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!