Tuesday 13 April 2021

You are not paying for the beer so stop whinging!

 I got rather cross this morning. I was listening to the Robert Elms show on BBC Radio London, as I do most mornings, when I open up our studios. Robert made a throw away comment about having a spur of the moment meal on the way home from work, in Camden Town and how it 'wasn't worth the money'. A spate of callers rang in to relay their bad experiences from yesterday, as they made their way back to restaurants and pubs. I am a big fan of Robert, but for once I thought he'd taken a wrong turn on the show. I fully expect hospitality venues to be 'not up to scratch' after months of inactivity. The chef's will be out of practice. Whereas they would normally not even have to look for the salt, pepper and spices, they are out of practice. If you cook a dish every day, you don't need to check the timers every five seconds, but chefs are not match fit. The busier they get, the better they will be. 

Much of what they do is usually on autopilot. Months of Furlough mean none of this is true. As well as chefs,  there are the waiters and other front of house staff. The Someliers have to re-acquaint themselves with the list and what works well. They even have top remember where each bottle is stored. The waiters need to get back into the groove, learn the menu, remember where the tables are etc. Whereas a new waiter can be carried and assisted, everyone is going through a refresher course. Many staff will have changed, due to the limits, many will be on skeleton staff. How can you expect the normal levels?

As for pubs, whereas the old normal was that you went to the bar to order, now, the bar has to come to you. A pub has to employ people to pour the beer and people to bring it. This adds costs, it also makes the job more complicated. I've spoken to several people who are friends, who have said they don't know if they will be bothering with pubs any time soon. They cite the expense of the beer as the main reason, having gotten used to buying crates of Stella and Fosters that is a tenth of the price of some venues.

If all you want to do is sit in your front room and drink yourself into oblivion, that is a valid argument. But if you want to actually live a life and not just exist,then you need to pause for thought. Going to the pub has never been about the price of beer (or at least not in our lifetime). When you pay for your pint, the cost of the beer is a very small part of the cost of it. Your pint is covering the cost of the staff serving it, the cost of the building lease and decor of the building, the cost of heating the pub, cleaning the toilets, mopping the floors, washing the glasses, chilling the beer, electricity, gas etc. In short, you are paying to be in a nice venue with a bit of beer thrown in for good value. If you book a hotel room, with a free cup of tea, you don't say "Blimey, they are charging £150 for a cup of tea". You realise that you are paying for the accomodation and the cup of tea is a bonus. 

I've often wondered whether there was scope for a business model for a  pub where you pay to sit there and get the beer for free? One of the failings of many pubs is that they don't realise that what they are selling is a nice place for you to sit with your mates that happens to serve a bit of beer.  But what makes a good pub? We all know of places that have three or four pubs closely clustered together. Each one will be a bit different. You will find that you feel comfortable in one and like a rather uncomfortable stranger in the other ones. Different people will choose different pubs. When I used to work for an IT company near Tottenham Court Road in 1984, each project would have their own pub. The management would drink in the Newman Arms, our lot would drink in the Windmill, the Northern Bank lot would drink in The Fitzroy and a the real ale club lot would drink in the Rising Sun. Occasionally we'd try these, but always end up back at the Windmill. 

The Rising Sun was rebranded as Presleys (a tribute to Elvis) and started selling expensive lagers, rather than the good pump ales it had specialised in. This caused mayhem for a while. The real ale club boring the rest of us about how awful the beer was in our chosen venues. Happily they found somewhere fairly soon and b*ggered off. The various projects did not like drinking in the same pub. After the firm was taken over and we moved to Victoria, we did the odd trip back to The West End. I actually realised that the pub I liked most was The Bricklayers Arms, which we almost never went to. I felt uncomfortable in the White Hart.  I spent a long time trying to figure it out. I realised that when we worked there, we had our own table, we'd secure it at 5pm and stay for the evening. When we went back, we were not at our table and other people were the 'home crowd', whereas the Bricklayers had always been a likeable 'away fixture'. The Bricklayers did better beer and I think it was cheaper as well, but it wasn't our pub. The only reason we liked the White Hart was because it had a nice big table we could commandeer, with comfy vinyl bench seats. That and the fact it was 30 seconds from the office and being on the ground floor we could get in first. I was intrigued to find an article on Fitzrovia that also noticed this difference, with The White Hart being the haunt of French Anarchists!

In short, you go to the pub or eat at a restaurant for a whole host of reasons. You don't do it because it is cheap though. As we've not had pub and restaurant expenses for months, they now seem expensive, but if we want London to come back, we need restaurants and pubs and we need to be overcharged. If drinking Tesco's own brand lager and watching people pretend to drink in the Rovers or The Albert floats your boat, then fine. But if you want a social life, then sadly you are going to have to wake up to the fact that you will be spending a lot more than you have been. I can't wait. 

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