Marco Pierre White: British pubs need better food to avoid closure

Marco Pierre White has criticised the poor quality of food served by British pubs, saying improving it could be the key to saving them from closure.

Marco Pierre White

Marco Pierre White

Pubs across the UK are closing at an average of 16 watering holes a week, with an estimated 4,000 pubs predicted to cease trading in 2014.

White, 51, said the death of the British pub was “not exaggerated,” adding: “I see it everywhere I go.”

“It’s a sad reality, but something can be done, our traditional pub culture can be rescued,” he said. “British pubs have to save themselves and the best way for them to do it is by offering great food.”

The Leeds-born restaurateur said he now prefers opening gastro pubs to swanky eateries, as it’s a more rewarding experience.

“Why do you think so many pubs are becoming restaurants?” he asked. “Eating is the best way to socialise with friends and family and pubs need to realise that they can still offer customers a place to enjoy themselves and relax.”

He remarked that consumer demand had shifted away from places exclusively serving alcohol, and that customers wanted good places to eat which also offer a pint.

“Some of the best places I have ever eaten – are not Michelin star restaurants – they are pubs.”

Alongside his many restaurants, White has opened several pubs, including the Yew Tree Inn in Berkshire which famously charged £5 for a pint of real ale.

White gave up his partnership in a Sussex country pub last year following customer complaints the food was too fancy.

White changed the menu of The Rainbow Inn to dishes including pomme fondant and poussin à la chipolatas, much to the concern of the regulars. The celebrity chef’s departure was described by general manager Ed Woodliffe as “very amicable”, but added the menu “probably was not for the people of this area”.

Local Alf Turnbull, 67, said: “People do not want posh nosh, just simple English pub food cooked to a decent standard. I could not pronounce half the things on Marco’s menu let alone eat them.”

Published by The Telegraph.

Marco Pierre White is correct in saying pubs need to serve good food. They also need to serve good beers, remove the widescreen TVs and turn off the music.

The Keystone in Guildford, served good food. Early afternoon in the summer, miss the lunchtime rush, but get there before the kitchen closed at three, and it was very pleasant to sit in the back courtyard, at least it was until a smoker appeared.

One of the big mistakes of the ban on smoking in pubs, was not to ban it from the premises.

This year though, The Keystone has gone rapidly downhill, the food still good but the service even worse. Walk in, and you got the impression no one cared.

When you walk in a pub, wishing to relax and chat with friends, do your really want someone else’s bad taste in music giving you a headache?

The Foresters served good food then either the chef changed, certainly the menu changed, and and it was awful. A place that you looked forward to visiting, to a place to avoid.

I am not sure which is worse, bad food or no food. On trips to Winchester I have found mid-afternoon, no food served in the pubs, kitchen closed. When asked when does the kitchen re-open in the evening, told it does not.

Yes, pubs need all these things if they are to succeed, good food, choice of real ales, real ciders, no music, no smoking, no widescreen TVs. The exception to no music, is live music.

Yes, there are pubs failing because they are badly run, or no longer in the right place. These are the exception, not the norm. It is not why we are losing 26 pubs a week.

The Alma in Newington Green in Islington, was not a badly run pub. It was turned around from a pub to avoid to a pub you wished to visit by a decade of hard work by the landlady Kirsty Valentine. She tried to serve a range of real ciders, this went down well with her clientèle, the small cider makers who supplied her. It did not go down well with Enterprise Inns who stopped her, and said she had to buy rubbish supplied by them at almost double the market rate. A little over a week ago, Enterprise sent in the bailiffs.

We are not seeing pubs close because of the lack of good food, though clearly that does not help, we are seeing pubs closed by the zombie pubcos who are screwing the pub landlords, then when the pub goes bust, selling off the pub for redevelopment.

Pubcos are zombie companies, in serious debt, with no chance of paying off the debt, barely able to meet the interest payments, and only then by charging the landlords over-inflated rents and by charging the landlords over the market price for their poor choice of drinks, then when the pub fails, selling off for redevelopment.

When you go in a pub and wonder why the poor choice of drinks, why the high price, blame the zombie pubcos not the landlord.

The only future for our traditional English pub is free of pubco ties, and preferably community owned and run.

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