Thursday, 31 May 2012

RIP Eugene J Polley ...

... inventor of the remote control.

To mark his passing I've invented a new type of remote controlled device ... a R.O.B.O.T. (Remotely Operated Beer Optimisation Taster) (aka colleague and fellow beer-lover David Hutson).

So how does it work? Quite easily really, just point your ROBOT in the direction of any beer festival, equip with a pencil and a festival program and recover the device at the end of the day.

All this being a somewhat byzantine way of saying a huge thanks to David for making some tasting notes from a local beer fest ... Newark Beer Festival 17, Riverside Park, Newark - May 25 -27 ... as organised by the local CAMRA branch and featuring over 140 ales and 50 ciders & perries.

I tell you one thing Mr Hutson must be powered by Duracell ... 10 ales and 3 ciders ... quaffed and noted , impressive!

The Top Three:

Oldershaw (Grantham) - Regal Blonde - 4.4% - "great blonde beer, perfect for summer"

Mallard (Southwell) - Decoy - 4.5% - "another light hoppy ale, perfect for summer"

Tydd Steam (Tydd St Giles, Cambs) - Quench - 4.4% - "refreshing light ale with amazing Chinese root ginger hint to it!"


Others of Note:

Towles (Bristol) - Berrow 48 - 3.9% - "standard dark bitter"

Mallard (sic) - Greet - 3.7% - "copper bitter, bit too malty for me"

Flipside (Colwick) - David's local brewery - Clippings IPA - 6.5% - "excellent ... we like" (hmmm overtones of LOTR ... "my precious")

Havant (Cowplain, Hants) - Time - 3.6% - "golden, citrus, very light, very nice"

Unfortunately for my remote controlled beer taster "SkyJuice" (4.1%) by Rock n Roll from the Lamp Tavern in Birmingham had run out before he could try any  ... but he did manage to make it to the Gwynt Y Draig, Mid-Glamorgan cider maker's Fiery Fox (6.5%) ... "very nice 9/10, rocket fuel!"

The only problem with ROBOTs, even Duracell powered ones, is that eventually they do run out of power ... or get completely stonkered ... because sadly the last couple of notes are indecipherable ... apart from one comment (attributed to a cider maker who shall remain nameless) ... "sour, like battery acid and wrong ... felt sick". The only thing I want to know, Mr Hutson, is exactly when and where did you try battery acid?

Suffice it to say and once again, thanks to DH for taking on this perilous assignment and sharing his musings with us all ... wonder how many batteries it will take to keep him powered up for the Robin Hood Beer Festival later this year with close to a thousand ales and ciders to taste?

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Plan A ... Kaput, Plan B ... Just a Rapper, So Georgie ... Plan C?

You'd think that even the posh-boys in No 10 and No 11 couldn't be that deaf to the increasing chorus of national / international opinion that they should do something to stimulate growth in the UK economy ( Obama, IMF, IPRR, CBI, TUC, IOD ... the list goes on and on) ... but then again no.

Here's a totally pub-centric set of proposals:

1) Drop VAT to 5% for the hospitality industry

2) Scrap the Beer Duty Escalator

3) Forget Minimum Pricing

4) Regulate the Pubcos

5) Equalise Business Rates for pubs in line with other businesses

How the five point plan would help pubs ... and what you can do to help achieve these aims:

Jacques Borel, from the VAT Club reckons that a drop in VAT would create over 300,000 jobs (if you want a copy of the fact pack email: if you haven't signed the e-petition then do so now - click here

Scapping the Beer Duty Escalator would go a long way to protecting what the British Beer and Pub Association estimates are the 400,000+ jobs that rely on beer and its sale - if you haven't signed the e-petition then do so now - click here

Minimum Pricing won't solve the problem of alcohol abuse and will only further burden those on low incomes who enjoy alcohol "responsibly". If you haven't signed the e-petition then click here

Regulating the Pubcos to ensure that there is an equitable division of profit so that tenants can earn a living and invest in their businesses will help to further slow the demise of the Great British Pub - if you haven't contacted your MP regarding this matter then click here

Treat all tax payers equally as the HMRC mission statement says and stop the nonsense of rateable values for pubs being based on mythical market rents, fair maintainable trade and turnover. Challenge the Valuation Office at every opportunity ... way too many business rates petitions to choose from!

Pubs (and the brewing and hospitality industry in general) are huge wealth creators, employment providers and more importantly part of the social "glue" that keeps this country together ... on average a community pub contributes over £80,000 a year to its local economy according to the IPPR

To paraphrase JFK ... "ask not what your pubs can do for you ... but what you can do for your pubs ..." something we should be telling all our customers. Get them involved even if it's just based upon ruthless self-interest ... for them and you!

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Olympic Overload?

Like it or not ...
Like it or not at 5pm on May 17th, Posh and Becks (Princess Anne & David Beckham) and the Lord of the Games (Seb Coe), will take possession of the Olympic Flame and the "greatest show on Earth" will commence. Whether you are a sports fan or not, whether you think the games are too commercial or not and whether you think the cost will have been worth it or not ... you are about to experience something that most people only do once in their lifetimes, be a citizen of a host country for a summer Olympics.

The BBC promises "unrivalled" coverage of the XXXth Olympiad. In all there will be 2,500 hours of coverage spanning 25 channels showing every second of Olympic action. BBC 1 will show nothing but Olympics from 6am until 1am, with the occasional break for news. Those looking for their regular installment of EastEnders, Panorama, and Songs of Praise during this period will have to turn to BBC2. Some of the BBC's less popular shows will be "rested".

So spare a thought for those that don't give a monkey's nuts about the games, for whatever reason, and maybe you can carve a temporary niche in the market by not showing the games on your pub's TV screens ...

Monday, 14 May 2012

Minimum Pricing ... Maximum Court Time

With thanks to Greg Burrows for the link to the judgement of the European Court against the Netherlands when they tried to introduce minimum pricing for certain alcoholic products ... basically it is a "quantative restriction" under Article 30 of the EEC Treaty ... or in other words illegal.

To many of us this judgement is not surprising ... what is surprising is that the likes of Salmond and Cameron are intent on introducing minimum pricing for alcohol ... given that this judgement was handed down on January 24th 1978!

So unless the EEC Treaty has been amended sometime in the last 34 years WTF are Cameron and Salmond up to?

Numpty and McNumpty are going to cost UK taxpayers a shed load when it comes to having to test this again in the European Courts ... added to the distinct possibility that it will have next to no chance of succeeding as a policy to reduce alcohol harm it begs the question if either of the Numpty Cousins are fit for purpose?

Just a thought ...

Football Crazy? Or how to have a great EURO2012

Last week in the Publican's Morning Advertiser there was a piece on police "demonising" pubs by asking them to complete a questionaire on their plans for EURO 2012. So ignoring the hype and legal opinion of "heavy handidness", what lies behind is some excellent advice from the Police, which I have paraphrased below for your information. Nothing will kill off your business faster than a major public disorder incident ...

Why not think about letting your local police team know what you are planning in advance, so they can factor your activities into their planning, as grandma said the police are sometimes a publican's best friend.

Check that whatever you are planning is covered by the terms of your Premises Licence, especially with regard to anything taking place outside, if it's not covered then you may well need a Temporary Event Notice. Make sure any promotion you run complies with any conditions set by the licensing authority. (see the article on running responsible promotions on the How To Run A Pub website)

If you are the Designated Premises Supervisor(DPS), make sure that you are on duty for your big events, make sure you have enough staff on duty to cope with the number of customers you expect and that you have discussed with your team the running of the event.

If you really are expecting a large number of people to attend any given match then consider using SIA registered Door Supervisors, ticketing for the event and perhaps even limiting the number of doors customers can use to access your pub. (Check that all fire exits are completely clear and unobstructed) Make sure that the DPS/duty manager holds the keys for the front doors and can secure them at any stage.

You might also think about buying in polycarbonate or other plastic "glasses", this could save a lot of time in service (customers don't have to wait for clean glasses) and if a significant number of people are outside on beer decks, gardens or patios it could save a lot of broken glass. Similarly you might think about decanting bottled beers etc to plastic glasses for the same reasons or buying in stock in PET bottles.

Make sure your staff are doing regular clean-ups, collecting glasses and clearing tables as often as possible, you might even dedicate staff to this job, it's a good way to keep an eye on things, especially under-18s who might be watching the match and any ne'er do wells that these events can attract. This is especially important at half-time and at the end of any match. Keeping smoking areas clean and tidy is also important.

Whilst your TVs are likely to be well placed, try and ensure that they can't be seen from the street, you don't want a crowd of customers blocking pavements etc trying to watch through the windows.

Any big event at your pub is potentially a time for "difficulties", so make sure your CCTV is working, cameras not obscured by bunting etc and that you have enough disk space or blank tapes on hand.

Pass on any reports of disorder to local police (and other premises if you are in a Pubwatch scheme), in the event of trouble outside the premises, keep customers inside and if there is trouble at your premises, call the police immediately and stop serving alcohol.

As with any other time, as a responsible retailer,  make sure that there is no excessive consumption of alcohol - remember it is an offence to continue to serve somebody who has had too much to drink.

All in all what you need to do is carry out a risk assessment for any event that is likely to attract abnormally large numbers of customers, record your findings (you may need it later if there is an incident and you need to prove to the licensing authority that you took all reasonable steps to make sure you ran a safe event).

With a bit of luck and some careful planning you can enjoy the financial benefits of this major sporting event and continue to run a "tidy house".

Friday, 11 May 2012

Success ... watch 4 winning licensees

New Magic Lantern Show from BII on the Magic Lantern Shows page ... well worth 11 minutes & 23 seconds of your time ...

Wowcher ... or ... Oucher? Or how I learned to love Trader Tuesdays

This piece updated 17/5/12 - see below "Trader Tuesdays" section ...

More than two in five consumers rate vouchers as very or extremely important when deciding where to go out to eat - and the number is still rising. Those are among the key findings from new and exclusive research into voucher use in restaurants and pubs from Peach "BrandTrack". The survey of 2,000 UK adults in February 2012 shows that some 15 million adults among the UK’s eating-out population (42%) place high importance on vouchers. In addition the survey uncovered a hard-core of "voucher addicts" over 2 million of the population who use them every time they eat out.

Other notable segments of the population break down thus:

Women use vouchers most. Nearly half (46%) say vouchers are very or extremely important—compared to just over a third (38%) of men.

Young people are most hooked. More than half (55%) of 25 to 34 year-olds give vouchers high importance—compared to just 26% of those aged 65 or over.

London is a "voucher hotbed". Half (51%) of Londoners rate vouchers as very or extremely important. Scotland (33%) ranks lowest by region.

Voucher websites are here to stay. Over half (56%) use them, with Voucher Codes, Discount Vouchers and GroupOn the most popular.

The survey also reveals that one in seven people has increased their use of vouchers over the last six months, compared to just one in 14 who has cut it. But those increasing their use have tended to eat out more, indicating that vouchers are helping to shore up pubs and restaurants’ footfall in the face of competition from supermarkets—if not necessarily their profit margins.

Peach Factory chief executive Peter Martin says: 
“Operators want to move away from vouchers, but this research shows they have their work cut out. Consumers are now very savvy about their vouchers, and brands will have to be just as smart in their marketing if they are to find other ways of driving sales ... Voucher culture is in engrained, and it is not just about finding savings. Hunting down the best deal is a way of life for many. The people using them are not hard-up pensioners but more likely tech-savvy, educated under-35s ...”
So should you or shouldn't you offer vouchers to attract new business and retain existing customers? You may come to the conclusion that the next step to market your business and brand is to participate in an online promotion with GroupOn. But is it worth it?

It would seem that consumers love GroupOn, Living Social and other social deal sites as they enable buyers to try out local services, entertainment spots, restaurants and pubs at a discounted price.

While GroupOn may work for deal-savvy consumers, the fact of the matter is, these deals are not so ideal for every pub. For  a start, many pubs simply can't handle the volume of customers that pour through the doors, waving their GroupOn printouts and requesting to redeem their amazing online deals. More importantly, pubs can't afford to view these social sites as their customers might, they must think about how the promotion fits into their overall marketing strategy.

To help pubs make better decisions, they need to also understand how sites such as GroupOn really work, so here are two GroupOn factoids for retailers:
  • GroupOn promotes a deal online. These deals usually exist in the 50 – 90 percent range. If enough consumers don’t purchase the deal, GroupOn doesn’t charge the retailer (in this instance a pub), and they receive some free online advertising.
  •  If enough consumers do buy the deal, then GroupOn takes a cut of the proceeds (usually around 30-60 percent, depending on the terms worked out with the pub). GroupOn pays the remaining amount out to the pub in three instalments over 90 days.
What's the net effect? Pubs need to offer a deal for about 75% off the normal price, so for most pubs, deep discounting probably isn’t ideal, however there may be some instances where this works. For example, if you offer a service that is perishable and might have very high profit margins (for instance a large supplier deal you've taken in), offering your product for a deep discount may not hurt you as much as a retailer that makes a very small profit amount off each item. 

One particular product that falls within this range is cask ale, more specifically offered as part of your pub's beer festival (the event is perishable, as is the short shelf-life of cask ales). So you could pretty much guarantee a busy couple of days for the beer festival and increase the chances of selling the maximum amount of volatile stock, but the point of marketing and promotions is that it increases the overall long-term footfall of the pub. Will running a voucher promotion, such as GroupOn, achieve this for you?

Unfortunately, for many retailers, GroupOn does not, in fact, result in many repeat customers. Uptal Dholakia of Rice University reports that many retailers don’t see repeat customers from online social promotions, and that many coupon redeemers don’t spend beyond the promotion offering.

This seems grim, but it really just means that pubs need to be proactive and be in control of their financials and marketing efforts, before ever considering a GroupOn or other voucher deal.

Using a voucher promotion is a complex decision which has to be based upon your ability to manage perishable stock and service increased footfall. Get the former wrong and you might take a stock loss beyond the deep discount offered, get the latter wrong and you could suffer immense reputational loss from potential and existing customers.

One way to offer up a quick voucher promotion is to use social media, such as Facebook or Twitter. For instance you could create an event on your Facebook page and guarantee that all those that confirm their attendance will get a free drink or a discounted meal or some such benefit. Of course you have to have a list of those who RSVP you and you need to be able to marry up real life customers with their Facebook identities.

QR link to this blog ...
Operationally, there is an easier way to do this. Download a free QR code (Quick Response) from any of the free to use QR coding sites (I use qrstuff). 

The one illustrated on the left is a link to this blog. Simply put the voucher on your website or Facebook page, copy the URL to qrstuff, download the image and then Tweet the image using Twitpic

You can also print the QR code on to a poster to put up in the pub and put the QR code on your website/Facebook page. The customer then shows you the voucher link on their smartphone and redeems their promotional benefit. 

Just remember to take the poster/website/Facebook link down when the promotion ends and make sure that if your promotion is related to alcohol it fits the criteria of "responsible retailing" (for advice see my article on the How To Run A Pub Website)

For absolutely the easiest way to run a voucher campaign, but one with a twist, is to emulate the example of Grand Central in Basildon, that runs a "Trader Tuesdays" voucher redemption shceme. The twist? Grand Central accepts vouchers from any other pub or restaurant company which its waiting staff (it calls them floor-traders) exchange them for money off the bill or additional free food items. 

The benefits of a Trader Tuesday promotion - you don't have to go to all the expense of producing vouchers, you don't have to run expensive advertising campaigns to promote the idea, you simply cash in on all the hard work of your competitors, you get to fill the pub on what is traditionally a quieter night of the week. It means you have the chance to win new customers (who maybe don't want to use the original voucher's venue) and reward existing customers (who perhaps might be tempted away from your venue). The cost to you, apart from reduced margin through discounted pricing? Producing some in house posters and if you really splash out a £30 banner proclaiming "We accept other pubs money off vouchers!"

Finally you have to work out how much extra sales you have to generate to make the same overall profit from the promotion that you were making on that product prior to the promotion. So, if you were making £250 a week gross profit from your steak meals and you offered a discount based upon presentation of a voucher, the question you have to ask is how many extra steak meals do I have to sell to make the same profit?

As long as you realise that the return on your investment may not be immediate and that the benefits of marketing, brand building and increasing customer loyalty are mid to long - term strategies, then clever promotions using vouchers may well play an important part in your pub's marketing plan.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Who Was That Masked Man?

Son of Man (1964) - Magritte
In the toughest trading climate I have known in over 30 years experience of the hospitality industry and the pub sector in particular, I have noticed "increased chatter" about customer service, mystery visits, direct feedback and social advocacy. The former two terms I have been well acquainted with over the years but it is the latter that have caught my attention.

For a pub to be successful these days there are a myriad of factors that need to coalesce: environment (a clean and tidy pub), the offering (the drinks, food and entertainment) the brand (that which encapsulates your pub's core values and identity) and the customer experience (service, satisfaction and the "relationship" they have with you). By engaging with your staff through motivation and training so that they "buy in" to what you are trying to achieve at your pub you stand the most chance of success. The only trouble for most time poor licensees is it's difficult to see the wood for the trees and competing demands and sometimes innate subjectivity can cloud our view of our businesses. Ask yourself when was the last time you really stood back and looked at what you and your pub do, how things run and what you could do to improve things? 

For some pubs engaging with a mystery visit programme can be the answer and I have for a long time advocated their use, whether informally (we can all drum up a family member or old friend to come in and have a butchers at what goes on when we're not around) or formally (with mystery visits and reports); and we can all ask "how was your meal?" in terms of feedback. But is it enough? Are we asking the right questions? Are we putting these responses to the best use to benefit our businesses?

It’s probably best to first make a clear distinction between Mystery Visits and Direct Feedback. Mystery Visits are detailed anonymous reviews of the customer experience. As a result, they are used to assess the team’s ability to deliver on a wide range of measures. These measures are normally based on both operational standards and the order of service, and they are commonly aligned with staff training.

Direct Feedback sounds similar but is quite different – it’s about engaging with customers so features include a highly branded website, ‘customer recovery’ alerts where someone has had a poor experience, and ‘social advocacy’ to spread positive chatter about the best experiences.

For instance look at this example from The Jolly Boatman a "test site" the Mystery Dining Company uses to illustrate how a good direct feedback site works

You not only capture an impression of staff, customer service, value for money, cleanliness and overall satisfaction, but by offering up a reward for leaving feedback (in this instance a prize draw) you can collect more customer details for your pub's contact list.

But just collecting names for a mailing list shouldn’t be the be all and end all of the process. The smart operator will take on board the feedback customers provide, whether positive or negative and act on that information. As well as acknowledging the importance of customer feedback you have the opportunity to publicly engage with your supporters and your critics. An open and honest response to complaints or constructive criticism lends credibility to your operation and a level of transparency that will translate into an increased trust in your brand.

This dialogue, between publican and customer, conducted in plain sight and in a professional manner is what the marketers call Social Advocacy. So keep an eye on your Facebook page, your pub website, your Twitter account and any other social media you are linked to and get in as quickly as you would if the person were complaining to you in person in your pub.

Mystery Dining Company don't quote any prices for their services as each campaign is tailor-made to suit the business they are dealing with, however, if you are serious about customer service and managing your reputation I would hazard a guess that any investment you make in either campaign would pay handsome dividends.

New link ... check it out

Just a quicky to say new useful link for SAY NO TO 0870 and the rip-off charges from lots of companies ...