put all the meat back in and put the whole lot in a pre-heated oven at 165C for three hours, taking out on the hour to stir gently and keep anything sticking to the bottom of the dish.

For the accompanying sauce I took the juice from a large lemon and a large orange and reserved. Then I finely sliced half the skins of both fruits and put to boiling water for about 5 minutes (you need to cook them until the skins are soft). Once softened refresh them under cold running water. Now take a quarter bottle of port, the reserved lemon and orange juice and slowly bring to the boil, once boiling reduce to a simmer. Now take a small jar of redcurrant jelly (Asda do a brilliant one with added port for a quid) and continue simmering until the jelly has melted, stirring all the while. Take 100gm of redcurrants, the blanched lemon and orange skins and a teaspoon of chopped root ginger and add to the mix, simmer for another 10 minutes or so and then allow to cool. 

For both the casserole and the sauce you can substitute fresh cranberries if you like, I've prepared both versions and they are both equally toothsome.

I served the casserole and redcurrant sauce with diced and roasted potatoes with chopped curly parsley and steamed savoy cabbage. 

Even for a couple of guests who hadn't eaten venison before this lovely autumn dish was well received.

I've not priced this one up in the usual way as the meat was free and I was cooking at home, however, had I been buying everything I would have spent about £26 on the ingredients. The recipe above would serve 8.

If you've never cooked venison or considered serving it to your customers I think the method I employed is a great way to introduce some game to your menu, the richness of the beer gravy and the sharpness of the redcurrants are a great juxtaposition of flavours and all in all it proves that game can go on the menu at a price that your customers can afford.

(Profuse apologies for the Sherlock Holmes reference hence the piccy, seemed like a good pun at the time!)

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Time for a change?

Further thoughts on my post in October on energy costs ...

If you are changing supplier to get a more favourable deal then checking your meter readings at the point of supply change is really important.

If you would like to know more about getting the right deal then see my article on my website about things every Business Electricity & Gas customer needs to know.

For advice and tips on devising and implementing an energy saving strategy see my article on how to control and reduce your utility costs on my website.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Beer and Chocolate .... life really can't get better can it?

So tomorrow sees the start of British Pub Week 2011 and a celebration of one of our most cherished social institutions
 ..... blah blah blah!

The download from the Morning Advertiser contains a recipe to combine two of the things I cherish - beer and chocolate ... if nothing else comes from BPW 2011 then the recipe contained in the download from award winning  chocolatier Will Torrent must surely justify the whole event!

Can't wait to get to work on this one ... Dark Chocolate and Golden Ale Cake

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Taking it easy, easy like Sunday morning ...

... that's what I trust the team at Great Oakley Brewery (near Corby, Northants) will be doing this morning after having what should have been a fantastic weekend at CAMRA's Robin Hood Beer Festival in Nottingham.

Congratulations to them on winning overall champion of the competition with their Gobble, they also won a couple of other gongs for speciality and bottled beers.

That's the only thing about judging at these competitions, you only get a number not a name to identify each beer, so having carefully assessed appearance, aroma, taste, aftertaste and "saleability" and totted up the scores you don't ever know the name of the one(s) you really like.

If their's was the one I and others seemed to agree was the best on our table (as we were judging their category for Gobble) then at least I know what to look out for ... must write to SIBA and see if they'll let me know which number corresponded to which beer.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Judging at beer festivals ... or how I learned to love drinking in the morning!

10.30 a.m. Slightly overcast but a mild 15 degrees C in Nottingham, the wind is light and the sun is desperately trying to push its way through the clouds, whilst I desperately try to push my way through the crowds.

Now call me old fashioned, but I've never been a fan of beer in the morning, even as hair of the dog, so the prospect of judging beers for a SIBA competition at a CAMRA beer festival was slightly daunting. I mean it's not as if you can taste, swill and spit like those light-weight wine tasters, you have to swallow.

The Robin Hood Beer Festival in the magnificent setting of Nottingham Castle's grounds is now in its 35th year and quite frankly I was absolutely gob-smacked at the sheer scale of it. One of the largest marquees I have ever seen set atop the castle mount overlooking the city centre plays host to a truly staggering array of artisanal ales, ciders and English wines, along with various hand crafted foodie offerings.

The statistics are simply amazing - over 300 brewers exhibiting and 31 of them fitting the CAMRA criteria for LocAle (i.e. from within a 20 mile radius of Nottingham) offering up an incredible 900 different cask ales and 91 real ciders. 

Luckily I only had to sit on two tables this year, both for Premium Bitters though, so the head is still banging a bit as I write this ... even by strictly limiting consumption to a third of a pint this means I quaffed getting on for 8 pints in less than three hours and starting at 11 in the morning! I can only thank the organisers for not putting me on the final tasting table for the SIBA Midlands champion beer (that would have been a further 8 ales to try from the other categories) as I feel an ambulance may have been required.

The feeling of bonhomie and camaraderie (or should that be CAMRAderie?) was palpable not only amongst the judges' tables (must have been well over 60 of us) but amongst the hundreds of paying visitors, exhibiting brewers and volunteers running the event. With all the doom and gloom prevalent nowadays it was joyful to see so many smiling faces and all well before the sun had hit the yardarm. 

Even if you were to visit every day of the three day festival and spent all day long sipping thirds of pints you wouldn't be able to sample everything on offer ... but that's the great thing about beer festivals you can re-visit old favourites and discover new favourites to be. At this year's Robin Hood you could spend the three days just sampling the wares of the 55 new brewers that have been added to the roster. That is 55 new brewers who have set up this year alone and produced a plethora of varying ambrosias ... to name check a few of the locals Black Iris (Peregrine Pale - 4.6% - crisp), Wentwell (Farm Hand's Bitter well rounded copper ale at 4.1%), Wellbeck Abbey (Spyke's Gold full of Goldings Hops at 4%) and one from a pub from my student days in Hull over 30 years ago ... The Wellington Inn (a darkly serious brew at 4.5%).

My final thanks have to go, albeit posthumously, to Spyke Golding, the recently deceased legend of the Nottingham CAMRA branch who gave so much encouragement to both brewers and publicans in the area. His monumental frame and good nature is still missed so it was a nice touch for this year's festival to be dedicated to his memory - including a cracking festival ale from Castle Rock of Nottingham bearing his name.

Now I must go lie down in a darkened room, keeping one foot placed firmly on the floor to ground me and drift into the arms of Morpheus ... 

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Cool Brands 2011

In case you missed them in The Observer newspaper on 2/10/11 the top 500 Cool Brands for 2011 have been announced by the achingly cool Expert Council and a "representative" panel of 2,000 members of the public. I was surprised just how many were from the food and drinks industries - 79 in total.

What didn't surprise me, given the average age of the "Expert Council" looked to be about 25 (from their piccies anyway), was that not a single cask ale was singled out as being cool enough for this particular sub-set of the glitterati.

Still if you want to join the serried ranks of the uber-cool then make sure you are stocking some of their recommendations ... winners in the drinks section were, Guinness, Dom Perignon (12th coolest brand over all sectors), Innocent smoothies and Jack Daniels.

Whilst not many of you will be stocking the Dom, I am sure many of you will stock Mr Daniels, and here are a few of the others you might easily stock to bump up your coolness rating:

Asahi beer, Aspall Cider, Cobra beer, Lavazza coffee, Marmite (yay!), Salty Dog (artisan crisps), Stella Artois (despite their announced 7.8% price rise - outrageous), Tiger Beer

Or you could just ignore this and stick to what is really cool - the great British Pub serving real ale, good food and great company.

By the way, if you really must see the list then follow this link

Time to put an energy saving strategy into place ...

It seems that not a day goes by without some energy supplier announcing price hikes and not a day goes by without those very same energy suppliers having to admit they’ve cocked up some poor blighter’s bill. 

With all the energy companies now publishing their price rises it is vitally important that all business electricity and gas customers make sure that they don’t fall into the suppliers’ favourite trap of charging the wrong amount for the units consumed after a price rise.

The best way to avoid this is to take a meter reading at 12 midnight on the night before the price change and the very next day giving that meter reading to your electricity and gas supplier. If they will give you an estimated balance on your account at that point all the better, you will then be able to scrutinise your bill when it comes in to ensure that you have been charged at the correct rate post price rise.

Coincidentally you will be able to use the pre-rise estimate as a way of calculating how much extra your energy is costing you and ensure you are implementing energy saving strategies to minimise the impact on your cashflow.

If you are changing supplier to get a more favourable deal then checking your meter readings at the point of supply change is equally important.

I, for one, read my gas, electricity and water meters at the end of every billing period (gas & electricity monthly) and water every six months. I believe it’s better to give a reading than allow the supplier to estimate my consumption. It’s also a good way of monitoring your pub’s energy/water consumption and not storing up any unpleasant surprises. Even though the water is billed twice a year I like to take a monthly reading, I once had an unnoticed leak that put my consumption up considerably; however, as I keep an eye on things I was able to notice the spike relatively quickly, investigate the problem and get it fixed.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Cask Ale – the real “must stock” brand

There aren’t many things you “must stock” in your pub, Guinness, clean toilets, friendly well trained staff being a few, but the one that stands out whether you are food led or wet led is Cask Ale.

The publication of the fifth annual Cask Report by award winning beer writer Pete Brown, with the backing of brewers, CAMRA and Cask Marque is full of well researched and documented analysis of the Cask Ale market.

It’s not only packed with statistics about this sector of the UK beer market but also comes with case studies on how to benefit from Cask Ale and even if you don’t read the full 50 pages the 10 Point Action Plan on how to maximise cask ale sales is a great place to start.

Well done, once again, Mr Brown and all the others involved in its compilation and publication.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Parliament's 7 year itch

So after seven years of parliamentary scrutiny and investigation into the role of pub companies in the pub industry the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee of the House of Commons has published its latest report into the state of the British pub trade.

Unsurprisingly for anyone who has followed the progress of this committee’s work on this issue the pub companies and breweries get comprehensively slated in pretty strong language.

The 60 page report, with another 104 pages of oral and written evidence from all sides of the industry (the pub companies, brewers, pub landlord organisations, CAMRA, surveyors etc) is unequivocal in its criticism of the activities of pub companies and their refusal to self-regulate and reform.

Prevarication, obfuscation, downright false testimony, distortion and utter contempt for Parliament by the pub companies is the common theme. MPs have come in for a rough ride recently, however, this committee has doggedly pursued the truth much to the credit of its chair, members and staff. Having viewed some of the TV coverage of the committee meetings I found it as compelling as the Media committee’s interrogation of the News International mob.

The pub companies attempts to stave off regulatory control now look to finally have been in vain, some of this has been going on since 2004. The recommendations and conclusions of the committee mean that government intervention in the pub industry is now, all but, inevitable.

Let’s hope that they are able to do something about the worst excesses of some of the pub companies (rents, terms and conditions of business, gaming machine tie, disclosure and transparency, pub company area managers, Codes of Practice, the beer tie) and do it soon.

Far too many hard-working, honest and capable publicans have been forced into penury by the rapacious activities of some of these companies for the status quo to remain. The chair’s final conclusion “…we are firmly of the view that statutory regulation should only be used as a last resort. However, are hand has been forced and we see no other alternative for an industry which has for too long failed to put its own house in order”  results in swift action to bring our much loved industry back into balance where the publican and the brewer/pub company both get a fair share.

I, for one, look forward to some furious back-pedalling and strident protest from the pub companies and trust that Parliament will not be hood-winked again and push on with statutory reform with alacrity.

It’s not only the publicans who are, in some cases, the indentured servants of the pub companies, who will benefit; the consumer will be much better served by increased competition and investment that will flow from reform. For instance the GMB union has calculated that the effect of the pub companies and the beer tie has been to artificially inflate the price of beer by as much as 80p a pint – no wonder the average price of a pint has now shot up to over £3.

Next we need to tackle HMG’s tax raids on the pub industry (duty increases beyond inflation don’t help) and persuade them to support the Thrive on Five Campaign – to reduce VAT in the hospitality industry to 5%. Other countries have taken the lead by reducing VAT for the leisure sector and it has resulted in more jobs, more tax revenues and increased  investment in the industry.

If you’d like to see a reduction in the price you pay for food and drink in your pub then sign the petition here

Friday, 23 September 2011

Happy Autumnal Equinox

At this time of year as the evenings draw in and the weather changes to a more autumnal pose you’ll want to give your customers a little treat that reminds them of summer just gone and winter yet to come.

For me one of the quintessential flavours of autumn is apples and the most redolent of winter and Christmas is cinnamon, so finding a recipe that combines both has to be a winner. Originally from the deep south in America they make a slightly healthier alternative to doughnuts. Hence I call them Apple DoughNOTs.

The beauty of this recipe is that you can prepare the apples in advance and cook to order with a fresh batter in a matter of minutes.

This recipe is for 8 portions.
4 Granny Smith Apples or Other Dessert Apple
 240 gm plain flour
 3 large eggs (whites and yolks separated)
 24 ml vegetable oil
200 ml dry, white wine
2 gm sea salt
40 gm sugar
1 teaspoon Cinnamon


Preparing The Apples

Fill a large bowl with cold water and squeeze in the juice of a large lemon.
Peel and core the Granny Smith apples, make sure you get all the pips out (they are really bitter and will spoil the sweetness of this treat). Slice the cored and peeled apples into rounds about ½ “ to ¾ " -inch thick. Place into the water, the lemon juice will help to prevent them from browning, especially if you are preparing them for use much later.

Preparing The Batter

First thoroughly sift the flour and salt into a large bowl.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks, wine and vegetable oil together until well combined. Add the mixture to the flour and gently whisk until a smooth batter is achieved.

In a separate bowl, start to whisk the egg whites. Gradually incorporate the sugar while constantly whisking. Whisk the meringue until you those stiff peaks appear. Stir in about one-third of the meringue into the batter to loosen the mixture. Fold in the remaining meringue.

This may seem all a bit of a chore but trust me you’ll end up with a much lighter batter that won’t overwhelm the apples this way.

Although the recipe I use says the batter should be used immediately I have found that if kept refrigerated when not in use this batter should last for a complete lunch or dinner service.


Mix the sugar and cinnamon together and place into a shallow pan or bowl, place a little flour into another shallow container and along with the batter put these all beside the deep fryer.

Once your fryer is up to temperature (175° - 190° C), drain and dry as many apple slices required for the order. Dust them lightly with the flour and submerge them into the batter. Allow any excess to drip off before placing into the oil.

Fry the apples on one side until golden brown, flip over with tongs or a fish wire to brown on the other side.

Once both sides are brown and crispy, remove from the oil. Coat the hot apple in the cinnamon sugar. Transfer to a wire rack.

Serve warm with morning coffee or with vanilla ice cream as a dessert. These would also make a great offering for your Hallowe’en party as an alternative to toffee apples and as they are so inexpensive you could afford to include them in any free food you may be putting on for your event.

Costing / GP

Total cost for 8 portions is approximately £2.45 or 30p for each two slice portion, which means an 80% GP if you charge £1.80 per portion (not including any ice-cream).

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Still Time To Cash In On The Rugby World Cup

“The pub is as much a part of rugby as is the playing field” – John “Todder” Dickenson (1950’s England Rugby Player)

This certainly is as true today as it was in the 1950’s only more so. With the advent of the Rugby World Cup in 1987 this truly international tournament is now the largest sporting event after the Summer Olympics and the FIFA World Cup. This year’s Rugby World Cup being held in New Zealand should be a corker with England in with a chance for glory!

It’s still not too late to participate in this great trade building opportunity for your pub. With matches being shown live, for free on ITV, pubs have a great opportunity to either extend their trading hours by showing matches live or by hosting special screenings via the internet using the ITV player at a time more convenient to their customers than some of the early kick-offs.

If your permitted hours do not permit early opening (some of the coverage commences at 6.30 am UK time) then you will need to apply for a Temporary Event Notice for each match you show. Unfortunately with a minimum 10 working days notice required if you haven’t already applied you’ll need to hurry to even show the quarter finals. Friday, September 23rd 2011 (yes that's tomorrow) will probably be the last working day on which you can effectively serve these notice applications to your local licensing authority.

If you are going to support England, as I will be (not wishing to show too much partiality) then there are some rucking fantastic things you can offer.

On the food front if you are having an early showing then why not offer up a breakfast and beer meal deal or for evening showings then why not a good old English Bangers, Mash and Cask Ale?

There are some great real ales available to key in to the English theme – London Pride and Bombardier are just two that come to mind.

Don’t forget to deck out your bar and TV areas with plenty of St George (England) flags and bunting. You can show your pub’s support for England by kitting your bar staff out in England tee-shirts

How about an offer to your customers of England memorabilia (key rings, Zippo lighters) as prizes in a draw or quiz?

Don’t forget “Beer and Rugby are more or less synonymous” as Chris Laidlaw, the New Zealand All Black once said.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

What do you think?

Just had a little piece published in The Publican's Morning Advertiser ... look forward to any comments

Dragons Done?

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Make a splash with a funky menu design

Whilst meandering around sites I like to visit came across this little piece with some brilliant examples of innovative and exciting menu designs from well known brands (yo-sushi) to a menu inspired by Beatles song titles ... just proves that all you need to do is think outside the box ... the one I especially like is the Lime Jungle one ... 

go have a look yourself at: the Inspirational Blog

I bet the businesses that have these fantastic looking menus are leading their market places

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Mushroom Fondue .... Could Be A Great Sharing Plate For Your Pub's Autumn Menu ... and other fungi stuff

Glancing through the "i on Saturday" newspaper today (which by the way is a great little quality newspaper that any pub could afford to put out for free - 30p) I came across some recipes by Mark Hix - quite a renowned London restaurateur - that celebrate the use of mushrooms.

Clipart from

One of the recipes is for a Mushroom Fondue you can find the recipe by   clicking here. I think this recipe would lend itself to the average pub's food gross profit targets as the ingredients listed, perhaps with the exception of the wild mushrooms, should be in stock in most pub kitchens.

What struck me was not only the simplicity of preparation and cooking but the idea that this was perfect for sharing. I've costed this recipe out at approximately £4.00, which at 58% gross profit, would retail at £10 (and seeing as it serves 4 people) is more than reasonable. I think I would add some crusty bread or hot sliced baguette to bulk it up and charge £12 for the same level of profit.

Perhaps with nostalgia marketing being so prevalent these days and customers looking for interesting and inexpensive dishes, combined with the sharing concept that this hark back to the 70's could be a winner.

If you want some more ideas for both savoury and sweet fondue ideas click here.

There's also a great recipe for Mushroom Salad, should we squeeze a few more Indian Summer Days out of the year  which you can find by clicking here. 

I'm going to offer the Mushroom Fondue to my Sunday lunch guests tomorrow - it'll keep them busy (and quiet) whilst I bring the roasts together.

Top Tip for all you budding pub caterers ... take a look at the quality paper websites for recipe ideas you can adapt or scale down (in terms of cost) ... they're a great way to keep you menus and specials boards fresh.

Friday, 2 September 2011

When time is money and money is time - well counting it anyway

Take a look at this new article on my website if you want to save up to £1,500 a year by cashing up your tills more efficiently ...
Cash Counting Machines Article on the How To Run A Pub website

I hope you find it useful!

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Something for nothing …

... not often that you get to put this into practice, but after a recent visit by family members I’ve got a great little way to do this and get you out of the pub for a couple of hours.

It’s easy really, get in your car, head out of town and when you come across the first stretch of brambles go blackberry picking!

A 5 year old and I picked 2kg of blackberries in just over half an hour – and at 56.3p/100gms (Asda price at time of writing) this amounts to over £10 of free stock.

The down side? A few scratches and a couple of quid petrol money, the latter I would put down to stress therapy rather than food costs.

The upside? A break from the pub, some fresh air and enough blackberries to freeze (for later in the year) and some to make a blackberry and apple crumble for the pub that day.

(By the way blackberries will cost you as much as three times the current summer price when they are out of season – so this brief stint of foraging could potentially be worth £30!)

Here’s the recipe I use for making a perfect crumble that yields 8 portions:

For the fruit: 300gm blackberries, 900gm cooking apples (four decent sized Bramleys will do) the juice of two lemons & 175gm caster sugar.

For the crumble: 560gm self-raising flour, 280gm brown sugar and 280gm of cooking margarine.

To serve: 50ml of double cream or 100ml custard or 100ml of ice cream.

Total cost: Shop bought 54p a portion (68p when out of season) or 33p when you go blackberry picking

Selling at 70% GP gives you a sale price of £2.30 (shop bought) £1.40 (foraged); 80% GP gives you £3.45 and £2.10 respectively.


Chop apple in to small dice, combine with lemon juice and bring to boil in 200ml of water; simmer for 10 minutes, strain and reserve the apples.

Wash blackberries and ensure all stalks etc removed; place blackberries and reserved cooked apple in a bowl and gently combine with the caster sugar, being careful not to break the blackberries; place in an oven proof dish (or split between two if you don’t have a large enough one).

Now make the crumble by combining the flour, brown sugar and margarine in a bowl (I use my hands for this) until you create a crumble mix to your liking.

Cover the fruit mix with the crumble mix and place the dish in a pre-heated oven at 180°C (350°F/Gas Mark 4) – cook for 40 minutes.

Much better than any crumble supplied by any third party, home-made with provenance and a great return.

As the meerkats are want to say – simples!