Saturday, 30 October 2010

Who says snoozing is a waste of time and what pubs truly have to compete with ...

According to the Press Association "lazy Britons waste 91 hours per year by hitting the snooze button" - and with all the air-borne bomb scares and such - was it really that slow a news day?

I would like to say a couple of things about that:

a) isn't it time we all "wasted" a little time in our rush, rush, hurry, hurry lives?

b) isn't it just the most delicious thing, that warm, comfy half-asleep, half awake feeling?

... and talking of delicious things ... it finally dawned on me what pubs really have to do to be successful and lure us and our ever-decreasing discretionary income into their environs.

Last night (a blustery, autumn Friday) 5 friends convened in a domestic kitchen and this was what was on offer:

aperitifs - cointreau, single malt Scotch; Moroccan style chicken, cous-cous with fine green beans, the last of the garden's new potatoes; a selection of Turkish sweets, upside down ginger & pear cake; a fine pale craft brewed ale from the cellar below the kitchen; espresso and frothy milk; great chat, subtle lighting, eclectic mix of music in the background

we worked it out (ex-capital and overheads) cost to 5 of us twenty-five quid-ish

until pubs and other licensed venues can do that for, say, sixty/seventy-five quid (£12 to £15 a head for you Saturday morning readers) then I fear that we will ultimately only be left with the managed chains churning out their bland, homogenised mediocrities ... not exactly firmly in "Cooking Lager's" camp but I begin to understand what he's on about a bit more.

oh and tomorrow, despite having an extra hour in bed, I shall be hitting that snooze button at least once ... happy hallowe'en!

Friday, 29 October 2010

Get with the program peeps!

If you’re not already engaging with your customers via the internet and their smart phones then it really is time you joined commerce in the 21st century.

Google’s report on the worth of e-commerce to the UK economy makes interesting reading, 7.2% of British GDP (expected to grow to 10% by 2015); 73% of households with an internet connection and 62% of all adults buying goods and services online.

There is not doubt that the internet has transformed the way we communicate with each other, get our entertainment, shop and take in information; what many pubs have yet to do is seize the marketing power of the internet to advertise their goods and services.

I am constantly amazed at how few pubs have websites or use social interaction sites such as Facebook, when their respective licensees must see, on a daily basis, their customers using this technology. After all who hasn’t been in a pub or bar and seen the glow of smart phone screens and the frantic double thumb tapping of the “connected”?

Even when you do find websites for pubs they are often clunky, poorly designed, uninteresting and often full of out of date information.

The days of just opening the doors and waiting for customers to appear are long gone, now more than ever, with people cutting back on their “out of house” entertainment pubs must not only provide value, service and uniqueness but they must interact with their customers both on the premises and off.

Probably preaching to the converted on a blog, but you never know the message might get back to some of the luddites out there in the trade.

Don't put up your prices ... take less profit

Horizons, the hospitality industry analysts report a 5.6% increase in the average cost of pub grub. Even with 3.8% global food inflation this means pubs are charging more for their food beyond margin protection.

Whilst I had to remain competitive against all the managed offers that are available I took the deliberate decision several years ago to reduce my GP on food to 40%.

By doing this I was able to source quality ingredients, many locally sourced (but especially meat and poultry), go with the seasons and serve decent sized portions.

Not only did it mean a consistent food trade, but also is a great PR success - our Sunday Lunches, for instance, were the talk of the area and always over-subscribed.

It may not suit all venues but I would recommend this as a strategy if you think you will be able to make up overall net profit on throughput.
Consumer confidence is still low and many potential customers will be considering reducing their eating out in the face of continuing austerity.

Offering value for money and quality may well be the key to success in the coming years and if operators can manage it they should resist the urge to increase retail prices in the face of increased costs.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Purity, the latest to announce expansion plans ...

In these days of gloom and doom, what a refreshing change to hear the latest news from Purity, the Warwickshire based brewery, that they are undertaking a major expansion, this along with Joules being resurrected, Castle Rock in Nottingham growing and many other micro breweries opening and increasing their output.

Whilst the big boys continue to pump millions of pints of homogenised ales into the market place these smaller craft brewers are fast becoming the saviours of the British brewing industry. Long may it continue.

Now is the time for the coalintionistas to take action to encourage and protect this growth sector of the economy and put in place measures that will reduce the tax burden and over-regulation of the brewing and pub industries.

210 M.P.s have signed an early day motion calling on the government to do just that for "well run community pubs" ... now if they'll do something to relax the smoking ban as well we might see a halt to the decline in beer volumes and pub closures ... not holding my breath for either.

If you want to support the call for the EDM email your MP via the CAMRA website :

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Destination pubs … or … just “destination pub!”

Amazing how surveys come up with their results isn’t it? A report in the Morning Advertiser on the 22nd October, commissioned by the National Skills Academy Hospitality has shown that customer service is rated higher in destination pubs than community pubs.

Hardly surprising in some respects, when carried out by The Mystery Dining Company, when the sample only included some 18% of pubs and bars out of 1122 businesses in the hospitality sector.

I think it’s a shame that community pubs aren’t trumpeted about a little more … they provide friendly, welcoming oases in the desert that is Britain in the age of the Big Society. Places where you can meet your mates feel part of a “pub family” and just hang out for a moderate price, basking in the bonhomie of your host(s) and staff who know you on a continuous basis, rather than the hour or two one might spend in a destination venue.

With all the talk of having to train your staff in “flirting” as an upselling strategy and the Academy’s suggestions on staff knowledge and customer engagement it makes you wonder how “traditional” local’s pubs have survived this long without all this sage advice.

No shame in being a pub and “just a pub” and although only 15% of all pub goers would recommend venues to friends, I’d hazard a guess that a far greater number actually do support and recommend their local than that.

If you want to read more of their drivel see:

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

now is the time for all right minded people to come to the defence of beer!

You may or may not have noticed that this week is Alcohol Awareness Week 2010 and the prohibitionistas from Alcohol Concern and other nanny state cronies are imploring us to be aware of the harm alcohol can do.

Whilst I applaud their stance on reduction of harm, prevention of harm to children and young people, what sticks in my craw is the demonisation of ordinary folk who enjoy a couple of drinks with their friends and family.

Their activity is spookily similar to the anti-smoking brigade and we should be worried by that  ... look at how successful that was.

Sharing a beer (buying a round) is so widespread culturally and across the world and has been part of the fabric of societies for millennia, from ale wives to brewsters and brewers as a species we need to gather and have the odd drink.

The prohibition experiment in the USA failed and only brought about the implacable rise of organised crime that has blighted their society for nearly a century now. I for one look lousy in a zoot suit and fedora and tommy guns and sedans with running boards are so difficult to acquire these days!

seriously though lies, damned lies and statistics ... Alcohol Concern are very selective in their information

trends for male mortality 1991-2004, grew from 9.1 to 17.6 deaths per 100,000; for women 5.0 to 8.3; all very alarming I'm sure, but what they forget to mention in their most recent information(2009) is that only NE and NW of England are worse than the earlier figures.

what they should concentrate on is social deprivation for the 1991-2004 figures show shocking death rates amongst the worst off in society - for instance in the NE 40 male deaths per 100,000 and NW 55 male deaths per 100,000; female rates 20.4 and 27.2 respectively

surely they should be campaigning to eradicate poverty and social deprivation as a major cause of alcohol related deaths, something neither Tory or Labour governments have managed to tackle instead of having this blanket ban approach.

I also note that as of writing their "Overexposed" report on alcohol marketing is still not available to view on their site despite their press release.

PS - source for above HMG, National Office of Statistics

and for Scotland (from the General Register Office of Scotland) :

"Main points

In 2009, there were 1,282 alcohol-related deaths (on the basis of this definition), a decrease of 129 (9%) compared with 1,411 in 2008. Of these 1,282 deaths, 837 were males and 445 were females.
Table 1 shows that the numbers of alcohol-related deaths for both sexes were relatively stable during the 1980s, but there were significant increases, particularly for men, during the 1990s and early 2000s. The largest numbers, and largest increases, were in those aged 45-59.
In recent years the numbers of male deaths have generally been falling and female deaths appear to have stabilised."

and lest we forget 2005 the definition of alcohol related deaths was widened across the UK to include additional causes of death with a clear causal relationship to alcohol consumption ... so how much has this distorted figures in the last five years... bit like crime figures or unemployment figures ... all subjective in the end.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

OFT ... no surprise there then ... can't wait for it to be merged with the Competition Commission

Clearly the OFT will not be swayed in this matter at present, despite a pseudo-consumer group such as CAMRA making their super-complaint.

The OFT will not have been blind to the political implications of acceding to this petition and have no doubt observed the players involved and their respective affiliations.

It is now time for tied tenants to galvanise the support of the vast number of loyal customers who are being put at a disadvantage by the tied model in the UK pub market.

It isn’t for CAMRA (good as their intentions were) to organise a super complaint it is those who are directly affected by it i.e. tied tenants and through them, their customers.

I believe that the only way that the OFT will consider this matter and live up to their remit (which I quote from their own website) is if there is a legitimate ground swell from consumers:

“The OFT's mission is to make markets work well for consumers. We achieve this by promoting and protecting consumer interests throughout the UK, while ensuring that businesses are fair and competitive.”

The incessant bickering and internecine squabbling must stop in the licensed trade if we truly believe that the tied model is bad for tenants (as consumers of the pubco/brewers’ goods and services) and our customers need the OFT’s protection.

Only question is how do we go about it? Jaw Jaw or War War? 

for the full story see Morning Advertiser

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Free at last ...

nothing to do with beer, pubs or anything in particular ... just wanted to say Chilean miners rescue has warmed the cockles of an otherwise cynical heart!

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Why corporate responsibility must be more than "window-dressing"

If companies are to be taken seriously about their stance on corporate responsibility then they must actually take responsibility.

Many of you will have read of the tragic death of a Liverpool licensee, Paul Lee, when a faulty gas-fire caused him to experience a heart attack, from which he subsequently died.

The owners of the pub that Mr Lee rented, Enterprise Inns, had not properly inspected or maintained the gas fire in Mr Lee's pub and were found guilty of Health and Safety breaches incurring costs and a fine of £300,000.

As an isolated case it would be bad enough, but the Health and Safety Executive also discovered that Enterprise had failed to carry out 474 other inspections on gas appliances it was responsible for.

Calls from campaign groups such as Justice for Licensees have echoed the calls from Mr Lee's family for the CEO of Enterprise to resign and have now been articulated in an Early Day Motion brought by Mr Lee's constituency MP, Bill Esterson.

Mr Tuppen and Enterprise have remained silent on the matter but would do well to look at the words of Jane Simms in the Institute of Directors magazine from August 2009:

Corporate responsibility could be a saviour of British business if larger companies embraced the idea with more enthusiasm. But too many seem to have lost their moral compass .... The financially driven and short-term culture endemic in so many large organisations is at odds with the more inclusive and longer-term approach to a range of different stakeholders that being “responsible” implies.

The result is the kind of moral bankruptcy that we see in corporate attempts to force through “payments for failure”. It is also evident in the big pub companies’ abuse of their tenants—the majority of whom earn less than £15,000 a year—as revealed in a Business and Enterprise Select Committee report"

That or stand as accused by Joel Bakan in The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Power - 

"Corporate social responsibility, though sometimes yielding positive results, most often serves to mask the corporation's true character, not to change it."

From the mouths of babes .... and idiots!

Further to my last post regarding one Jonathon Downey who had the gall to lecture the pub industry on how it should adapt to meet increasing pressures ... this from a man who is so obviously out of touch with the majority of licensees in this country ... the decent ones who don't "have a sex room" at one of his establishments - something he seemed quite proud to boast about in an interview with Urban Junkies

Monday, 11 October 2010

The Stuff of Life

What a brilliant day Saturday, lie in, pootle about for an hour or so then out to a local community event in Nottingham, called “The stuff of life”.

Picture one of those lovely London squares (you know like the one in Notting Hill) with the railings and the trees and all the houses round the edge. Fill it with local artists hanging their pictures off the railings, throw in a half a dozen craft makers showing and selling textiles, ceramics, jewellery, hand made books and then add some laid back acoustic bands and a smattering of kids running around being kids and you have the perfect way to wile away a few hours.

If only pubs (those with a carpark/beer garden) would realise that they sit at the heart of their respective communities and get involved they would have a ready made, loyal and lucrative core clientele. Run by the local residents’ association who organised this without a penny of council money this is the sort of thing that pub’s are the natural venue for.

Only thing missing … a decent beer (had to settle for a few take outs from the local shop) … but hey if it was organised in a local pub …

… which we found not too far away with a great selection of local and regional ales (all 8 in very good condition ... we stayed a while) served by helpful and pleasant staff … attached to which was not only a carpark (at least 20 spaces), an outside terrace (heated shelter, seats  for over 40) and sizable lawned area (enclosed with at least 8 picnic tables) … and how busy was it? Apart from half a dozen in the bar and the same again outside this sizeable establishment was empty … only a matter of time before the tumbleweed rolled on by! (Yes and the staff confirmed this was usual for them)

Perhaps a stroll down the road and engaging with the local community might see the place buzzing and the tills ringing!

Friday, 8 October 2010

Don't teach my grandmother how to suck eggs ....

Jonathan Downey managing director of The Rushmore Group, a collection of urban bars in London and other major cities, was asked by ALMR chief executive Nick Bish to speak at its autumn debate last week and propose the motion ‘It’s last orders for the British Pub’.

Apparently he thinks that the only ground-breaking advance in the pub industry was the introduction of Sky in 1989, whilst changes to society and improvements in living conditions have elicited no response from the on-trade. Utter bunkum.

He said: “Whilst clearly no one really believes the pub is on its last legs, the industry is under attack from all sides and the message here is clear — as an industry, we first need to accept that there is a lot we should be doing for ourselves if we are to have any hope of making some of the essential changes needed to maintain a thriving business.”

If you want to read more of his self-satisfied rambllings see:

So tell us something new Mr Downey ... despite the best efforts of individual licensees who have and still provide(d) comfortable, safe, value for money pubs, many have continued to fall by the wayside, bludgeoned down by crippling rents and taxes, beset by cheap supermarket sales and bound up in a death shroud of red tape ... grandma used to say " there's no such thing as a bad  pub, only a bad publican" and that a "pub is just four walls, it's what you do with it that counts" ... she would, however, be quite literally spinning in her grave (if she hadn't been cremated) to see what is happening to her beloved trade (of over 60 years) ... perhaps you have found a lucrative niche of well-heeled customers for your outlets (whatever "urban bars") are... not all licensees share your good fortune.

It is facile and patronising in the extreme to suggest that the ills that have befallen this industry stem from an inability to change ... my grandmother regaled us of times long gone by when the rise of the Kinemas and the Wireless were innovations (in a time when there were very few restaurants and most pubs served little more than curled up sarnies and pickled eggs) ... the British publican is by and large an extremely adaptable and industrious entrepreneur ... but faced with overwhelming odds not technological advancement s/he is struggling to survive the perfect storm that pubco's, supermarkets and HMG have brewed up.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Trading Standards Institute - nanny goes too far!

Trading Standards don't you love 'em? Amazing isn't it during a period of spending review, budgetary constraint, austerity measures et al that TSI wants to take over elements of policing and regulatory control in the licensed industry.

Call me a cynic, but with pubs continuing to be the whipping boy of successive administrations, it's just great to see all these government departments scrabbling for funds and jumping on the bandwagon.

Surely the police and licensing authorities have sufficient powers to enforce licensing legislation?

And why the emphasis on pubs? I don't know the figures but I would hazard a guess that more underage sales take place in the off-trade than the on-trade and that the off-trade is far more aggressive and irresponsible in its pricing policies than any pub.

Still, it's not surprising given the Coalitionistas muddled and ill conceived thinking on licensing and many other issues.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Enterprise Inn(s) the dock again ...

So another corporate entity is found guilty of Health and Safety breaches and another life lost. (see MA article below)

Whilst I have every sympathy with the family and friends of Mr Lee it does beg certain questions for all of us in the hospitality industry.
Whether a landlord has the legal responsibility to carry out safety inspections or not will be determined by an individual's tenancy or lease agreement and as such the authorities have clear recourse in law to deal with any infringements.
Enterprise demonstrably failed in this respect on this occasion and although the fine is a drop in their corporate bucket they have been punished. I do not know whether Mr Lee's family have been compensated or will seek compensation in the Civil Courts but trust that they are seeking professional legal advice on this matter. If they do go for Enterprise I wish them every success.

The tenant, however, has a higher responsibility, which is to ensure that (no matter what) the premises s/he operates is a safe environment for themselves, their families, their staff and the general public using those premises.

Regrettably it seems that in many situations a tenant's lack of financial resource is used to mask their inability (through lack of experience or knowledge of such things) or unwillingness to ensure that health and safety remains paramount.

I for one would seldom trust a pubco to fulfill its obligations and always guard against it.

So another Tory lady that’s not for turning!

So Theresa May and the Coalintionistas have had a good look at the licensed trade and despite representations from trade bodies, local councils, the police and individual licensees, the current administration is to blindly persist and “tear up ” the majority of the 2003 Licensing Act.

(see MA article)

Whilst this ill conceived and dogma driven “review” was well consulted or not the fact is that it is upon us.

Local people, whether the trade like it or not, have always had a say over licensing (be it via police and council complaints under the pre-2003) and the trade must learn to operate within the communities they serve. (Although scrapping the concept of vicinity is bonkers.)

Late night? Depends on the definition thereof and we shall have to wait and see how that is interpreted. Observers are bang on when they surmise that the levy will go nowhere near front-line policing, just another “stealth tax” on this already tax-laden industry.

I welcome the stance on under-age drinking and look forward to some of the supermarkets (and others) that get caught out being shut down.

The ban on below cost sales of alcohol is similarly welcome and will go some way to address the disparity between on and off trade pricing. It is our job as publicans to ensure that we add sufficient value to justify the price premium forced on us (in many cases by the tie).

Perhaps some good will come of this after all, however, on balance I feel that this will be devastatingly injurious to some sectors of the trade most notably SME’s such as stand alone operators.

Friday, 1 October 2010

october has come and my friends tell me it's now wintumn (autumn/winter)

so have you got your staff to implement your Challenge 21/25 policy ... what you haven't written one? Tsk tsk ... next you'll be telling me you're not offering wine by the 125ml serving and haven't increased your minimum wage rate ... best you get on with it or run the risk of being named and shamed


wonder if certain pub companies will be named and shamed for all the tenants they have who earn well below the minimum wage level for their efforts? somehow I doubt it