nick strangeway

Bar food's blurred lines

20 September, 2021

Once upon a time pubs and bars were somewhere you went with the sole purpose of getting pissed and there wasn’t a knife and fork in sight, just a packet of dry roasted nuts.

That is, until the gastro pub emerged in the early 2000s and changed a pub’s role from simply being a boozer to a place you go to eat beer-battered cod and poncy triple-cooked chips.

I fear a similar thing is now happening in the bar trade. Of course, it’s important to offer a food menu because ultimately it’s a way of making your customers stay beyond the 8pm barrier, when stomachs start to rumble and hangry attitudes kick in. But we’re entering a territory where it can be difficult to tell what’s a bar and what’s a restaurant. Does this matter? Maybe not.

But if I go to a bar I’m primarily going to have a good drink and the food is an afterthought, so I should never have to think about it. What bothers me is if I go to a bar and end up asking more questions about a food menu because they’re trying to do too much, which takes the attention away from what might be an excellent drink. There is nothing wrong with sophisticated bar food menus, but they need to be effortless to the customer and complement the drinks you’re serving.

It is a fantastic thing to be able to o er your guests everything, but only if it’s manageable for the space you’re working in. The style of your food has to match the vibes too – someone in a loud dive bar is unlikely to want three courses with caviar and foie gras, in the same way a  five-star hotel bar wouldn’t get away with selling toasties.

And it’s not just the food itself which is important, the layout of your bar needs to complement the serving. For example, spaghetti is never going to work while sitting at the bar, and if you have those swanky coffee tables which are lower to the floor than your chairs, then a bowl of soup is useless to every fucker. Food needs to be manageable for your staff, convenient for your guests and sit in the right price point to work.

Digital Edition

Drinks International digital edition is available ahead of the printed magazine. Don’t miss out, make sure you subscribe today to access the digital edition and all archived editions of Drinks International as part of your subscription.


La'Mel Clarke

Service isn’t servitude: the skill of hosting

La’Mel Clarke, front of house at London’s Seed Library, looks at the forgotten art of hosting and why it deserves the same respect as bartending.