They say your school days are amongst the best of your life – and we reckon that’s true. After all, you get to see your best pals, day in day out, before heading home at 3pm minus any homework. Probably. Oh, and if you were someone who had school dinners, you could look forward to an array of lunchtime treats. Go on; close your eyes and be magically transported back to the days of fish fingers and chips, bangers and mash, and turkey drummers.
So, with National School Meals Week almost here (November 14 and 18), we thought we’d bring a little sentimentality to Fairway INSIDER. That’s right, we’re celebrating nostalgic school meals and why we all still love them – or the idea of them.
In a bid to be a little different, a Lancashire-based gastro pub tried something bold. Opening over nine years ago, The Borough in Lancaster’s Dalton Square introduced a special ‘School Dinners’ menu shortly after flinging open its doors to the public – and the rest is history.
Daniel Knowles, Marketing and Business Development at The Borough tells us that, even today, the concept is a huge hit with customers. And while the menu has evolved a little over the years, the ethos behind it hasn’t: great food offered in smaller portions.
What was once a ‘traditional’ school meal offering – with cake and custard on the menu, amongst other delights – now includes dishes like steak and chips, club sandwiches, and fish goujons and chips. While the emphasis is now less on the food itself being nostalgic and more on dishes being served quickly (i.e like it would in a school canteen, for example) during the lunchtime rush, the clientele still has every reason to love the idea.
“The school dinners menu resonates with everybody,” Daniel says, “Everyone knows what a school dinner is, and our offering is a quirky little play on the school dinner. Really, it’s a lovely, light lunch, which projects value.”
Great School Food
The Borough’s offering perfectly complements National School Meals Week, which is designed to raise awareness of great school food, which is served daily by professional caterers in school across England and Wales.
We all remember great food served at school, says Daniel, who adds that customers visit The Borough to enjoy a welcome nostalgia fix, however small. During the evenings, the pub switches to its main menu, changing it regularly and with the seasons.
The School Dinners menu isn’t simply about being quirky, he goes on. “Fundamentally, the most important thing is that you offer quality food; call your menu what you want, but you simply have to serve good food made by great chefs.”
“It’s all about quality, fine food, with locally-sourced ingredients” continues Daniel. “It’s a fun play on school dinners and it’s a good way to badge up our lunchtime offering. The menu is now recognisable by name to any potential customer – but at the heart of it, is it’s a bit more of a lighter portion.”
Even the desserts menu has been given a school dinners-esque twist, with steamed puddings, ice cream with ‘hundreds and thousands’, and fruit salad available.
The fact is, we all love a spot of nostalgia, with the Good to Know site dedicating a whole article to the wonder of retro school dinners. Turkey dinosaurs, potato faces, spaghetti hoops, and desserts like chocolate cake and pink custard are just some of the dishes to feature on the list. But what’s your favourite – and how can you incorporate it into your own menu?
At The Borough, Daniel says it’s about trialling new dishes and introducing them gradually – and seasonally. The menu has changed a lot over the years, but customers have remained loyal to the concept.
“We’ve always tried hard to be a bit different – and we introduced a School Dinner and Cinema ticket combo more recently, which has worked really well.” The partnership, between The Borough and local cinema, The Dukes, has boosted footfall further, allowing customers to enjoy a school dinner-style meal before heading down the road to watch a film. It’s also freshened up the offering and brought in a new set of customers.
School dinners, specifically, are clearly a popular concept, with a top London restaurant trying the idea for size, too. Ultimately, it’s about good food – but if you can give people an experience, too, says Daniel, you’re already halfway there to creating a fabulous – and ultimately, memorable –experience in your restaurant, café or bar. And that’s what dining out is all about.