Brand Review: Harvester
As one of the brands within the famous Mitchell and Butlers restaurant group, there are 175 Harvester Pubs in the UK. Their pubs, which claim to serve freshly-prepared and traditionally English pub grub, are frequented by nearly 25 million guests each year.
With this extensive number of customers, the Harvester brand was, unsurprisingly, well-known and recognised by our panel. We asked the panel to describe their experiences of the Harvester in 60 seconds including their opinion of; food quality, atmosphere, service, price and any areas where they thought the brand could improve.
Generally customers were complementary about the food served at the Harvester. They were satisfied with the range of options that were available on the menu, including a good number of pub favourites and pint-sized meals for children. In addition, customers applauded the Harvester’s ability to cater for a number of dietary requirements and allergies, as they offer a range of vegetarian and gluten-free options on their menu. The Harvester’s famous salad bar, which comes free with every main meal, was also loved by our panel. Many beamed about the freshness of the food and selection of items on the bar. Some even hailed it as the best free salad bar in the UK and compared it to other restaurants who offer a similar service, such as Pizza Hut.
‘There was a good range of food and it was all very well cooked’ (Tim, 48, Bangor)
‘Their salad is fresh. I like the way they make their little breads’ (Zoreh, 30, Hayes)
However, some members of the panel were less than enthused about the food served at the Harvester. Some customers argued that the food was bland, whilst others recalled experiences where they had sent their meals back because of the poor quality of the meat. Other customers had their doubts about the supposed ‘freshness’ of the food:
‘You always get the feeling that the food was prepared somewhere else and just ‘finished’ at the Harvester’ (Sue, 50, Hockley)
The majority of people thought that Harvester pubs had a lively and welcoming atmosphere that appealed to various different audiences. Many customers noted how Harvester pubs had maintained what had previously been a traditional pub setting, with open log fires and wooden tables.
‘It’s a nice cosy, comforting pub’ (Tanya, 36, Norwich)
They thought that Harvester pubs were appropriate venues for informal meetings with large groups of friends and colleagues. However, the notion that Harvester pubs provided a ‘family friendly’ atmosphere came across the most strongly. Harvester pubs catered well for guests who were children, offering a full children’s menu and some entertainment (colouring, balloons etc.).
As in all restaurants, the service customers received at the Harvester depended upon the branch they had visited. Thus, some people had extremely positive experiences. They noted that the staff were welcoming and cheerful. Unlike in other restaurants, Harvester staff were remembered as being extremely accommodating to children.
‘It’s nice to be able to go into a restaurant where the staff don’t sigh when they see children. Instead they’re always there waiting with balloons’ (Chloe, 25, Staines)
‘The food has always been really nice, really delicious, the locations always been clean and the staff have always been pleasant’ (Abbie, 28, Liverpool)
Yet, there were inevitably some negative experiences. Several customers commented upon the waiting time for food. They noted how they often had to ask staff several times where their food was and when it would be ready.
‘For me, waiting 45 minutes for a meal is not great. Particularly if you’ve got children’ (Raj, 42, Barnet)
The majority of the panel were under the impression that the Harvester provided good quality food for an affordable price. They have a vast selection of meals available for just £9.99 – a deal which several customers had taken advantage of. They also run regular offers which mean that customers can make extra savings on meals.
‘The way that I would describe them is cheap and cheerful’ (Chloe, 31, Bromley)
‘All in all it’s just very good value for money’ (Christopher, 35, West-Cliff-On-Sea)
‘It’s very affordable’ (Apple, 20, Aylesbury)
Yet, whilst Harvester pubs are cheaper than many other pubs on the high-street, they are considerably more expensive than other big restaurant chains, such as Wetherspoons. In fact, some customers claimed that the prices at the Harvester were not considerably different from those at the gastro-pubs.
‘I think they’re a little bit pricey – you can get gastro-pub food for a similar sort of price’ (Ali, 41, Skipton)
Where can Harvester improve?
The panel made a number of suggestions for ways that Harvester pubs could improve their brand and reputation. Although some members of the panel thought that the interior decor in the Harvester pubs gave them a rustic feel, other members thought that this gave the pub a tired appearance. Therefore, they thought Harvester would benefit from a conducting refurbishments in many of their pubs. This would make them feel more modern.
‘They are looking a little well-worn on the inside and need a bit of refurbishment’ (John, 69, Dumfries)
This, in turn, would help them become more appealing to a younger audience. The panel also felt that Harvester targeted their marketing towards families and the older generation. As a result, many young people were under the impression that the Harvester was unsuitable for them.
‘They don’t really appeal to younger people’ (Max, 23, Hastings)
Furthermore, many of the panel expressed their inability to distinguish between the Harvester pub and their competitors. Other pub chains had similar menus for similar prices. Therefore, they suggested that the Harvester develop a strategy which sets them aside from other pubs. This could be done by developing new ideas for the menu.
‘It’s the same as the other chains, like Wetherspoons and Toby Carvery, so maybe they need to think of something different to offer’ (Sharon, 53, Lancaster)
‘Maybe they should do some twists on some old classics, as they do seem to serve the same stuff that you’ve been getting in pubs for 20 years’ (Craig, 42, Kingston)
Overall, people had a positive view of the Harvester. They thought that they provided good quality pub favourites for a reasonable price in an environment that was relaxed and welcoming for a diverse range of customers.
‘You get good hearty meals, good value for money, family friendly and generally it’s a good place to be’ (Rachel, 32, North Walsham)