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Monday, 15 July 2013

Reasons pubs are closing #453

Last week I was invited to the All Party Parliamentary Beer Group annual dinner.

It was a great event, with some wonderful beer and food matches and a bunch of awards handed out. Fergus Fitzgerald from Adnams was named Brewer of the Year - a richly deserved accolade for someone who is running a great range of traditional ales and an exciting programme of craft beer innovation side by side.

George Osborne was recognised and awarded for dropping the Beer Duty Escalator and for the first cut in beer duty since 1959. I loathe this man more than almost anyone alive, and being in the same room as him made my skin crawl. But it is right that he was applauded - he did something the industry had been asking for for years, something that benefits every pub in the country, and it's right and proper we say thank you for that before getting back to hating him for his open warfare on the poor and disadvantaged, his arrogant shattering of the social contract that exists between a government and its people.

Also honoured was Andrew Griffiths, the MP for Burton-on-Trent. His was an easier gong to cheer. He's a Conservative MP, a tireless campaigner for and genuine lover of beer, a great constituency MP, and a thoroughly decent bloke. He's the proof that you don't have to be arrogant, venal and cruel to be a Tory MP, even if many of them are. He made a long speech about the campaign against the duty escalator. He could have scored some easy party political points by pointing out it was introduced by a Labour government, but he didn't. He could have scored more points by pointing out it was a Tory government that scrapped the escalator - instead, the first thing he said was that the campaign had been a cross-party effort. A thoroughly decent man who you'd happily buy a pint for - but that would involve getting to the bar before him...

After the dinner was over, a few of us - Griffiths included - wanted to go on for another drink somewhere else. It was late, and we were in Westminster, where licensing laws are overseen by a council that hates the very existence of pubs and refuses pretty much any requests for late licenses, so it was the kind of evening where you have to make compromises. Griffiths suggested the Players Bar, a late night place in Villiers Street in Charing Cross, apparently popular with MPs and their staff.

As you'd expect, the beer selection wasn't great: A-B Inbev had inflicted their range on the bar, and draught beers consisted of Stella, Bud, Becks Vier and the loathsome Stella Artois Black. But alongside the Becks and Bud bottles in the fridge there was also Staropramen - not an immediate choice of mine, but I can drink it without complaint.

Or at least, I can when it's served in a drinkable state.

When we were served our second round, I took a sip from my beer and discovered it was warm - room temperature in a hot room.

"Excuse me, this beer is warm," I said to the barman.

"So?" He replied.

"Well, it's undrinkable."

"But you've had some out of it."

"Yes, that's how I know it's warm. I can't drink any more of it. Can I have another one?"

"I could give you a glass with some ice in it."

"No, I don't really like ice in my beer, thanks. Could you just replace it?"

He took the beer away and handed me a fresh, cold one.

"That'll be £5."

"What? You're charging me to replace a beer that wasn't fit to drink?"

"You'd drunk out of it."

At this point Andrew Griffiths, ever the gentleman, stepped in and paid for the beer.

Conflict was averted. It would have been rude to have pressed the point when Griffiths - our host - had acted so decisively to head off the argument. But it spoiled my evening. We often make the comparison between pubs and coffee shops. It's highly unlikely you'd ever be handed a stone cold cup of coffee. But if you were, it would be replaced with a hot one without question. Pubs like this - mercifully rare - seem incompetent and unfriendly by comparison. If this is where MPs come to drink, and this is the kind of service they get, no wonder so many of those who weren't at the dinner tonight don't seem that bothered about pubs disappearing.


Barm said...

Bizarrely, there are still pubs that seem to think customers should be grateful for the privilege of paying through the nose for their deathly dull selection of bland beer. Even more bizarrely: characterful, friendly pubs close while these places continue to thrive.

Anonymous said...

"his arrogant shattering of the social contract that exists between a government and its people"

What contract?

I never signed anything?

Is it an invisible contract?

...or maybe its a made-up contract that lives in the heads of socialists?


Curmudgeon said...

It's a long time since I've heard "but you've drunk some of it" as an excuse not to provide a replacement.

Steve Wilson said...

A fair comment but using a bar in a theatre as an example of typical pub service would be a bit like using the coffee served in a leisure centre as an example of typical coffee shop service, would it not?

Steve Wilson said...

A fair comment but using a bar in a theatre as an example of typical pub service would be a bit like using the coffee served in a leisure centre as an example of typical coffee shop service, would it not?

Cooking Lager said...

Sorry I stopped reading halfway through the student politics rant. Are pubs closing because they are full of nasty tories or hateful lefties?

Pete Brown said...

Pete Brown said...

Dismissing any views from the left as 'student politics' is only slightly less risible than dismissing attacks on inequality as 'the politics of envy'. You can do better than that, Cookie.

Curmudgeon said...

When there are people around like Assad and Mugabe, saying "I loathe this man more than almost anyone alive" is a tad hyperbolic and detracts from the substance of your argument.

Jon said...

oh my god did someone actually just say "yeah but Africa"? that's hilarious

Cooking Lager said...

It's easy to dismiss "I loathe this man more than almost anyone alive, and being in the same room as him made my skin crawl"

I think you can do better.

Sagi said...

Great read, no matter who you loathe or not.

Reuben Gray said...

That's crazy behaviour.

I was in a pub last night with Sam Parker near Traquair house in Scotland. It was a dump and the best I could do was tetley smooth flow. It was sour and undrinkable after sitting in the lines for days I reckon, the only reason that I didn't ask for another was, apart from ending up with another tetley, it would have meant staying in the most awful pub either of us had ever been in.
We went back to Traquair house for some real beer.

whereistherent said...

Mercifully I've only had something similar happen to me once before, although that may well be down to my desire to avoid conflict/complaining as much as anything! But I did return a pint about 12 months ago as it was so sour as to be undrinkable. The barman didn't like it at all but I stood my ground and eventually got a replacement.

val smith said...

Try going on the Black Country Tour bus and stop in a Famous Tipton pub if you are Gay, and see how much abuse you get from the landlord and regulars.. but only after he's taken the money for the drinks.
I can understand now why the pub dropped down so much in peoples rating and is now only used by small "gang" of youths

Nitch said...

Point again why the tipping system of service workers in America works- replace my beer or you won't be tipped by me or anyone else for the rest of the evening. Hmph.

Reuben Gray said...

I couldn't disagree more about tipping. Bar staff should be not only willing to replace a pint, they should be willing to quality control themselves and know what the beer should taste like.
Tipping someone for pouring you a pint, something you not allowed to do for yourself is not something that should be encouraged.
It would also add more expense to going out which will keep more people at home.
I loath with a passion the fact that you are expected to pay 1$ extra per drink in the US. Especially when you can already be paying $11 is parts of San Francisco for a beer in the first place, making it a $12 pint.

jrg said...

I just wonder what was their thought process. Do they think that they can re-sell (a warm pint) to someone else, if it hasn't been drunk?

Professor Pie-Tin said...

Reading between the lines it sounds like you were pissed and caused a bit of scene before being rescued by your host.

We've all been there Pete lovey.

Reuben Gray said...

I'm sure he was pissed, but not in the way you are hinting at.

Kieran Haslett-Moore said...

I love that you are showing your political heart. Doesn't surprise me that it riles the right tho. In the beer world we are politically diverse. If the shoe were on the other foot and a beer writer was espousing right wing views (as they sometimes do) I would probably be spitting the dummy. Then again they would be wrong ... :-)

Emma Sweet said...

You're story makes me sigh a heavy sign. I think good customer service and rapport building is where the future lies for many pubs. I'm sure they make be viewed as clinical terms and I don't mean them to be. Having a pub that looks good with the wrong staff is the fault of many pubs, and it's a big problem for the whole industry. Pubs moan they're not getting enough customers then when one dares to step through the door, they don't even bother saying hello.

It's certainly something I'm encouraging when talking to pubs. It's not about strict customer service journeys and creating robotic staff, just encouraging people working in pubs to talk to customers, and at the very least make sure the drink they've paid more than enough for is served just as it should be.

Emma Sweet said...

Sorry just realised my predictive text changed my first word of my previous comment. I do have two brain cells to rub together I promise! Serves me right for being distracted when I pressed submit.

En_Croute said...

It says "serve chilled" on the bottle, so they've failed to meet the complicated serving instructions from the brewer.

If you're unfortunate enough to find yourself there again, whip out a thermometer, alcohol testing kit & a swap for DNA/Bacteria, all done in gloves and a face mask.

Revenge is a dish best server lukewarm