People love bad food.

I was reading this review the other day and it got me thinking.
Its an entertaining review which I enjoyed reading, but there's an angle which the writer probably hasn't considered possible.

Whilst the diners at the Aberdeen Angus Steak House appeared all to be tourists,I've no doubt that if the concept were to be rolled out nationwide it would be just as busy,but not exclusively with tourists.

If you like good food its a difficult concept to grasp,but actually,controversial though this may seem, there is a demand for bad food in this country.
Before we took the plunge into self employment, we ate at most of the pubs in the local area in the interests of market research and the obligatory business plan required by the bank.

The pubs we visited fell into five main categories:

The Straightforward Boozer
Wet sales only with snacks the only food offer.An increasing rarity in country areas,only really feasible in a town centre with high volume sales.

The Posh Pub.
The place to be seen.Food edible but not great, more focus on presentation,fancy plates and food piled vertiginously high.Lots of people, but not everyone eating.

The Bog Standard Pub
Nothing really to make it stand out,food not great, a bit tired and down at heel.

The Grotesque
Don't even go there.We were afraid to eat in some of these.


The Branded Chain Pub.
This most sinister of pubs, black boards professionally written,usually a concept brand run by a brewery.Probably most similar to the Aberdeen Angus Steak House mentioned in the review.Food abysmal.

The majority of the pubs visited varied from atrocious to marginally bad.In a thirty mile radius there were only two pubs serving the type of food we would willingly pay for.There seemed a definite gap in the market for somewhere serving decent food.We could clean up.

As the research progressed,there emerged a worrying pattern.There was a certain type of place which despite serving crap food was exceptionally busy.
The Branded Chain Pub.
Though the food was invariably notably inferior to that on offer at both the Posh Pub and in some cases the Bog Standard Pub,they were unfailingly,consistently mobbed.
The menus at the Branded Chain Pub offer a multitude of options and variations.
Specials boards,"lite bites",sandwiches(wraps,baguettes,rolls,sliced bread),classics,from the grill,fresh from the ocean etc,etc.So much choice that if you know anything you know everything is straight from freezer to plate,no skill required to produce.All centrally sourced,cheap ingredients yielding maximum profits.

In one local Branded Chain Pub we noted that some bright spark in head office had clearly picked up on the trend for specifying food provenance, but had totally missed the point.The menu read like a whistle stop tour of the British Isles and beyond.Particularly nauseating were the "freshly baked white rolls served with Somerset butter swirls" In Northumberland.
But no matter,to the average Branded Chain Pub diner 'food miles' is the distance from their front door to the nearest Chef and Brewer.

It took us a while to get our heads around what we had uncovered.We were dismayed but went ahead with our plans.Eventually, we came to accept that there was indeed a significant market for crap food.Moreover, the market for crap food is actually bigger than the market for decent food.Its no accident that places like the Aberdeen Angus Steak House and the local Chef and Brewer survive.They do more than that,they thrive because they exist to meet a massive demand.So next time you pass by, don't feel outraged that they exist,the diners inside are enjoying themselves,they like it there.

Known within the trade as the "Scampi and Chips crew" these particular diners don't want freshly cooked food.Their palate is honed to appreciate pre prepared reheated meals which require no skill to prepare.We can spot them when they come in the pub.Its easy,they scan the menu,look uncomfortable then ask if that's the 'only menu'.The ones who do stay and order food stare incredulously when you explain that there's no children's menu.What nothing for children?Well hold on, here's a novel concept, why not let them eat the same as you, except maybe a smaller portion?
In the absence of chicken nuggets, I'm constantly depressed by the increasing number of parents who choose to feed their offspring "plain pasta no olive oil or butter with some grated cheddar on top".Not exactly providing any of the requisite five a day..

Without wishing to get into a Jamie Oliver style rant,though his intentions were admirable,it was clearly manifest from the outset that the school dinners initiative was fatally flawed.People cant be forced to eat food which they have no taste for.Taste for food is instilled at home and at an early age.The truth is people aren't being forced to eat bad food,they want to,hence the pasties through the school perimeter fence debacle.

I fear the current generation could be the worst affected,fed on an increasing diet of convenience foods there are fewer parents who cook at home than ever before.

The other night,out of interest we took a trip over to the nearest Branded Chain Pub,just to see if anything had changed since our last visit.
It was still heaving.
As we approached the bar an Ethel Stout type character greeted us:

Are You's wanting to eat?
Chef:No thanks, just drinks..

A pro written A-board barred our entrance to the coveted dining area, lest drinkers commandeer valuable eating spots:PLEASE WAIT TO BE SEATED.

Recalling from a prior visit that the wine selection was gross wasn't that enamouring,I spotted a solitary miniature bottle of Lanson champagne in the bar fridge.

Self: Can I have that small champagne please?

Ethel:Is it your birthday??

Self:No I just fancied it..

Ethel:Why don't you get the big bottle it'll be cheaper?

Self:No,I only want a small one

Ethel:But you can take it home.

Self:No it'll be flat by the time I get home

Ethel:What about some sparkling wine, that'll be cheaper..

By this time I was getting frantic, I could see the wee bottle just out of reach, if she doesn't give it me now I'm going to lamp her..

Self:No, give me the champagne - its what I want.


Raising her eyebrows and giving Chef a knowing look(I can see you've got your hands full with that one, pet),Ethel reached down and begrudgingly proffered the prized bottle.

We retired to the tall stool area specifically allocated for drinkers.
I had just managed to take a sneak photo of one of the many menus before Ethel's voice boomed out.

Are you enjoying your Champagne then?

Self:Yes thanks.

Twenty sets of eyes within close proximity fixed their sights on me as I decadently necked the last of the Champagne, and it wasn't even my birthday.

I turned to Chef:
That's it,I'm done,lets go.

Chef shook his head in disbelief as he gazed at the caption 'Chicago Chicken' on the classics menu.Classic from where??Its a British pub classic of course.
( Can I suggest you zoom in on this item to fully appreciate its constituent ingredients)

When we arrived home Only Daughter was at the computer attempting to check in on line and select her preferred seat,in preparation for her much awaited trip overseas.

She called me over.

Only Daughter: Mum,what's a bland meal?
Self:What do you mean?
Only Daughter:It says here in the in flight meal options 'Bland meal' You can pre order it.

There it was in black and white right between Gluten Free and Vegan.
'Bland Meal'

Self:Well I suppose its exactly what it says.
Only Daughter:But who on earth would want to eat a bland meal?

I was about to respond by saying I have no idea,but stopped myself.
Unfortunately, I know only too well ....

The writing is on the wall for the future generation of generic eaters-in- waiting.

This morning, I deposited Only Daughter at Newcastle International for her first unaccompanied trip abroad.Armed with a healthy appetite and a Makansutra Guide,courtesy of Amazon,I've no doubt whatsoever that she will seek out some tasty scran,in spite being a tourist...


I found myself nodding and smiling throughout this entry. I was a pub cook many years ago and we got taken over by a chain, gradually they forced those horrid microwave menus on us. I was lucky that my area manager recognised I could cook, so allowed me a bit of freedom to roam from the menu. They actually called the menu cooking instructions 'idiot cards'! Look forward to reading more of your blog.
I rarely go to pubs but we had a horrible Sunday roast recently for daughters 21st a family lunch out with plastic beef - it was vile. We are pulling our hair out wondering where to take Mother in Law for her 70th birthday lunch next week.
Anonymous said…
Completely true about people's palates. hen I started my current job, which involves writing recipes, I went onto the company message boards to see what people were talking about so I could tailor my recipes to their tastes. T

hey were talking about jars of pasta sauce, potato waffles, frozen pizzas, fish fingers... all on a messageboard that was supposed to be dedicated to food chat and recipe swaps. Barely a mention of actually cooking at all. I despaired.

Delighted to hear you don't have a children's menu. The notion that up until the age of 18 people can only cope with chicken nuggets and ketchup drives me mental. How are kids supposed to develop a taste for anything if all the food they're given tastes of nothing?
Leigh said…
People do eat the stuff though, that's the thing. I can imagine that, after a few beers, i'd probably be up for Chicago Chicken. I am wary of Roasts in pubs though - you gotta fine one you like and stick to it. They are the most varying genre, i find. At the end of the day, some people just want those molten microwave lasagnes - if you want really good food - you shouldnt eat a chain pub!!
Choclette said…
Oh dear, sounds like you have a real uphill struggle to educate the locals. Isn't it just that chains have a huge marketing budget? Sadly, I think you're right. My parents in law always used to treat us to a meal out when we visited them and it was always at the local chain and I never enjoyed it but in the interests of maintaining friendly relations, just put a bright smile on my face and looked forward to going home again - hey ho! I must add my husband does appreciate good food.
Anonymous said…
How true- but also very funny! I particularly liked your tale of the champagne... Schadenfreude indeed!!
Kitchen Princess-love the name.Idiot cards?Exactly my point!

Fab-I know how you feel its a minefield.You could look on line in the Michelin Eating out in Pubs Guide for something in your area,its not a guarantee but at least there's a good chance the cooking will be to a certain standard.

Anon-Yes I definitely think there's a bigger market in bad food.We decided before we opened we weren't going to do a kids menu,there's no need-its not as if we're a curry house!


Choclette-Its not the locals who are the problem,its the people who chance by without realising the type of food we serve.Like you I think people who like good food will always seek it out.
Maybe they grew up without being encouraged to try new things and flavours (sad as that is). Unfortunately I find this very true for people who live in the UK (especially outside of london, and especially the older generation). Shame, cause they are missing out on so many wonderful tastes and experiences.
Have a wonderful weekend ahead.
*kisses* HH
gastrogeek said…
I am well and truly shocked! Which airline is it that seriously offers a BLAND MEAL?! It has got to be a joke! And whenever I see parents giving their kids pasta and grated cheese it definitely makes me want to call social services. Just Awful.
Grazing Kate said…
Northern, Loved this piece. The standard of pub grub in England is appalling.

I wholeheartedly agree with you, and unfortunately so often when we're desperate or on holiday and don't know the area we end up eating in one of the Bad Guy pubs and we feel somehow 'soiled' afterwards. Bit of a strong term, soiled (with all its connotations), but it is how it feels. We've let ourselves down.

When you visit the west country, please could you decide that you love it so much that you decide to open your next pub here in my village?! We have three village pubs, in a mid-to-affluent area, and not one of them serves edible food. I would LOVE to eat in them and roll home without a taxi journey, and so would many of my neighbours.

I think there might be a further category / sub-category that you could add: the Wannabe-Posh-Gastropub-Chain. We have a whole group of them around here - all owned by one brewery - they're basically upmarket Chef and Brewer / Brewers Fayre (oh, I hate that word, 'fayre'!)in really great locations - overlooking the sea / in a thatched pub in quaint village / next to a river estuary you get the picture and the brewery branding is minimal, I think the blackboards might even be handwritten. We do occasionally visit these places as they're semi-reliable and have fantastic locations with views. But again, the menus are soooooo long, so faux-local and quite expensive. Some of the dishes are alright (they should be at the price) but there are some real clangers too - the clanger I had was a rhubarb crumble that tasted of vinegar, a friend had some kind of beef stew with so much gravy that it overlapped the sides of her plate and was grotesque.

So, when are you moving to Devon, please?

I think you can add to your verdict of 'most people like this kind of crap food', the poor unfortunates (like my family and some of our fellow bloggers) who have to reluctantly go along for a family gathering, someone's leaving party, holidaymakers who just need some grub.

I would prefer to have beans on toast in a greasy spoon.
Grazing Kate said…
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Grazing Kate said…
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Grazing Kate said…
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Gastrogeek- Emirates,really.

Kate-yes maybe that sub category should be included.We get all the trade pprs and there are always lots of beautiful places for sale in your part of the country at good prices.There aren't many property bargains up here but I suppose Devon/Cornwall must be very seasonal in terms of trade or maybe not?I agree you are definitely better off in a greasy spoon at least you know what you're getting and hopefully not being ripped off price wise.
Su-Lin said…
Lots of airlines offer a plain meal. I've always wondered about it...

Hope your daughter has a good time in Singapore!
i love this post. the trouble is these chain pubs are too good at hiding behind their "traditional" marketing that those who aren't that into food just don't reaslise it. IMO.
Really love this, I think it's very true. My father used to be a big fan of the local chef and brewer where he lives until he found somewhere even cheaper and even WORSE.

Late discovering this... love the way you write and going to peruse other posts.
Sarah-thanks! Praise indeed:)
Dot said…
Visiting because you said it was controversial, but actually I agree. The only bit I want to argue with is your criticism of parents who order dreadful bland food for their children. Speaking as the parent of horribly fussy small children, one tends to order this stuff when out because it's one thing to have an enormous fight over eating vegetables at home, quite another to have it in public and when you've paid for the meal...
I wish we'd found your pub when we were up in Northumberland in the summer. I have never eaten so much fish and chips in my life! Sadly, the chances of getting to eat anything decent when out with my family are minimal. I was brought up in a family with meat and 3 veg, and my husband's the same. The difference is, he won't try anything spicy (barring Chinese-Indonesian sweet & sour pork here in the Netherlands), anything with curry, anything with garlic or even onions. Imagine how bland the food is at our house! Also, his favourite vegetable is Heinz baked beans. Cold! Our eldest two were brought up to eat most vegetables without complaint, but the youngest just refused to eat anything other than peas and carrots and some bland tomato sauces, pepped up with herbs. Our food became even more bland. There is hope, though; the eldest two eat with friends and have discovered more flavours and when my husband is off on a business trip, we eat more adventurously. But out and about, a 'posh' meal is usually a chain pub where they're most likely to pick steak & chips or lasagna. And I've gone vegetarian (well, pescatarian) and am dismayed to find most veggie food I've come across in England is something and onion, a big no-no. Aaargh!

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