Berni Inn

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The Berni Inn logo

Berni Inn was a chain of British steakhouses, established in 1955. It was established by brothers Frank and Aldo Berni, who modelled the chain on restaurants they had seen in America. The restaurants introduced the postwar British public to its own home-grown restaurant chain, which came with its own pre-stylised restaurants with Tudor-looking false oak beams and white walls.[1]

By 1970 the chain comprised 147 hotels and restaurants, including the New Inn at Gloucester, the Mitre at Oxford, and several in Japan.[2] It was the largest food chain outside the USA.[2]

History[edit]

The first Berni Inn opened in 1955 at The Rummer, a historic public house in central Bristol,[1] and the company grew quickly. It went public in 1962.[1]

The chain offered slick service and value for money, achieved partly by offering only a limited meat-based menu and a relatively small wine list. It had a loyal and regular following and quickly expanded through the Swinging Sixties, first throughout Bristol, and then through much of the rest of the country.

Unlike other restaurants, Berni Inns did not do their own butchery but bought in quality steaks already prepared. Behind the scenes, staff training manuals showed that they expected high standards from their employees.[3] In addition, the company was keen on in-house achievement; ranging from bonuses for high sales and good reputation, and setting company records for staff skill.[4]

The chain was sold to Grand Metropolitan for £14.5m in 1970 and then sold to Whitbread in 1990, who converted the restaurants into their own Beefeater brand.[2]

Their brother Marco managed the famous and prestigious Harvey's Restaurant Bristol in the 1960s.

Aldo Berni died in 1997 at the age of 88.[5] Frank died 10 July 2000, aged 96.[6]

The first female manager within the Berni Inn franchise was Mrs Gerda Thut,[7] who took over The Sawyer's Arms in Nottingham in the 1960s. This was noted as a progressive step in management and equality at the time, and Mrs Thut was known as 'The Lady with the Keys'.[8] Mrs Thut died on 17 October 2011, aged 86.

Fare[edit]

A typical menu was of the form:[9]

n.b. Stilton tended only to be available in the more expensive section of the restaurant.

The most commonly ordered meal, even as late as the 1980s, was prawn cocktail, steak and Black Forest gateau.[10] This is sometimes called the Great British Meal. As Simon Hopkinson and Lindsey Bareham note in their 1997 book The Prawn Cocktail Years, "cooked as it should be, this much derided and often ridiculed dinner is still something very special indeed".[11]

In popular culture[edit]

In the Red Dwarf episode "Better Than Life", Holly notes that even though loneliness weighs heavily on us all, "Personally, the only thing that keeps me going is the thought that we are over 60 billion miles away from the nearest Berni Inn."

References[edit]