Meeting customer demand - making your pub menu healthier

The days when pub customers were happy with a limited menu of pies, Sunday roasts, burgers and chips are long gone.  This is the era of healthy eating, and local and ethnic food.  People want something different and increasingly expect a good choice of options wherever they choose to eat out.  Vegan, vegetarian, flexitarian and gluten free diets are on the increase, which means pub menus have to adjust to meet customer demand.

Simply having one vegetarian or healthy option such as jacket potatoes on the menu is no longer enough – pubs need to be much more creative to attract customers.

Healthy Pub Food – A Challenge And An Opportunity

For forward-thinking pub tenants and their chefs, this situation is providing a challenging opportunity. Healthy eating is attracting more and more attention across the entire customer spectrum.   Vegan and gluten free diets appeal to people of all ages, as does local and ethnic food. When eating out, people are looking for high quality, healthy, and where possible, local food.

For many younger people, pubs are not their first choice when it comes to eating and drinking. By taking advantage of these trends, it becomes possible to attract a much wider audience. You can extend the appeal of your pub to younger people by providing the type of food they want to eat.  

Greater use of raw ingredients, natural sweeteners, better balanced meals as well as vegan/gluten free menus were among the emerging trends highlighted for 2018 by the Food & Drink Network.  Such findings are echoed by research company Mintel’s Global Food & Drink Trends  2018 report. Mintel points out that consumers are increasingly opposed to the provision of unhealthy snacks high in sugar and salt. Consumers want to know exactly what they are eating and drinking, while the food itself has to appeal visually and texturally.

Then there is increasingly important question of food waste, of food that is wasted during preparation or left on the plate by diners.  Providing smaller portions is increasingly common.

And it is not just food.  Consumption of non-alcoholic drinks is growing, with consumers wanting a choice of healthy options.  Shrubs have been mooted as a type of drink, which could well go mainstream this year.  A mix of fruit, herbs and vinegar; shrubs were popular in Regency Britain and America’s colonial era. Typical mixes can include blackcurrant & juniper, Peach and basil.  Younger drinkers are increasingly seeking out locations where they can buy bottled shrubs and other interesting non-alcoholic drinks.

Then there are mocktails.  Many pub operators have added a selection of mocktails to their drinks menus, selling for up to £5 or £6 a time. These offer the sophistication of a cocktail, look good and are healthier than many minerals due to the combinations of fruit involved; and because they contain no alcohol are great for drivers, or younger drinkers bored with water or fruit juice.

Advice For Introducing More Healthy Options

Adapting menus to suit these new trends involves just a little bit of thought and preparation.  Take a look at your pub menu and simply reduce the amount of fat and fried food.   Pub classics can easily be amended to meet the new trends. Instead of automatically opting for deep fried food or suet pastry for traditional dishes, many chefs are encasing the food in alternative ingredients such as spiralised vegetables, and grilling rather than frying. Poaching fish is another increasingly popular option, and adding ragu or herby salads. Meat free burgers can be extremely tasty and can be made from a variety of ingredients, not just tofu and meat look-alikes.

Even pizzas can be quickly adapted to suit a Vegan diet.  Instead of adding cheese, simply using tomato and vegetables can create a very healthy, attractive pizza within minutes.  Think too about the fat in which you fry chips – instead of animal fat; opt for healthier vegetable oils.  Not only does it enable you to offer the food to a wider audience, it can also prove very cost effective. 

Highlighting such changes on your menus will encourage people to eat at your pub.  Word soon spreads, especially if you are in a busy town or city.  

Sharing Platters Are Trending

The provision of sharing platters is another increasingly popular trend, which is ideal for pubs.  These are platters where a selection of food is provided on one or more plates and is designed for sharing among a small group. It is a great way to provide light, healthy meals.  Sharing plates of food with friends and family encourages people to experiment, to try food they might not otherwise consider and is a really sociable way of enjoying a meal. 

In Norwich, the Coach & Horses, a Greene King Local Hero pub, set out to offer something slightly different.  By opting for a tapas menu, it enables customers to buy several small dishes, which they can share among themselves.  Typical offerings include Halloumi, Strawberry and Balsamic Salad, Crispy Brie Wedges with Cranberry Source, Roast Stuffed Sweetbite Peppers with Couscous & Feta, Broccoli & Stilton Croquettes, Cod Goujons and Chorizo in Red Wine.  These dishes have proved extremely popular with customers, many of whom drop in after work, at lunch or before going to the nearby theatre.

Other pubs taking advantage of the healthy eating trend have made a feature of local food.  Seafood delivered fresh each day makes a great talking point for any pub within easy distance of the coast – and it is extremely healthy too. 

Customers will determine whether or not your pub is a success.  If you do not provide what they want, they will simply go elsewhere. With so much competition around, pubs have to respond to customer demand.  No one can sit back and be complacent about your menu, or the type of food & drink on offer. 

Recognising trends and acting on them quickly is the sign of a good business.  It provides a great way to differentiate your food and drink offer from the competition, and create something really exciting and special which will attract new customers and make them come back, time and time again.  

For more advice on developing a healthier pub menu, speak to your BDM.