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The White Swan in North Walsham, Norfolk, has recently been in the news for stopping selling food and suggesting that customers bring their own. The licensee cited the new allergen regulations – which carry potentially unlimited fines – for no longer making it viable. In recent years, increased red tape has caused many pubs to question whether serving food is worthwhile, which may well be the reason behind the disappearance of lunchtime pub food in many smaller towns. Another rule which is likely to put pubs off knocking up a few sandwiches is the requirement to have a commercial kitchen entirely separate from your domestic one.
Pete Edge at the White Swan has put menus from local cafés and takeaways on display and is happy for customers to order food from them and eat it in the pub, so long as they buy a drink. There are already plenty of pubs across the country doing that, the Wellington in Birmingham being a well-known example. However, it’s essentially just a convenience for existing customers. People aren’t really going to see a pub where you can order a takeaway as a destination dining venue, and pubs also forgo the revenue from food, which can command a much higher margin than drinks.
There must be scope, though, for pubs to consider more innovative ways of providing food for their customers without taking on the overhead of doing it themselves. Maybe they could enter into a more formal partnership with takeaways, where the pub effectively becomes the takeaway’s own restaurant, and food is delivered rather than collected by customers. I would have thought too that pubs could similarly link up with local sandwich shops to provide a menu of straightforward lunchtime snacks which must be far better for trade than serving no food at all. If done right it could benefit the business of both pubs and food outlets.
Of course, it remains far more common for pubs to insist that you only eat food purchased on the premises, something an elderly Wetherspoons regular found to his cost – although I believe there was more to that than meets the eye.