Menu creativity holds the key to profitability in the pub sector irrespective of whether kitchen footprints are shrinking or getting squeezed.
That’s the view of Chris Webb, catering operations manager at Punch Taverns, which runs 1,200 pubs across the UK.
There is a perception in the market that operators are increasingly under pressure to achieve 20% more output from 20% less kitchen space.
Quizzed on whether chefs just have to accept that the footprint they are afforded will carry on reducing, Mr Webb said that in Punch’s case it will extend kitchens if it needs to, but actually a lot can be achieved simply through astute menu engineering.
“We put certain dishes on the menu at key times because we know what people will go for, which makes it easier for the throughput of the kitchen. You just have to be clever where you use hotspots on menus and things like that. It is difficult to get a return on an extension on a kitchen, but if it is going to be a real benefit and lead to a massive uplift in trade we will.”
Many pub operators remain focused on future-proofing their kitchens operations, but Mr Webb thinks it will be menus – rather than equipment – that look different five years from now.
“I think the kitchen kit itself will remain pretty static, we will evolve it for better things that come along, such as refrigeration, but I think it is the product on the menu that will evolve massively, not the kitchens. Anything that goes on our menu now for vegetarian is vegan and, if we can, gluten-free. We try and combine all categories into one or two dishes rather than getting new kit in for separate areas.”
Punch Taverns takes a practical approach to catering equipment procurement, with new kit chosen for its ability to deliver multiple dishes and products.
It is also paying increasing attention to energy consumption and, at the recent Commercial Kitchen show, began exploring the energy credentials of new refrigeration equipment in order to put together a tangible business case.
“If I can go to the board with a fridge that saves them 30% annually on electric, for example, why wouldn’t they? They will quite happily sign that off. We now use Synergy Grills in some of our pubs. Firstly, it’s a great product but it’s also because the gas usage is far less than a traditional chargrill and they are easier to keep clean, so it was a pretty simple decision to get that signed off.”