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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.
Brothers Aldo and Frank Berni, alongside their partner Paul Rosse, opened the first Berni Inn on 27 July 1956 at The Rummer, a historic pub in central Bristol. More outlets were opened, and the company went public in 1962.
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 1960s, 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. 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.
Their brother Marco managed the famous and prestigious Harvey's Restaurant Bristol in the 1960s.
The first female manager within the Berni Inn franchise was Mrs Gerda Thut, 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'. Mrs Thut died on 17 October 2011, aged 86.
A typical menu was of the form:
- Starters: melon boat with maraschino cherry, or prawn cocktail
- Main course: steak, gammon steak or plaice with chips, and peas
- Dessert: Black Forest gateau or a choice from the cheese board (Danish Blue, Stilton or Cheddar)
- plus Irish coffee and After Eight mints
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. 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".
In popular culture
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."
- Welcome to haute cuisine: how Berni boys brought dining out to the masses | Mansfield People
- Aldo Berni
- Brothers Frank and Aldo Berni revolutionised how we ate out with their 'Temperance Bars' | Western Daily Press
- http://www.retronaut.com/2012/10/berni-inn-newsletter/ - Retronaut; Berni Inn documents, articles, menus and wine lists
- http://www.retronaut.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/calvo.jpeg/ - Calvo Lopez serves 1160 meals in one week, breaking own record
- http://www.oxforddnb.com/index/69/101069185/ - Aldo Berni
- Frank Berni - Telegraph
- http://www.flickr.com/photos/55108793@N04/6284175138/ - Berni Inn Newsletter, circa 1967
- http://www.flickr.com/photos/55108793@N04/6284185104/ - Newspaper article; 'the lady with the keys', circa 1967
- Nigel Slater serves up a second helping from his new book, Eating for England | Life and style | The Observer
- "the Berni Inn meal". Goforanenglish.com. Retrieved 11 June 2014.
- "The Prawn Cocktail Years". Lindseybareham.com. Retrieved 11 June 2014.