It’s Dinner Time or Is It!
Regardless of which part of the country you live in, the first meal of the day is always considered to be breakfast. Nothing wrong with that. But as the day progresses the language that we use for the following meals can vary quite considerably depending on a number of different factors. For example geography, there is definitely a North vs. South divide. There is also Social Class, the upper and middle classes tend to use different terminology compared to their more traditional working class cousins. And of course the most common of British traditions inconsistency!
When I was at school in Rochdale I remember, quite fondly at times, the joys of queuing for school dinners. A meal usually taken between 12pm and 1pm. Then later on in the day usually around 6pm we would gather round as a family and have our ‘tea’. Having lived further south over later years I found myself more regularly referring to that mid-day meal as lunch and then planning what I was going to have for dinner later.
Although research into this subject is fairly difficult to find, there was a piece of work done by Geest, the fresh food supplier back in 2005. Based on a sample of 1,000 people, they found that just over half called the main evening meal ‘dinner’, about 40% called it ‘tea’ with just under 10% referring to it as ‘supper’! But breaking the research down by geography revealed that nearly 70% of respondents in the north of England called their main meal ‘tea’, but only 5% of those in London used the same language.
So does any of this really matter?
The kitchen is closed
On one level whether your customers or potential customers call their evening meal tea or dinner is entirely up to them and nothing to get too hung up about. However knowing which it is may give you some strong indicators in terms of what time you should start and indeed stop serving food.
It can also help with managing both front and back of house staffing levels.
There are a couple of food-led pubs not far from where I now live (in the Midlands) where it is almost impossible to get a table between 6pm and 8pm in the week. By 9pm those same outlets are almost empty. And their kitchens are closed. In contrast I have a client who runs a restaurant in the centre of a local town where you can almost always get a table if you are prepared to eat and be finished no later than 7pm. Try and book a table between 7pm and 9pm, well that’s a different story.
In contrast when it comes to ethnic restaurants, especially Indian and Chinese, it is not uncommon for them to continue to serve food after 10pm.
In all of these cases it’s about understanding what your core customers are looking for and matching your opening times to meet those needs. As part of this it is also extremely important to communicate how late you keep your kitchen open. Most pubs and restaurants have their own websites, and while they are happy to share their opening hours, very few also indicate when their last food orders are.
What does the menu look like?
In my experience customers who eat earlier in the evening often expect menus to be less sophisticated with probably more traditional rather than experimental dishes on offer. This might be because of the North vs South or Socio-demographic reasons I mentioned earlier. There of course will be exceptions to this, most notably within major cities where a whole different dynamic is often at play.
Coupled with this more traditional fare, there is also often an expectation that portion sizes will be on the larger size and less nouvelle cuisine. Although that shouldn’t be used as an excuse for operators with later serving hours to skimp on what they put on the plate.
As well as what you put on your menu, what you charge may also be influenced by how early or late you are opening. Outlets that do most of their trade in the first couple of hours of the evening shift are more likely to be at the lower end of the pricing spectrum than those who operate later. Again in part this may be driven by the reasons I identified early.
Interestingly there are also examples of fine dining establishments who will offer a lower price ‘sunset’ menu for those customers placing orders before 7pm. These menus are often very similar to the cut-down menus offered at lunchtime. This may suggest that there is a higher level of price elasticity the earlier in the evening your customers eat.
Last but not least when looking at what time you should open, serve food until and close, bear a thought for both your customer and staff. One of the reasons that venues often open for longer and later in city centres is that they often have transport systems which support a night time economy.
This is not the case for the majority of the country. Outside of the likes of London and Manchester it is often very difficult to get public transport after about 9pm. This means that your customers are going to either be driving, so have you got good parking facilities or they will need to include what can be quite expensive taxi costs when considering visiting you. Similarly think about your staff. A waiter or chef will not provide you with his or her 100% concentration if they are worrying about how to get home!