Scotland, Ireland and Wales already have a ban on smoking in pubs, and England gets one on 1 July. Predictions based on the experience of Scotland and Ireland following their smoking bans are that alcohol sales will dip and the potential for food sales will rise.
Many pubs are already running successful food operations, but those that have stayed wet-led might now be looking at raising more revenue from food, which means buying kitchen equipment.
Many pubs intending to push hard into the food market will choose fast-service menus offering familiar foods that rely on frozen ingredients, quick-cook fresh items and premium sandwiches and salads. Adopting this entry-level approach to pub food requires a restricted range of kitchen equipment and modest cooking skills, which keeps the start-up budget manageable until the pub or the customer footfall suggests a more ambitious approach.
These are the basic items of kitchen equipment a pub looking to move into food sales needs to have.
No pub kitchen can work efficiently or safely without a freezer. The size and number of freezers depends on the menu mix, but a freezer is a must-have item of kitchen equipment. Pubs need rapid access to frozen food in busy service times, so upright cabinets are more convenient that chest freezers and occupy less floor space.
There also need to be enough upright fridge cabinets to cope with storing all the chilled food the kitchen is going to need. This might be a single cabinet, but is more likely to be at least two.
The argument for buying commercial refrigeration is not just that it's good working practice, but, more importantly, that it's essential for food safety.
The expensive components in refrigeration are the motor and the condenser, which control how the refrigerant moves around the cooling bars. Manufacturers build motor performance according to the expected use, which depends on the number of times the freezer door or lid is going to be opened.
A pub will find it difficult to run a food operation with a single fryer. There need to be two: usually one for frying coated products such as fish or sausages, and one kept exclusively for chips.
There are good operational reasons for working with two fryers, or a twin-tank fryer. First, it is difficult for a fryer to cook two different items at once - different foods need different cook times and sometimes different cooking temperatures. Also, coated products and salty products such as sausages break down the structure of oil much more quickly than chips, so the oil in a chip-only fryer will last longer than one being used for other items.
For entry-level pub catering, plug-in table-top fryers will be sufficient, avoiding the need for hard-wiring of three-phase electricity or plumbing in of gas. For volume production of fried food, however, floor-standing fryers will be needed.
Any fryer needs the oil to be filtered at least once a day to remove food debris.
All pubs need at least one microwave oven most need two or more to deliver food cooked from frozen in the time customers expect between ordering and being served. Domestic microwave ovens are unsuitable for commercial use for a number of reasons, which can include low power, uneven reheating and the irritating "ping", which can indicate to the customer how the food is being prepared. Many commercial microwaves indicate the end of the reheating cycle by the door opening automatically.
One of the microwave ovens should be 1,800W or higher in power to rapidly reheat dense frozen foods such as lasagne.
A six-burner cooking range is a must for every pub kitchen. The hobs will boil and shallow-fry and the oven underneath will roast meat and bake pies. However, since a pub just moving into the food market is not going to have a huge demand for food cooked on a range, a model classed by the manufacturer as light- to medium-duty will suffice.
A pub will already have a glasswasher, which might occasionally have been used for cups and saucers and sandwich plates, but once food proper appears on the menu a dedicated dishwasher will be needed.
Glasswashers and dishwashers look similar, but have different wash cycles and pump pressures and use different detergents. The worst thing a glasswasher needs to clean off is lipstick, while a dishwasher has to deal with everything from lasagne to curry. An immediate effect of trying to put food plates and glasses through the same washing machine is that the amount of streaks on glasses from food residue will rise hugely.
Grill or griddle
Steaks are a core menu item for a pub, and there are several ways to cook them.
A griddle has its heat source underneath and is also a good way to cook burgers. One advantage of a griddle is that meat can be easily basted to keep it moist.
A grill works with heat radiating downwards and with some heat rising up. A benefit is that food can get a barbecue effect through the intense radiated heat. A grill can also do toasted sandwiches or brown off a cheesy topping. It can be a dry form of cooking with meats that do not contain fat, so basting might be necessary.
A compromise between the two is a contact grill, which has two hinged heating plates that clamp together to cook meats on two sides at once. These are very quick, and the result is moist, but their small size compared with a griddle means that only one or two items can be cooked at once. Contact grills can also do toasted sandwiches.
These are the most profitable item a pub can sell, and sales will always benefit from quality tea and coffee. An espresso machine produces the best range of coffees, but is an expensive outlay for a pub just beginning in food. One way to offset the cost is to have a loan machine from a coffee supplier in return for buying its coffee.
At a much simpler level there are pour-and-serve percolator systems and systems that use freeze-dried coffee as the base. A simple plug-in water boiler will cope with tea sales, and the constant source of boiling water is useful for other tasks in the kitchen.
A common mistake pubs make in choosing the size of equipment to buy is basing the decision on current business and not planned business growth. A rule of thumb is to choose equipment at least one-third bigger than you think you will need. If your food sales take off, you will be glad of the greater capacity.
For more information on how to choose the right kitchen equipment visit www.cesa.org.uk.
As a minimum, a pub setting up a new kitchen will need a six-burner range (left) upright refrigeration (above) a twin-tank fryer (below) - or two single-tank fryers and dishwashing equipment (bottom left)
All pub kitchens need at least one microwave oven (left) while an espresso machine (above) can be acquired on loan in return for buying from one coffee supplier