Menus, menu newsletters, email campaigns featuring menus; not many really hold my attention for long! So many of them offer promotions and talk about value but I’m always suspicious about how good these offers really are…

And then, every so often, one puts a smile on my face: this week my thanks go out to the Cowper Arms in Letty Green, Hertfordshire, UK, for reassuring me that there are venues out there making an effort to add value to their venue by adding personality.

Their 2011 Summer Drinks menu has a strong focus on brands – it introduces Cracker Drinks Co (crushed fruit juice drinks) as well as Fever-Tree carbonated drinks. This strategy is also carried through to its alcoholic drinks list: I’m particularly drawn to its ‘Get into the Spirit’ section which suggests drinkers mix and match their favourite tipple with their favourite Fever-Tree tonic. This section lists a selection of different Gin and Vodka brands, tapping into trends for price flexibility on menus as well as comforting consumers as to the quality of the spirits with familiar brands and premium labels. Mintel’s Alcohol in Restaurants – April 2011 shows how 23% of alcohol-drinking diners like to treat themselves to more expensive drinks when eating out, and this flexible pricing structure is a key strategy to tap into this demand without alienating other diners.

The menu also has quaint drinks illustrations alongside its latest cocktail collection, the hand drawn nature of which is a pleasant change from the stark presentation and corporate look of many restaurant/bar menus which are often text heavy and short on ‘the personal touch’. There is also an element of story telling behind highlighting the new suppliers and drinks brands that it’s working with: for example, it describes how Williams Chase Distillery only includes ingredients which have travelled less than one mile and are able to tell you which field the potatoes or apples were picked from. So well done to the Cowper Arms, not only did your latest menu launch make me sit up and take notice but it’s also a menu which I’m drawn back to time again – that’s not something that happens with straight price promotions.

Another engaging venue is The Anthologist, part of the Drake and Morgan London-based pub chain. This week its newsletter pointed out the latest pop up shop to be incorporated into its business: the ‘Something…’ boutique specialises in handmade home wares, vintage products and gifts, and helps The Anthologist evolve from just a drinking/dining venue to a lifestyle brand. This is a smart move, not least because Mintel’s Pub Visiting – UK, September 2010 shows that 15% of pub drinkers have nothing against pubs, but it doesn’t occur to them to visit that often.