Whilst my fiancée was picking the chicken out of her vegetarian pie I was marvelling at the beer range in Pieminister, Cardiff’s latest eatery. With three keg taps and over 10 bottled beers the high street pie shop makes several local pubs look understocked. It’s an emerging sign of the times – the line between pubs and restaurants is becoming increasingly blurred.
Interestingly, though, announcement of the new Pieminister branch came in January but it all seemed to come together at dizzying speed – a little over a week ago it was a barebones building site, then on Friday they opened to fanfare and triumph. Within three months they’ve gone from application to opening. It feels like a quick turnaround compared with pubs and bars, which can often face planning hell of up to a year in some cases.
Is it possible local councils are keen to fast-track restaurants, regardless of the amount of alcohol they stock and sell, while making pubs and bars take the long road? It might partly explain why restaurants are currently outpacing pubs. Martyn Cornell recently highlighted figures from CGA Peach on the growth of restaurants against the decline of pubs, “over the same period [December 2012 and December 2013], “wet-led” or drinkers’ pubs fell by almost 600, or 2 per cent, a rate of just over 11 a week. Many of those were town centre pubs, which are particularly feeling pain. Food-led pubs, meanwhile, nudged up slightly, from 11,334 to 11,357, while restaurants shot ahead, with a net gain for the year of 1,470 outlets.”
So why suffer the nail-biting anguish of wondering whether your bar will be rejected at planning stage when a restaurant may be more likely to get the green light? What’s in a name, anyway? How do you distinguish between a pub and a restaurant? The distinction certainly doesn’t come down to where the food is made – Pieminister’s pies are made in a factory while the Goat Major pub up the road makes their pies on site.
Although pubs are declining presently, the long term looks better for them. In the same article, Martyn Cornell points out that “between now and 2018 it has been predicted that the number of “wet-led” pubs will fall by 10 per cent, or about 2,900 boozers, while food-led pubs will increase in numbers by 7 per cent and restaurants by 5 per cent.”
There’s not much of a gap in the predicted growth between food-led pubs and restaurants. As both sides compete, they learn from each other and adapt, making their differences increasingly sketchy.
So while some food-led pubs can match restaurants in range and craftmanship of produce, so too can restaurants rival pubs for drinks options. Pieminister offers up premium bottled beers from Camden Town, Wild Beer Co and Celt Experience, with draught ales, lagers and cider from Bath, Freedom and Bounders. They’re not unique in this. Byron Hamburgers, a London based burger chain, is another example that springs to mind – they provide craft beers from BrewDog, Beavertown and Bear Republic, neatly catering for both sides of the Atlantic.
It’s a shrewd move and a tactic every restaurant should be adopting if they want to grow as a business and compete with food-led pubs. It just makes sense to have beer with your pie or burger, and when that pie or burger is the speciality of the house you don’t want to leave a bad taste by serving up a tepid bottle of Stella or Peroni alongside it. Of course, if you’re going to the lengths of offering a premium selection of craft beers to accompany your fine cuisine, you might want to keep the chicken out of the vegetarian dishes.