Friday 1 March 2024

How pub catering worked

It would be easy to imagine that in the past pubs were serving nutritious, home-cooked food. Not like the pre-prepared muck sold in today's pub chains. Well, you'd be very disappointed.

Advances in food technology in the 1960s were taking the pain out of pub catering. The aim seemingly to remove all actual cooking from the process. It all sounds wonderful.

Basic essentials. An essential consideration is cost that doesn't add value — cost of marketing, preparation, wastage and cooking. To which may be added possible overwork for a licensee's wife or, if the call for food is high, the problems associated with a kitchen staff. Fortunately, advances in food processing by forward-looking manufacturers have eliminated all previous barriers to pub meals. There are now no foods that cannot be obtained in oven-ready and convenience pack form-from snacks to full haute cuisine meals.

These prepared foods may be in chilled or deep-frozen form, accelerated freeze or air dried, canned and otherwise packaged: in convenience packs properly apportioned to suit the formula of the meal and the number of persons served. Preparation is simple and quick. Explanatory instructions are given by the manufacturers who also are only too pleased to render assistance in the planning of meals.

Of equal importance is minimal kitchen equipment. Basic requirements are for a low temperature storage cabinet; a refrigerator for short-term storage of perishable foods; a cooker with boiling rings, a micro-wave oven, a deep fat frier; equipment for hot snacks; a washing and drying machine. Some of these must be available, whilst others are needed according to the products handled.
Brewers' Guardian, Volume 99, May 1970, page 58.

Note the assumption that the landlord's wife would have to do the cooking. A bit of casual sexism for you there.

Quite a bit of kit was still needed. Though no more than you would find in most kitchens today. Not sure why they called a freezer a "low temperature storage cabinet". Because I'm certain that's what they meant.

What sort of food was being prepared? A full three-course meal could be assembled from processed foods. With no processing more complicated than boiling water required.

There are 15 flavours in the Heinz-Erin range of air-dried soups, including all the favourites. They are simply added to the water, brought to the boil and simmered for 15 to 20 minutes with an occasional stir. The equipment needed is a gas or electric range for preparation service bain-marie on the counter for service.

For main-courses, Heinz-Erin market five casserole-type dishes in ten-portion packs. They are smoked fish, vegetable and prawn curry, chicken curry, savoury beef with vegetables and beef curry. Preparation of each is the same as for the soup mixes, as is also keeping in a bain-marie for service. Each may be served with Heinz-Erin patna rice and one of the vegetables from this concern’s range of air-dried or canned vegetables.

Also produced is the means for making Pizza pie, unique by virtue of the fact that for the first time this attractive snack may be prepared quickly and economically from a packet. The product is a complete pizza pie containing tomatoes, anchovies, capers, oragana, herbs and spices. Tailored to suit the British palate, this full savoury is ready to eat in twenty minutes. Each carton contains a can of pizza sauce and a sachet of powdered dough mix.
Brewers' Guardian, Volume 99, May 1970, page 60.

Tinned and packet food. That's exactly what I want when I go out for a meal. "Tailored to suit the British palate" doesn't bode well for the authenticity of the pizza.

There was another big reason pubs would go for this approach. In addition to the convenience. Cost.

Economics are indicated by typical menus taken from the Heinz catering range. A snack comprising a bowl of soup, slice of Pizza pie and coffee has a selling price of about 4s. 9d., for a materials cost of approximately 1s. 7d. A light meal comprising a bowl of soup or fruit juice, a casserole type dish served with rice and one vegetable, and coffee could sell at a minimum price of 6s. 9d. The materials cost here is approximately 2s. 8d. Labour and heating costs are not accounted, but these should not make great inroads into the high margin of profit available.
Brewers' Guardian, Volume 99, May 1970, page 60.

Those are huge markups: 19d (1s. 7d.) to 57d (4s. 9d) and 32d (2s. 8d.) to 81d (6s. 9d.). Which must have been very attractive to a landlord. AS well as the lack of cooking needed.


Bribie G said...

I lived in Cardiff in the very late 1960s and the early to mid 1970s and commercial microwave ovens were just starting to appear in pubs, cafes and restaurants. Massive things about the size of a colour TV of the era.

I worked in the Cardiff BSC steelworks at the time, and the SA Brains pub opposite the gatehouse got floods of us as the shifts chucked out. In 1976/77 after a lot of warm winters it froze and the subsoil got colder and colder, and of course the pub cellars where the Brains beers resided.

There were complaints, eventually, that the beer was too cold. The landlord could fit six pint glasses in the microwave and the popular order was for "a pint and a flash".

Anonymous said...

World war two must have played something of a role in this. Real shame it was not French companies doing it.

Rob Sterowski said...

Other than from Dean Martin, where did the 1970s habit of saying "pizza pie" come from?

Matt said...

As a kid in the seventies, we only really ate in pubs on holiday. Some of the staple menu items that you invariably found there, like chicken in a basket and Knickerbocker Glory ice cream sundaes, are now seen as irredeemably naff and have all but disappeared, except when served in an ironic way or in overtly retro places.

Anonymous said...

Might as well stay at home with a Party Seven and a Vesta. Right, that's my weekend sorted.

Anonymous said...

At the same time Spain had tons of tapas bars for working class people with inexpensive wine and basic snacks that still managed to be so much better quality.

A ton of it was preserved food too, like canned sardines, olives, and ham, so it's not like bartenders were drowning in food prep. It more that people wanted more than reconstituted soup and instant pizza, and bar owners knew how to manage it.

Bribie G said...

Rob, the Americans don't have a tradition of our proper pies, aka steak and kidney, pork etc and to them a "pie" is a flat round thing like a flan or a quiche, "pumpkin pie, strawberry pie" and so on. When the first pizzas appeared via Italian migrants they were round and flat and therefore pies!!

They still call pizzas pies in New York I believe.

Rob Sterowski said...

It's a bit odd that. Pizza is one of several things that have entered British culture via America, despite the original version being geographically much closer. Bagels too.

Anonymous said...

Nothing beats a good pie.

Anonymous said...

Ice cream floats only Teddy’s of Sandycove still make them.