Here Are The ‘Substantial’ Meals Brits Ordered In Pubs This Weekend

Pubs in Carlisle and Clapham are all out of Scotch eggs, but worry for their older regulars.

Pubs across England prepared to serve more “substantial meals” than ever before this weekend as new rules in tiers one and two allowed them to open their doors again – provided punters ordered enough grub with their pints.

The humble Scotch egg hit headlines as politicians indulged in some well-seasoned debate over exactly what constitutes a proper pub ‘meal’.

But did people take advantage of the loopholes over the weekend to keep pub bars and kitchens busy. The answer, it seems, is a meaty-eggy yes.

“They quite like the fact they can sit and it be a bit more leisurely,” says Dianne Irving, 52, of her newly returned customers. The publican from Carlisle manages three pubs in the city – The Howard Arms, The Crown Inn and The Milbourne Arms – which all saw a flurry of custom in the first weekend after lockdown. “People are coming in and spending time – taking time between courses.”

In south London, Mark Reynolds, 46, founder and director of The Three Cheers Pub Company, which runs The Avalon in Clapham, says his customers have also been noticeably indulgent. “There’s been a huge amount of pent-up demand and customers are just happy to be coming out,” he says.

Both pub companies operate similar food policies under the new rules, with customers asked to order two smaller dishes or a classic main if they want to consumer alcohol.

“A proportion of customers are still trying to come in [just] for a drink and those people are ordering a scotch egg and a side. Obviously, those are not people who would generally order food in a pub,” says Reynolds.

“We saw a huge amount of sales of scotch eggs, sausages and sausage rolls – bar snack sales have gone through the roof.

Irving’s customers are also following the ‘two sides’ rule. “Chicken goujons, fish goujons, jalapeno bites, that kind of stuff,” she says. “We couldn’t justify a portion of jalapeno bites being a substantial meal. Well, could we or couldn’t we? Same with all the legislation and the nonsense that’s been going about!”

Despite the surge in sales of smaller items, Reynolds says the majority of his weekend diners ordered a main meal – and nearly all had pre-booked – “which in a lot of respect works very well for us,” he says. “We’re getting that extra spend, everyone’s sitting down, it’s all quite controlled.”

The picture was similar in Carlisle, where many regulars are getting into the Christmas spirit with a traditional sit-down dinner now it’s December.

“This time of year people tend to treat themselves, so they are having two or three courses so they can also make an occasion of it,” says Irving. Only one customer had a “strop” and refused to order food, she says, and although most were ordering two sides, some diners were staying longer for a number or courses so they could space out their drinks – and ultimately fit more in.

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Both publicans say they are less concerned by the surge in drinker-diners, as long as their kitchens can cater for them – and more worried for those regulars who traditionally prop up the bar with just a drink or two.

“You’re going to be putting off the boy that comes to the bar every day and has three or four pints and uses it as his social community, the place where he can come and see people: that is going,” laments Reynolds, who says the new ‘substantial meal’ policy is “obviously causing problems” for some. “I think a lot of people will just not come to the pub if you’re a regular who likes a pint.”

Irving agrees. “We have a lot of elderly customers come in, gentleman who live on their own, widowers, they come in the afternoon and have two or three pints and go home,” she says, adding that for these customers, “it’s not about the drink, it’s about socialising, seeing a face.”

Her pubs are proud to serve the community, Irving says, but these are the people hardest hit by the new restrictions. “During lockdown they’ve struggled and we’re delighted to have them back in, but they find it hard not being able to sit at the bar. They’re of an age where they’re not huge eaters anyway – the last thing they want to do is have half a pizza so they can have a couple of pints.”