Pub owners and operators are more upbeat about the state of their sector than at any time since the early 2000s, as further signs of a turnaround emerge.
That's the message from the Good Pub Guide co-editor Fiona Stapley, who said that business remains tough but the mood among publicans was upbeat.
The news came as the 2013 edition of the guide named the Cock in Hemingford Grey, Cambridgeshire (pictured), as its Pub of the Year. Published this week, The Good Pub Guide 2013 features 4,700 pubs, including 252 new entries.
Stapley said that after a tough few years, successful pubs had a better understanding of appealing to a wider demographic and were innovating to increase their audience.
"Everyone loves real ale, but to make ends meet publicans are realising they need to cater for a wider audience," she explained. "So, some are opening for breakfasts, or serving coffee in the morning and afternoon teas. A pub is so full of character people would rather go somewhere interesting than a boring café."
She added: "People are choosing to spend weekends away in country pubs and customers like to eat out in pubs as opposed to restaurants because the atmosphere is informal - and the food is just as good, if not better."
Meanwhile, publicans were working harder to ensure they offered value for customers. "They're making everything better value. So chefs are using cheaper cuts of meat and fish and keeping dishes that are honest and wholesome rather than fancy," Stapley said. "At the moment that suits guests, too."
She added that service levels at pubs across the country had improved, too, with fewer complaints from readers. Stapley said: "In our anonymous inspections of pubs, we have found unfailingly good service, always with a good welcome."
Commenting on the Hemingford Grey, she said: "It has fantastic food but is also a proper pub. Those are the pubs that will always be special: places like the Cock with locals and a proper bar but also people going in for fantastic food. Somewhere everyone is made welcome."
The Chase at Upper Colwall, Herefordshire, was named Newcomer of the Year and is described as being "chatty and companionable with good drinks and cost-conscious food".
Having suffered a devastating fire in 2010, the Beckford Arms in Fonthill Gifford, Wiltshire, completed its comeback by being named Dining Pub of the Year. It was praised for offering "unfailingly excellent and imaginative food, using first-class ingredients, and a fine range of drinks".
Good pub guide national award winners
Pub of the year The Cock, Hemingford Grey, Cambridgeshire
â- Newcomer of the year Chase at Upper Colwall, Herefordshire
â- Dining pub of the year Beckford Arms, Fonthill Gifford, Wiltshire
â- Beer pub of the year Fat Cat, Norwich, Norfolk
â- Country pub of the year Royal Oak, Fritham, Hampshire
â- Town pub of the year Wykeham Arms, Winchester, Hampshire
â- Licensees of the year Merry Harriers, Clayhidon, Devon
â- Value pub of the year Anchor, Oldbury-on-Severn, Gloucestershire
â- Unspoilt pub of the year Crown, Churchill, Somerset
â- Inn of the year Griffin, Felinfach, Brecon, Wales
â- Wine pub of the year Woods, Dulverton, Somerset
â- Whisky pub of the year Sligachan Hotel, Sligachan, Scotland
â- Own brew pub of the year Watermill, Ings, Cumbria
â- Brewery of the year Otter Brewery, Devon
â- Pub group of the year Brunning & Price
â- Outside loo of the year Tram, Eardisley
By James Stagg
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