Are pubs letting us down?

For literally centuries pubs have been operating in Britain with the first claiming to be serving customers since the year 560. Since then they have become a cornerstone of our world and for many of us, our first hurdle in life was to actually get served in a pub while underage.

Certainly, where I came from, life pretty much revolved around the pub – which even included in playing football for the said pub team on a Sunday morning (quite often hung over from the previous night drinking in that pub), now there is an irony for you!

Fast forward to 2019, what would those first customers from The Old Ferry Boat Inn think of the modern British pub?

What we crave from a pub

In order to answer the title to this blog, we need to know what are we actually looking for when we decide to part with our hard earned money in a good old pub. I have broken this into four parts.

It is also worth noting that in my opinion, there is a huge difference in what is served on a daily basis between “chains”, regional pub companies and the independents. The pub industry is in decline and has been for a few years now, the below might explain why.

Great Food

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I know this sounds so obvious but ask yourself this question. When did you last go to a pub chain and actually have amazing food? These companies seem to think they have to pack the menu with as much as they can in order to please every single customer (in one case I have just counted 56 items including specials ).

It has been reported that 19,000 chefs are leaving the food industry every year – wow! So there is an obvious skill shortage and I often see signs in many food outlets saying “chefs wanted – no experience needed”.

So as we are all in a rush having a big and complicated menu, coupled together with a manpower issue, no wonder they struggle to “deliver” what we want.

Independent pubs seem to get this right though, often having less than 10 items on the menu. Who has ever walked into a pub and thought “nope nothing I like on that menu?” My advice to pub chains is to have a smaller menu and just make sure you do “pub classics” and do them very well. If you crave to do something different then have an ever-changing “specials menu.”

Amazing selection of drinks 

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Food may no longer be the primary reason that we visit a pub these days (speak for yourself though) with only 56% of adults in the UK saying they have drunk alcohol in the last month.

I walked into a pub in London recently (one of the chains we talked about) and they had 6 lagers on draught. Not one of them was inspiring me to part with my cash so I asked what wine they did. I thought that was a simple question, yes you have already guessed the answer! Red, white and rose. I obviously decided to turn around as I shook my head in disbelief.

We want a good range of premium products served by staff with good knowledge and understanding. My biggest frustration is when I have paid a premium price for a product and its served in a different glass or does not come with any accompaniments. Is it just me or does it just not taste the same?

Good old hospitality

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Olf fashioned hospitality is number one on my list of frustrations with pubs – and especially with chains. Why do they get it so wrong? Having worked in the industry for over 20 years, trust me, hospitality is simple and yet so many fail at the first hurdle.

When walking through the door, I want the feeling of being the most important person at that exact moment. Combine a starter of “hello” with some chat and banter and then to finish an empathetic “goodbye hope to see you soon” (oh look a 3-course meal in communicating to customers! I am a genius). That is all it takes to nail it for me and I will return, honest that all you need to do.

Why do so many fail at this? This is an easy one for me – weak leadership. If I get poor service anywhere, I never blame the staff as they have been allowed to operate in this manner. If the people above the Manager to the CEO don’t care why should they? Throw in some continued team training and development and this might actually help reverse the trend.

An Experience

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Creating an experience will always be the biggest challenge. We all have individual tastes and expectations as to what makes our experience positive or negative.

Obviously the above will go along the way to creating the “ultimate experience”.

There are additional areas that make up a good experience for me, such as seating, lighting and music levels, but the most important in this section and again some fail is living in the modern tech environment.

How many times have I had to hunt down the ‘wifi password’? Is there anywhere to actually charge my device? Can I order via an app? Especially as I don’t want to leave my laptop and belongings to walk over to the bar and find an undertrained grunter who hates the fact I am only ordering a hot drink! You’re getting paid anyway no matter what I order.

Conclusion

Pub companies, you are letting your customers down and you need to step up and deliver what we are craving. Have a smaller menu with classic food that is done well. Maybe have some healthier products on there via a specials menu. Quality not quantity with your drinks. I don’t care that you have 56 different gin’s, just deliver the gin in the great glass with the right accompaniments.

However, the most important part they are missing is good old hospitality, which makes us all feel special. Look after us and we will make that extra effort to come and visit. It isn’t too hard but it does require great leadership, with a long term vision to inspire those around you. This will aid you to deliver and make sure that you are safe in these tough times.

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