The Slug and Lettuce continues to grow as it celebrates 30 years, reports Mark Ludmon
It is remarkably 30 years since the first Slug and Lettuce appeared. While that original bar in Stratford-upon-Avon is no longer around, there are now 74 in the UK, with more in the pipeline. The secret of their longevity is constant reinvention to meet changing trends in high-street bars, says Nicola Stuart, brand development manager for Slug and Lettuce at the bars’ owner, Stonegate Pub Company.
Long gone are the days when branded bars were carbon copies of each other. Common features can be seen in the latest revamps of The Slug and Lettuce such as bold colours, a mirrored back bar and chandeliers, but each site varies in terms of its colour palate and other details. Working with designer Faith Beckingham of Lawrence Beckingham Field Architects, Stonegate develops sites that suit the local market.
Some go down the route of sparkly glamour, some have a palate of pink and aubergine, others use shades of mustard and turquoise, but the core principles remain of good-quality food and drink in a comfortable, safe, welcoming environment, Nicola stresses. “Slug and Lettuce has an identifiable look that our customers know and recognise.”
Stonegate took over Slug and Lettuce – originally created by entrepreneur Hugh Corbett – when it merged with Town & City Pub Company in 2011 and since then has been refurbishing and expanding the chain. Last year, it invested in 17 sites, either refurbishing or converting them from other brands such as The Living Room.
While still targeting the late-night market, the bars are being developed to appeal to a broader range of people throughout the day. Opening from 8am, they offer not only Costa coffee but breakfast and brunch dishes such as eggs benedict, smoked salmon and scrambled egg on toasted muffins, and porridge served with honey. For lunch and dinner, dishes include rib-eyed steak and a smoked haddock, salmon and king prawn pie with cream and leek sauce topped with butter mash and cheese. Dishes of under 500 calories are proving popular as are the more indulgent desserts.
In January, its popular Saints and Sinners menu made a comeback, offering healthy options and naughty treats. “We want our customers to understand that Slug and Lettuce has the flexibility to cater to diverse needs throughout the day and evening, from breakfast to business meetings, a lunchtime stop or a great night-out with friends,” Nicola explains.
Like the food menu, the cocktail list is changed seasonally, with special themed menus such as Bollywood-inspired drinks to complement Indian dishes. Some bars also offer cocktail master classes as part of local events programmes. Until the end of December, it was the only multiple operator to stock Jägermeister Spice, using the new cinnamon and vanilla variant in cocktails and shooters.
After ending the year with refurbishments of bars in Uxbridge and Battersea in London, more refurbishments and conversions are planned for the brand’s 30th year. In February, it launched new-look Slug and Lettuces in Nottingham and Canary Wharf in London. “We keep moving with the times which is what you have to do,” Nicola adds.
Pictured (top to bottom): Slug and Lettuces in Nottingham, Oxford and Salisbury.
A version of this article originally appeared in the January 2015 print edition of Bar magazine.