Nuptials down the local

Returning to the Butcher’s Hook & Cleaver pub in Smithfield Market in the City of London last week for a business lunch brought back many happy memories as it served as the venue where my wife and I held our wedding reception almost 20 years ago to the day.

The interior of the Butcher’s Hook and Cleaver, Farringdon

Sitting in almost the same spot as I had done on the top table those two decades ago and scanning the pub’s lovely interior reminded me why we had chosen this venue among the many others we could have gone for around the country to celebrate this momentous day. It was very convenient for the church of St Etheldreda’s – located just down the road on Ely Place – but it equally fitted my long-held desire to have this special occasion in a pub.

Like most people, I’d celebrated pretty much every important event in my life down the pub so why would I want to alter things for this particular day. Clearly we were not the first people to adopt this thinking. I recall being told at the time that Kate Winslet had chosen a local boozer for her first wedding – the Crooked Billet in Stoke Row near Reading. I was even more alarmed when told that their guests had also enjoyed the same main courses that we’d plumped for – bangers and mash. Thankfully things diverged at the dessert as we went with Kentish cherry pie versus their selection of Bakewell tart. Our paths ultimately divided even further as Kate and hubby number one separated not long afterwards.

We’d briefly investigated the crypt beneath the church for the reception but like so many such places providing wedding packages the costs can often spiral out of control. The most annoying aspect is the automatic hire charges and other premiums that seem to materialise for no other reason than it’s a wedding. Some venues, like the crypt, insist on using their preferred (expensive and often inflexible) caterers.

Apparently the average spend on the venue and catering elements of the big day in London is £28,000 and a still not inconsiderable £18,000 in the rest of the country, which seems an incredible sum. In my experience the pub does not typically adopt such finely-honed methods of cash extraction from its customers. We were fortunate at the Butcher’s Hook & Cleaver that it was closed at weekends so we could take over the entire venue. It simply involved us hitting a spending threshold, which was not particularly difficult given that we had 80 people captive in a pub with a free-bar from approximately noon until midnight.

Crooked Billet: Scene of celebrity weddings

This affordability is undoubtedly a reason why as many as 1.8 million people are due to hold their wedding in a pub this year, according to job site What also makes the pub such an attractive proposition is the fact you are highly likely to already know the space, the people, the quality and style of the food, and the levels of service. It’s not something that’s alien like booking a characterless function room in a hotel that you’ve never set foot in before. Pubs of course encompass every possible type of structure to suit all requirements – from the very grandest buildings to the cosiest places imaginable– so there will be one just perfect for every couple.

What was also appealing to my wife and I was how involved we were with making the day personal to our specific tastes – from multiple tastings of sausages, mash and different gravies, to a wine tasting evening. Unlike many other types of venues there is a much more flexible approach taken by pubs, probably because that’s what they are all about at heart. This even enabled me to bring in some of my own bottled beer Nuptial Ale (specially brewed for the occasion by St Peter’s Brewery in Suffolk) and to also source a barrel of Timothy Taylor’s Landlord.  

Throughout the lead up to the big day the manager of the pub seemed to be enjoying the whole process just as much we were. This was probably because weddings were an irregular occurrence for the venue – it was certainly not churning them out like a sausage factory. This friendly and relaxed engagement was fully reflected in the day itself and it is this more informal style that is proving to be in demand this year as 47% of people due to attend a wedding this year have described it as being informal and laid-back.

As pubs look to investigate all potential revenue streams at this tough time, the wedding must surely represent a great opportunity. As people emerge from Covid-19 and the desire to come together and celebrate in a comfortable, relaxed environment increases the pub strikes me as being the perfect place in which to toast the bride and groom.

Glynn Davis, editor

This column was originally published on Propel Info where Glynn Davis writes a regular Friday opinion piece.. Beer Insider would like to thank Propel for permission to reproduce the column here.