Thursday 29 February 2024

What annoys you most about pub snacks?

In 1970, the Brewers' Guardian interviewed three customers about pub food. It gives us a little insight into the attitudes of publicans and diners.

At least that's what I'm going to claim. The reality is that I've a couple of weeks of travelling coming up and I need to string out a stack of posts before I go. Maybe I should make this interactive. You can tell me what you find annoying about pub snacks.

I'll go first. Not enough of them, too expensive. My favourite? A simple hard-boiled egg. Which is something you find in old-fashioned Amsterdam pubs.

What annoys you most about pub snacks?
(a) Well, it's terribly difficult to generalise, of course, but I suppose my pet hate about pub snacks or meals is the awful smell of cooking that hangs around some bars. It hits you as soon as you walk in the place and if you stay for any length of time you can smell it on your clothes when you get home. I don't mean all pubs are like this, but there are plenty of them and when I come across one I can't even drink there, let alone have something to eat.

(b) Apart from the obvious things, like bad hygiene, I think what I dislike most is that one can never really tell how long the food has been standing in the warming cabinet. It’s easy enough to spot a curled up sandwich or a piece of mouldy cheese but if you fancy shepherd's pie or sausages I am put off by the thought that they may have been re-heated from the morning session. Perhaps I am too nervous.

(c) I would say that 99 per cent of pub snacks are really good value for money, but occasionally you can be grossly overcharged for a sandwich in a pub. I went into a pub in the West End [of London] the other day and was charged 3s. 6d. for a cheese and tomato sandwich and the only tomato I found in it was a few pieces of skin. I don't know how some of them get away with it.
Brewers' Guardian, Volume 99, May 1970, page 56.

It's weird complaining about the small of food at a time when pubs were blue with fag smoke. How could you have even smelled the food?

Sometimes it's best not to think too much about what the food might have been through before hitting your plate. Just like in Wetherspoons. Who knows what horrors might have befallen it.

Let's put that 3s. 6d (17.5p) into context. The average price of a pint of Bitter in 1970 was 10.7p. Making that spartan cheese and toamto the equivalent of seven or eight quid today.

We'll move along to the next question.

Do you ever go to a pub for an evening meal? If so what special features do you look for?
(a) I never go on spec., as it were. If I have been recommended to a pub or inn then most certainly I will go, but in general I do not like eating in a room separate from the atmosphere of the pub. I like to be in amongst the noise and entertainment, which after all is a good slice of the attraction at the pub.

(b) No. If I want to eat out then I will go into a proper restaurant where the preparation of food is their whole livelihood and not just an extremely profitable sideline. Apart from this, I feel that there is not enough variation on a pub's menu to warrant it. Roast beef and steak seems to be about the usual limit, whichever language they print it in. Also pubs that serve decent sweets are few and far between.

(c) Yes I do. There are some very nice little restaurants above pubs or in annexes to them. If one is prepared to be adventurous, spend some time searching and, perhaps, be prepared to make a mistake or two. then I think the search can be rewarding. One small complaint is that many pubs, especially in towns, only cater for the lunch-time crowd. If a snack is available in the evening it is often re-heated from the lunch-time session.

I'll answer this one. No. Well, maybe I have at sometime in the past. But I can't think of an occasion off the top of my head. In contrast, I've eaten meals at midday loads of times.

I agree with Mr. a. If I'm in a pub, I want to feel like I'm in a pub. Not a restaurant.


Anonymous said...

There's a pub on a side street in Ambleside that does (or did) amazing pork pies - the proper ones with the jelly. Absolutely brilliant bar food.

Anonymous said...

Were there types of drinking establishments during this era where there was generally a higher standard for food?

For instance, were private clubs a big step up, or was their food usually barely better? Did inns which served both lots of beer to regulars as well as food for overnight guests have better standards, or was it likely to be roughly the same as the pubs described here?

Anonymous said...

My recollection of food in the 70's in England was it was universally rubbish and cheap or posh it was just shades thereof.

A Brew Rat said...

Posting as an American living in the western U.S., the cooking smell in bars with kitchens could be terrible if they did not have adequate ventilation from the smell of grease. Deep fat fryers to cook french fries and griddles to cook burgers led to quite the stench in some establishments.

Side note: in the early 1970s a popular pub food that emerged in bars that did not have kitchens was beer sausages. These were simply spicy sausages simmered in beer in a crock pot behind the bar. They were served on a paper plate with a plastic fork and knife with a dollop of mustard. They all but disappeared by the 1980s.

Chris Pickles said...

From my very earliest pub going days - around 1970/71 the only snacks I can remember - apart from crisps and nuts - were when at about 10 pm a man would come into the pub with 'seafood' which would be mussels, winkles, whelks etc, extracted from their shells and saturated in vinegar and sold in waxy paper bags. The texture was always of rubber.

The only good thing about them was that they made you thirsty enough to down a couple more pints before time was called at 10.30.

Chris Pickles said...


Our Student Union bar at Durham (Dunelm House, I was there 1971 to 1974), included a very good steak and burger restaurant.

But that was unusual, so far as I was aware.

Anonymous said...

The cockle man was still going strong in Liverpool pubs until at least the 90's. Along with the sock man and the DVD man.