When The Chips Are Down

How many chips constitutes a portion? It’s a question that helped to revive the art of conversation between my wife and I when we visited a managed pub operated by one of the UK’s biggest pub groups, on a recent visit to the West End of London.

While we didn’t reach definitive agreement on the exact number, we both firmly agreed that it should be more than 19 skinny fries. That was the quantity supplied, as an additional side order for which we were charged £3.75. That works out at just shy of 20p a chip, a GP margin which would make a Michelin starred chef weep with envy.

It all goes to the heart of the issue of value for money, which is occupying the pub trade at all levels as the cost-of-living crisis continues. The results of Inapub’s Indies Choice 2023 show that independent pubs are holding their own in food terms. Around 60% of pubs say the wet/dry split between food and drink is the same year-on-year, and more than 20% say food’s share of sales has increased.

While classics such as burgers, pizzas, fish and chips, and pies are most likely to be named  by pubs as their most popular dishes, there were also those that identified more unusual pub fare such as Thai food or chicken parmesan as their top sellers, and others said more premium dishes such as steak or locally sourced fish topped the list.

All of which tells us that value-for-money is, to large extent, decided by whoever is paying for the meal. Some consumers are definitely looking for low-cost deals, and pubs are flexing their offer with tactics such as mid-week meal deals in response. For others, it’s about perhaps going out less often, but being ready to pay a bit more for locally sourced steak or freshly landed fish fillet when they do.

I am, however, fairly confident that none of them would say that £3.75 for 19 chips represents good value. Pubs that hope to simply cost engineer their way out of the current situation would do well to think about how that looks to the customer.

This comment originally appeared in the Autumn 2023 edition of Inapub