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WRITER, CONSULTANT AND BROADCASTER SPECIALISING IN BEER, PUBS AND CIDER. BEER WRITER OF THE YEAR 2009 AND 2012

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Thursday, 20 November 2008

Bemused beer bore wonders: is it me that's stupid, or the pub landlord?

We all know what's to blame for the fact that five pubs in Britain are closing down every day: the credit crunch, the smoking ban, the government and their cruel tax increase, the supermarkets and their evil low prices, the punter and their insistence on staying home. 

I beg to offer an alternative point of view.  My story doesn't apply to all pubs by any means, but I'd hazard a guess that most of the places that are being closed down have more rather than less in common with the establishment below.

Tonight me and BLTP went to a rather fine concert by Low at Koko, a very cool music venue let down only by the fact that you have to pay £3.70 for a lukewarm can of 1664 if you'd like a beer with your music.

As with most places in London the noise curfew is 11pm, which means the band usually shuffle offstage around 10.40 and you're outside 5 minutes later.  You've had a couple of drinks, but thanks to the combination of not wanting to miss much of the gig and the fact that you're paying £3.70 for a lukewarm can of 1664, you're not pissed.

Just across the road from Koko is The Crescent, a standard format town centre chain pub.  We got into The Crescent at 10.48.  They told us that the bar was closed - chairs were already on the tables, and they were cashing up.  

Now, I'm no expert, but if I was running a pub in an economic downturn which was claiming five pubs every day, and I was twenty yards away from a music venue that I knew would be turning out about a thousand punters onto the streets late at night, and I was the closest pub, I'd take an interest.  Admittedly, if I discovered the gig had been some secret set by Westlife, I'd bar the doors and windows - but I might set up a lemonade stand outside.  But if I knew the band in question had a target audience that consisted primarily of geeks and nervous middle-aged blokes, a few of whom had impossibly cute girlfriends dressed in Amelie-chic while the rest silently fumed 'how come he manages to find a cute indie girlfriend and I don't', and I knew the majority of these people probably wanted one drink to chat about the gig before catching the tube home because it's a Wednesday and they had to get up for work in the morning, I'd be seeing pound signs.

I'd be thinking, 'you know what, since the Licensing Act of 2005, I can take advantage of flexible opening, and for the sake of paying, say, two or three staff to work later, I could probably take an extra £500 over the bar in half an hour with a minimum of fuss.  And this happens two or three times a week!  I'm sitting on a fucking gold mine!'  

I certainly wouldn't be closing the pub EARLY in order to avoid the unnecessary hassle of all these punters coming in cluttering up the place.

It's not just this particular pub - though it's a particularly striking example of this phenomenon - it's a common experience BLTP and I have after gigs.  It was just about understandable when pubs had to close at 11pm - they just set the clocks ten minutes fast to avoid the hassle.  But when you have the option of staying open later, but you'd rather not have the bother... am I missing something?  Or are some publicans their own worst enemies? 

11 comments:

Velky Al said...

What? And admit that your pub isn't a hobby and actually a business that requires a business mind to make it function?

Knut Albert said...

They could even check out who's playing at the venue and make sure they have some of their music on to make them stay for two drinks.

ARTHURcaskey said...

Concur entirely with you. Too many landlords see running a pub as something to do when they retire — for christ’s sake it’s a 24 hour gig. Maybe it’s too hard to think for yourself these days. Maybe we need a pub czar…who’ll promptly close down the lot.

Jeff Pickthall said...

It sounds like you may have experienced an aspect of what I call "the customer is always wrong" syndrome - a throwback to the days when pubs didn't have to worry about annoying the occasional customer because there were so bloody many of them. I last experienced it at the pub round the corner from the Gunmakers when Melissa, Tim and I were served a pint of Brakspear Bitter that was way too warm and resembling Rodenbach Grand Cru - the response, "it's room temperature, it's supposed to be like that".

Ewan said...

Hmm yes it does seem to be a common problem finding a drink post-gig!

(On a pedantic point I think the Hope & Anchor is closer, given it actually adjoins Koko, and certainly a nicer place than the Crescent. Though it probably also closes at 11pm, for all I know.)

BLTP said...

phew thanks PB saved me my job, my rant wasn't as well written as yours although my review of gig wil be better!
All i would add is that i think as I said the main problem is that many london pubs are run by staff not owners so they get paid whatever and just want to knock off at all costs.
Also why should my last pint of the day be mixed with Mr sheen (as they wipe the table in front of me) and bile as the grumpy 12 years olds stand over me us tapping their wrist as they have to get off to drink WKD in some ozzy filled hell hole in west London!

Fatman said...

As a former employee of a managed pub chain I can tell you of the bizarre 'willing myself out of a job syndrome'. It goes like this: "gotta work tonight, shit, I hope it's quiet and then I can read the paper, smoke (not any more) and chat to my mate (while I slip him a pint or two)".

Pete, I'm glad you've made the point. I don't think properly decent pubs close down, as a rule. Round here it's only the crap ones that are really suffering (the smoking ban and high prices have simply exposed them). Competition for the leisure pound is strong and the quality of tenants/managers has never been poorer.

Meanwhile, enlightened freehouse owners are doing well - my local landlord has just declared his last quarter the 'best ever' for both volume of beer sold and £££s in his pocket. He runs a back street local.

The industry needs many, many more quality people running pubs.

Stephen Beaumont said...

That's dangerously close to putting a bullet in the proverbial sacred cow, Pete. You want to watch yourself, lest the CAMRA doom-and-gloom set come after you...

I'm sure there are some very worthy pubs that are suffering the current "perfect storm" of negative factors, but I also believe, as apparently do you, that plenty more mismanaged or simply miserable places are simply succumbing to the fact that people are becoming more picky about where they spend their pounds.

Boak said...

That's the annoying thing about the licencing law change - how few decent pubs have taken advantage of it (Not that I'm saying the Crescent is a decent pub!)

We often want to have a drink past 11, but very few pubs we like have gone for extended hours. It's not like we're party animals - just an extra hour with your friends in nice surroundings would be nice.

Pete said...

Loving the emerging consensus on this issue. Fatman, I've visited countless pubs this year that are having their best year ever. I've driven past many more that are boarded up on my way to them.

I think some publicans almost seem to expects business as a birthright. Velky, Arthur, you'll have been into failing pubs like I have and instantly been able to see what needs to be done to turn it round. I used to walk past one pub every day for three years that had the name of the pub in foot-high, individual golden letters. One letter on the middle of the word had lost a screw and fallen down, and was hanging upside down. It would have taken 60 seconds to fix it with a step ladder and a screwdriver, but it wasn't fixed for three years and I never went in, because it looked like a failing pub with crap standards.

Stephen, you're right. If you can run a business well, you'll do well. The recession should actually improve the pub experience overall if it succeeds in getting rid of people who shouldn't be running pubs.

Fatman, thanks for the confession - I've been there too in my youth, and I've been asked to work late when the owner has had a lock-in and been abused by his mates and not paid any extra for it. If you'd had a decent bar manager though, and the shifts and been structured right, I'm sure it would have felt different.

impymalting said...

The only pub near me that has closed was a miserable hole that only served stuff on nitro, etc. The other pubs I frequent seem to be doing just fine.

I do think the tax and pressures from pubcos must make running a pub even harder but some places that are mismanaged don't deserve protection simply because they are a pub. There's nothing sacrosanct in my mind about the institution of the pub itself, though I'm sure that might make me unpopular for saying this.