Wide-eyed, legless and singing about it

7. October 2013 04:48

For centuries, drinking and music-making have been intertwined social activities. I've just been reading an article by historian Mark Hailwood about 17th Century drinking songs, and they were songs not only to be sung while you were drinking, but tended to be about drinking, too. And they weren't exhortations on sobriety.

Last Wednesday, though, this close connection between two widespread human pursuits became a problem. The Independent reported that research by boffins at Liverpool John Moores University had revealed that in 2011 18.5% of chart songs contained references to alcohol, up from a mere 2.1% 20 years previously.

I'm not sure why this has happened. Perhaps lyricists have got bored with writing about illicit drugs in thinly veiled terms. Or perhaps it reflects a changing culture – young people are drinking less, and as that has happened having a drink has become less habitual and more about special occasions and important life events. This would make drink, and certain kinds of drinks, pertinent subject-matter for song writers.

Clearly, more research is required (I'm available for hire). But instead, the researchers jump to the ridiculous conclusion that these songs are acting as a kind of advertising, urging our impressionable young folk to get more drunk than they otherwise would.

If they're right, song lyrics must be a pretty rubbish sort of ad medium, since (as I've already said, but it takes a long time to sink in with some) young people are drinking less. They are, in fact, driving a continuing decline in UK alcohol consumption, down another 3.3% in 2012 according to latest stats from the British Beer & Pub Association.

Several factors are at play, including the probability that young people can't afford to drink like they used to. There's also evidence that drinking, and drug-taking in general, is going out of fashion.

There's a contradiction, though, in that the Big Night Out continues to play an important role in young people's lives, as it has since young people were invented some time in the 1950s.

The researchers single out Katy Perry's song ‘Last Friday Night’ as a particularly execrable example. It's about going out, getting drunk and falling into all kinds of scrapes, condensed into one night for artistic purposes. Unabashed, Ms Perry determines to do it over again next Friday night.

Good songs reflect reality, and they are also an opportunity to reflect on reality. ‘Last Friday Night’ tells a truth about young lives, and provides a means of getting to grips with the inherent contradictions. We've all said “never again” and “gone and done it again”, as Andy Fairweather-Low wrote in Wide-Eyed and Legless (1975).

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Human subjectivity, alcohol policies and the hanging kebab

1. October 2013 07:10

It's Monday lunch and the hanging kebabs are swinging through the Oast House, Living Ventures' new-ish pub in Manchester's Spinningfields office and retail complex. The Oast House occupies a real-life oast house that was shipped across from the Low Countries (i.e. I can't remember whether it was Belgium or the Netherlands) and was dropped like a chunk of weathered driftwood amid the soaring glass and steel.

But that's another story. Quite apart from the quality of the food, the value of a hanging kebab lies in the theatrical - the mere act of bringing these things to the table attracts positive attention. 

And there’s something else. This is ‘theatre of the audience participation’ kind, requiring you to complete the kitchen’s work by removing the meat from the skewer yourself.

Now, the last time I tried to eat a hanging kebab, at the St Mary’s Country Inn on Jersey, was a clumsy spectacle (belated apologies to all those within a radius of 10 feet). So, while tempted, I settled for a Scotch egg ploughman's. 

It turned out that this, too, required my participation, not only in cutting and composing the permutations of each mouthful (which I accept is a normal part of eating a ploughman’s) but in unscrewing the little jars of pickle (sweet and piccalilli). Which I achieved, you'll be relieved to hear, without making too much mess.

This contrasted starkly with the previous night's Indian restaurant, where I was asked whether I'd like the meat taken off the bones of my tandoori lamb chops. Why? I've ordered chops. I want chops.

The Oast House has been turning in some amazing figures, apparently, and I reckon diner participation is a big part of its success. Eating there is designed as an experience that goes beyond sustenance, nutrition and flavour. It recognises that rather than being mere passive consumers, people enjoy playing an active role in the creation of their meal.

This, it seems to me, tells us something fundamental about what it means to be a human being. And it’s something the public health lobby has missed.

Yes, I’ve finally got to the point, which is that you can’t predict how people will behave when ‘nudged’ by a particular policy; be it a pricing or an educational measure. You can’t assume that we’re passive consumers making rational choices according to objective determinants because there’s a recalcitrant urge within us to do our own thing, to play an active part, to change the rules of engagement as we go along.

So there.

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Street drinkers, super-strength bans and the balloon effect

23. September 2013 09:42

It’s the balloon effect. Squeeze one end and the other end expands; the air inside hasn’t gone away- it’s just moved.

I suspect it’s the same story with the apparent success of voluntary off-licence bans on super-strength beers and ciders. Pioneered by Ipswich, these bans have spread round the country like a contagion. Off Licence News reports that “… beers and ciders with an ABV of 6.5% and above could soon be a thing of the past in the off-trade”.

That would not be a good thing. Craft beers and ciders are frequently strong and they are playing an important role in developing the appreciation of beer and cider – crucially, not for their alcohol content but for their depth and complexity of flavour.

These are beers to be savoured and completely different to the real target of the bans. The words ‘baby’ and ‘bathwater’ spring to mind (if that isn’t encouraging under-age drinking). Beers above 7.5% ABV have also been hit by the higher duty band introduced for super-strength lagers and ‘industrial’ ciders.

It may be possible for a distinction to be made at retail level. After all, these bans are voluntary so the licensee can, presumably, continue to stock Belgian ales and the new breed of craft beers and ciders. Though they might well feel they need to check with their local authority and the police first. As I was saying a couple of weeks ago, there is pressure on these ‘volunteers’.

But what about the impact of these measures on the people we’re supposedly worried about: the street drinker? Surely the ban hasn’t caused them to stop drinking? Like the air in the balloon, it’s likely that the problem has simply been squeezed elsewhere. We don’t really know because there’s been no research into it, and as long as they’re getting the results they want, the authorities don’t really care.

Councils are bothered about street drinkers because they’re unaesthetic; they clutter the place up and, as the chap from Hastings Council told the OLN, they’re bad for the tourist trade. As long as they can stop them clumping in the more sensitive areas of town, councils are happy. Whether a ban on super-strength helps them with their drinking is immaterial, so goodness knows where the problem is going to bubble up next.

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Be careful what you wish for

23. September 2013 04:14

The Conservative-led coalition government is keen to reduce red tape and unnecessary administrative burdens on business. The decision to shelve minimum pricing and the ban on multi-buys in favour of the voluntary approach of the Responsibility Deal exemplifies this. In general, this is to be welcomed, but then, out of the blue, we have a consultation on the abolition of the personal licence.

The government has championed ‘localism’ as well as cutting red tape, and this proposal appears to touch both these policy bases. It may be that this has a superficial appeal to some in our sector, but be careful what you wish for.

Abolishing the personal licence begs the question “what will replace it?” The government’s answer is to gold-plate the role of the Designated Premises Supervisor (DPS) and make him or her the only person able to authorise alcohol sales in licensed premises. Whilst the government will retain control of criminality-check criteria and training standards, whether such checks and training take place in a given premises will depend on whether a licensing authority makes it a condition on the premises licence. Each licensing authority would have to evolve a policy for deciding what types of premises and categories of staff would require training and vetting – and this could include not just DPSs, but bar and counter staff as well. We could end up with a system like Scotland’s, where anyone involved in selling alcohol has to be trained in legal compliance.

It is curious, to say the least, that government would implement a desire to cut red tape and cost burdens at a national level in a way that opens the door to them being increased at local level. The training and licensing of persons was never meant to be targeted; it represents the minimum set of standards in respect of training and vetting that is consistent with protecting the public and promoting the licensing objectives. Over 550,000 people have gained the personal licence qualification since 2005, and let’s face it, this cascade of training and qualifications would never have been achieved but for the introduction of a qualifications-based licensing system.

Most premises have adopted a precautionary approach and ensure that they have more than one personal licence holder working on the premises, even though this isn’t a legal requirement. This has become spontaneously established as best practice by a sector that is conscious of the public scrutiny it receives. It seems bizarre for the government to create perverse incentives to reduce training and qualified supervision by enhancing the role of the DPS. The government has also mooted the possibility that there might have to be a fresh criminality check if the DPS is changed at a premise. This will take away one of the key flexibilities of the current system, whereby another personal licence holder can take over the role of DPS at short notice.

Licensing authorities already have the power to impose extra training conditions on premises licences and frequently do so at licensing reviews. Training in responsible alcohol retailing and drugs awareness are just two examples that come to mind. At the moment multiple operators have complete clarity on what training and criminality checks are required of their DPSs and other personal licence holders. If the government abolishes personal licences, operators will have to familiarise themselves with 400 individual licensing policies and keep up to date with revisions to them if they are to ensure legal compliance. Which is easier to administer – a coherent, national system or a pick-and-mix local option?

The personal licence system is one of the success stories of the Licensing Act 2003. The industry lobbied for the separation of the licensing of premises from the licensing of persons and it has worked well. I believe personal licences should be retained and the government should avoid the temptation to throw out necessary regulation along with unnecessary regulation. Babies and bath water come to mind.

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Booze-free bars and the water margin

16. September 2013 07:19

As the old definition of news goes, its ‘man-bites-dog’ that makes the headlines, and the phenomenon of alcohol-free bars has caught the media eye of late; most recently BBC Radio Four’s excellent Food Programme. Presenter Hardeep Singh Kohli rather over-egged this ‘revolution’, but it’s certainly an interesting development.

Among Kohli’s interviewees was the impressive Catherine Salway, the entrepreneur behind Redemption Bars; a couple of which have opened in London. The idea is that Redemption creates the buzz and atmosphere of a regular cocktail bar without alcoholic drinks – and without the lairy downside. Salway is appropriately sober in her assessment of the potential for Redemption - one for every city in the UK. Even including me-toos, the booze-free bar is going to occupy a tiny niche.

I have certain reservations about the concept. One is the name. Redemption has religious connotations that, unless she’s being disingenuous, are not part of Salway’s intentions. More seriously, I have a problem in that I can’t drink more than one soft drink consecutively. I’ll worry about what I’m going to do for a couple of hours. A good beer, in contrast, offers a greater depth and complexity that keeps the taste buds interested. If anyone has the soft drinks to convince me otherwise, I look forward to trying them.

Still, Salway makes good points. There’s her emphasis on service and quality, for instance, and the music. Get that right and you don’t need alcohol to create an atmosphere. It’s something good licensed operators already know, and it’s wrong to suggest that every pub and bar ends the night in alcohol-fuelled aggression - they are a diminishing minority.

The other point is around the range and presentation of soft drinks. This, too, has improved in pubs, though not enough for Hardeep Singh Kohli to notice, apparently. Shrewd licensees push soft drinks because of the higher profit margin, rather than ethical reasons, which is fine.

But there’s a danger. The inaptly named Freedrinks, which has just launched adult softie Zeo, is urging pubs to press customers who order a glass of tap water to pay for something more flavoursome. If, as it says, sales are being lost here, that should be addressed by better soft drinks display and range rather than a hard (so to speak) sell. The likelihood is, though, that the customer really does want a glass of tap water, and it’s in the broader commercial interest of the business to make them just as welcome as anyone else.

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Could Greene King knock Mitchells & Butlers off its perch?

13. September 2013 07:25

Mitchells & Butlers is the UK’s largest managed Pub Company by some distance with 1,600 pubs. But currently it’s struggling to lift like-for-likes sales above flat as it undergoes a root-and-branch cultural change set in motion by chairman Bob Ivell two years ago. Meanwhile, the UK’s second largest managed pub company, Greene King, reached a significant milestone last week when it opened its 1,000th managed site whilst consistently posting far better like-for-like sales growth than its Birmingham-based rival. Greene King has travelled a long way during the eight years it’s been led by current chief executive Rooney Anand. At the start of his tenure, the company had just 551 managed sites, quickly lifted the same year to 801 by the acquisition of Laurel Pub Company’s neighbourhood division. That year saw managed turnover up 50% to £495.9m. In the most recent full year, managed turnover rose 7.4% to £863m, which now accounts for 72% of total company sales. Greene King may still own a large tenanted division and brewing operation, but the last eight years have seen an ever greater focus on its managed pubs as the main engine of company growth. Indeed, last year’s managed division turnover was around £130m more than entire company turnover back in 2005.

Greene King’s progress has been underpinned by its south east geographic estate positioning. It’s also made a series of sound strategic acquisitions in the form of Cloverleaf, Realpubs, Hardys & Hansons, Belhaven and Capital Pub Company. The deal to buy the Loch Fyne restaurant business may not have been such a rip-roaring success but it will certainly have helped build the company’s food expertise. The company has also been helped by continuity of management. Whilst Mitchells & Butlers has zipped through four chief executives (including the temporary one) and countless chairman, Greene King has been a Manchester United-like model of stability. And with its key acquisitions, Greene King has been canny in retaining the services of former management wherever possible – Mark Derry, John Winder, Nick Pring and Malcolm Heap, for example – to ensure it absorbs the full benefit of their expertise. Anand is also a strong picker of talent – one of the unsung heroes of its managed outperformance has been Jonathan Webster who arrived at the company as part of the Hardys & Hansons acquisition.

Perhaps the most impressive part of Greene King’s managed division surge has been Hungry Horse. The brand was founded in 1996 but the company considered disbanding it between 2005 and 2007 when it had, in the company’s words, “lost its way”. The last five years has seen Greene King reinvent the brand and run with it in a way unmatched by Mitchells & Butlers with potential blockbuster mainstream brands Harvester and Toby Carvery. Greene King has doubled the size of the brand since 2008 when there were 96 Hungry Horses. The company now believes it can further double the size of Hungry Horse to at least 400 sites – and it has 114 pipeline sites identified. Hungry Horse revenue and profit has doubled in the last three years. It added 20 Hungry Horse sites in less than a year to reach the 200-site landmark earlier this year – Mitchells & Butlers hit the 200 mark with its Harvester brand last year but it was founded more than a decade earlier. More generally, the past half-decade has seen Greene King increase food sales by 75%. Overall, food sales are now £337m per annum and account for 40% of total managed sales.

The current rumoured sale of around 300 tenanted pubs is driven, no doubt, by the desire to accelerate the growth of its managed division. I hear other plans are in train to free cash to invest in managed pubs. For now, there remains a significant gap in the size and the quality of Greene King’s estate compared to Mitchells & Butlers. With food sales accounting for an average of 40% of managed pub turnover at Greene King, Mitchells & Butlers has a ten percentage points lead at circa 50%. Average pub size at Mitchells & Butlers is bigger too, although Greene King has grown average managed house Ebitda to a creditable £218,000 average. The Suffolk company is still some way behind M&B on a number of measures, but for now it is certainly outperforming it – and the notion that one day soon it might ascend to the top of the managed podium is no longer fanciful.

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Acting local: councils and alcohol policy

9. September 2013 06:31

News that Newcastle City Council, among others, has succeeded in getting a number of licensed premises to apply minimum pricing policies raises some interesting questions, not least about the relative weight of local - as against national - alcohol strategies.

While the government dithers and vacillates, councils have been getting on with the pragmatics of licensing, most notably in removing high strength beers and ciders from off-trade shelves. This, along with a version of minimum unit pricing, has been achieved by agreement with the operator.

Lurking behind the cosy deals, of course, is the threat that the council might find a reason to turn down or review the licence if the premises doesn’t comply. But more than that, operators are conscious that they need a good working relationship with the local authority and the police in order to carry on their business with the minimum of hassle.

There is a question, one for bigger legal brains than mine, about whether minimum pricing or a ban on certain drinks could be legitimately enforced. Competition laws will come into play and an authority will also have to prove that the measures are necessary to achieving the licensing objectives, premises by premises. This could be tricky, though it may be easier in Scotland where they have a public health objective on top of the other four.

So far, though, it’s happening voluntarily. It’s almost as if government policy-making, and all the attention and aggravation it attracts, is irrelevant. Licensing has always been a peculiar beast before the 2003 Act magistrates wielded massive power. Even within the fairly restrictive framework of the old licensing laws, they were key to the fast growth of the night-time economy from the mid-1990s, applying a liberal approach to new licence applications and hours extensions.

Councils today are arguably even more powerful than magistrates, and now they have responsibility for public health, too. There’s a danger that it goes to their heads; last year Westminster Council tried to make the Newman Arms in Fitzrovia serve drinks more slowly and remove tables from its dining area to ease congestion on the pavement outside. That was ridiculous by any standards, and Westminster backed down rather than test the extent of its powers.

But it was worrying that the licensees felt they had to oblige or face a licence review. That’s not partnership working, that’s trying it on. Genuine agreements with operators are fine. If local authorities start pushing people around, though, it could get messy.

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Good pub, bad pub

2. September 2013 06:24

Last Thursday was what my mum calls a “tin hat day” in the pub industry. Invective flew like grenades after the Good Pub Guide declared that over the next 12 months up to 4,000 pubs will go out of business. And not before time, according to Guide editors Alisdair Aird and Fiona Stapley: “These are the pubs at the bottom of the pecking order, the Bad Pubs, which still behave as if we are stuck in the 1980s; happy with indifferent food, drink, service and surroundings.”

Trenches were dug on either side of the argument. Roger Protz, editor of The Good Beer Guide, described his arch-rival’s view as “morally repugnant” and called for a public apology. Times columnist Giles Coren said Aird and Stapley were pussy-footing around and that all pubs should close.

There’s no doubt that the Good Pub Guide was looking for a sensational angle to get publicity for its new edition and that 4,000 figure seems wildly inflated since the closure rate is currently around a third of that, and is predicted to fall. And to say, as the editors do, that only bad pubs close is spurious since good pubs undoubtedly close - it’s just that they become bad pubs first. The question is, why do good pubs become bad pubs? And what, exactly, do we mean by a ‘bad pub’?

These are big questions - too big to answer here. But it does seem to me that, for all its protests, the Good Pub Guide has a relatively narrow definition of a “good pub”, which is certainly relative to the Good Beer Guide.

And it isn’t just about standards. The Good Pub Guide’s emphasis is undoubtedly on food, and on what are called ‘destination’ pubs. There’s nothing wrong with that - unless you start doing down pubs that don’t conform. And that was how many took the editors’ comments.
There are many pubs that won’t make it into the Good Pub Guide that are worth keeping. And not all of them are in the Good Beer Guide, either.

There is a principle to defend. The idea that there is such a thing as a pub that’s distinct from a restaurant or a bar. It doesn’t mean that pubs mustn’t change. Many pubs have adapted to changing circumstances while retaining a core ‘pubness’. It’s an elusive quality but you know it when you see it.

And while food has become essential for many, it’s not a panacea. Some businesses have overstretched themselves by trying to introduce a menu there is no market for, no chef for and no kitchen for.

It’s curious that the Good Pub Guide’s awards have a category for Unspoilt Pubs. So does that mean the rest of them have been spoilt?

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Good pubs and how they are created

30. August 2013 05:27

How many “good” pubs are there in the UK? The simple answer is: more than last year and a heck of a lot more than five years ago. The newly-published Good Pub Guide 2014 claims there are 4,800 or so excellent establishments and 4,000 pubs at the other end of the spectrum that are likely to close because they do not pass muster. In between these two extremes, it estimates there are 40,000 or so “average pubs” which range from “straightforward locals to the big chains of standard-pattern eateries and drinkeries with their reliably consistent offerings: you always get what you expect, no less – but no more.”

The Good Pub Guide’s editors were on the receiving end of a good deal of opprobrium when they suggested yesterday that the evolutionary culling of sub-standard pubs was a positive thing, strengthening the remainder of the industry. There is a fairly overt strain of snobbery inherent in the Good Pub Guide’s dismissal of the thousands of mainstream managed pubs with their huge volumes of food and drink, offering high quality food and drink at affordable prices. They may not be where Good Pub Guide editors choose to hold their lunches, but UK consumers flock to them for the very reasons that produce curled lips among the chattering classes. But broadly, it is hard to argue that every underinvested, poorly positioned terraced pub with a low level of amenity could and should be saved. Part of the pressure on the bottom-end pub stock in the UK is coming from the ever-improving top end of the sector where skills are rippling out across more and more sites. Skilled chefs tutored in London’s finest kitchens, former executives of large managed operators, talented entrepreneurs equipped with the nous to create a new generation of pub, restaurateurs retro-fitting pubs with sophisticated food offers, talented localists who understand their provincial markets intimately and brewers who care about their retail standards as much as their mash tuns are among the many diverse groups transforming the top-end pub landscape.

This phalanx of talent is moving quickly. Our database at Propel Info has no fewer than 520 multi-site pub operators running sites across the UK. The actual number, we suspect, is at least twice that number – it is just that many are still at such an embryonic position they rarely seek national “trade” publicity. The contrast with yesterday’s landscape can be seen at the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers, which had a far more limited membership a decade ago – pure food specialists within the pub arena, for example, were more of a rarity.

The advance of skills across the pub sector is being helped by the tenanted pub companies, which still, let us remember, own 40% of the stock. We at Propel were delighted to see the huge response to Punch Taverns’ open invitation, issued through us, to outstanding operators to meet their top brass next week to discuss mutual business opportunities. The current Punch approach to co-investment with the UK’s best multi-siters is a model for how progress can be speeded up. Likewise, barely a day seems to pass without former Spirit’s leased division forming a new partnership with an outstanding multi-site operator. Over at Enterprise, which has some of the UK’s finest pub stock in its portfolio, it is equally good to see flexible and imaginative leases being signed with the likes of InnBrighton and the West Country restaurant operator Mezze. Despite the current noise about the tenanted model, it is instructive that Nick Pring and Malcom Heap, whose Realpubs success was built on the foundations of several Enterprise leases, have returned to their roots, with an Enterprise lease chosen for their second London Ordinaries pub. No surprise, too, that Propel was able to report this week how quickly London Ordinaries has transformed that pub’s performance.

One of the best current examples of how a pub experience can be transformed by talented individuals is the four-strong company Yummy Pubs, led by Tim Foster and Anthony Pender. All four pubs are reporting triple digit growth, and the company’s Somers Town pub in Kings Cross, where the pair are receiving extraordinary support from landlord Charles Wells, is a particular trading phenomenon. It is interesting to note, also, how dismissive a talent like Foster is of the current proposals to bring in statutory regulation of the sector. He was an attendee of the recent Tenanted Pub Company Summit and knows full well that success is in the hands of his team. Foster wrote in his blog: “The big issue at the moment – self-regulation or let the planks from Whitehall get involved. We’re big enough and ugly enough to sort ourselves out. Christ, the majority of MPs can’t even do their bloody expenses right and they think they can come and fix one of the most complex industries in the world with a magic fairy wand? It was the first time I have heard Dr Vince Cable talk in public – he was awful. It was the first time I have heard Ted Tuppen talk in public – he was fantastic. I was asked to sit on a panel and tell the room what I thought of my relationships with my landlords. It’s pretty simple: we have a fantastic relationship with one, frustrating as hell with another and non-existent with the last. We’re very self-sufficient, we actually don’t need anyone’s help – what we need is for them to not get in the way of our progress. But if they have great people that can help us as Charles Wells do, we’ll take every single bit of it.”

No kind of government intervention is going to produce more ‘good’ pubs. That’s down to the industry and its fostering of people like Foster.

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Pub atmosphere and the island bar

27. August 2013 04:39

On Friday night I went to one of my favourite pubs, the Snowdrop in Lewes, Sussex. It was also, apparently, one of the late John Peel’s favourite pubs. It’s a different kind of place now, having been through a difficult patch before it was rescued by the present licensees, but it’s retained what you might call ‘personality’.
 
The food and beer are very good, of course, but there’s something more, something irreducible to the products the Snowdrop is selling, something in the air that leads people to resort to that much over-worked term ‘atmosphere’.

‘Atmosphere’ is a bit like ‘culture’ – it’s one of those vague dead-end words that are there to stop you analysing any further. It’s just there, as if by magic. But it’s not going to get in the way of an old unreconstructed materialist like me.

The Snowdrop has an island bar, and I reckon that’s got something to do with it. There’s a successful multiple operator down here called Indigo, and the first thing it does when it takes over a pub is install an island bar. Moving a bar isn’t cheap, so this isn’t done lightly. And it seems to work. I’ve seen quiet pubs become busy pubs overnight - there’s a distinct change in the atmosphere, a buzz that makes it feel like the place to be, that you’ve made the right decision coming here.

One thing about island bars is that they take up more of the trading area, which you might consider a bad thing since it reduces capacity and therefore potential turnover. But it also means that the place feels busier with fewer customers. And it becomes a sort of self-fulfilling prophesy because people are attracted to a busy pub. An island bar lowers the critical mass necessary for that effect.

Another factor is the greater interaction between customers and bar staff. There’s a social responsibility angle here, in that an island bar acts as a Panopticon, giving staff a view of more of the pub.

Reversing the line of sight customers also have a better view of the staff, and more opportunity to interact with them. Bar staff are always, to some extent, on stage. Whether this has a positive effect, of course, depends on the staff. If they’re properly engaged with doing their job, always active and interested even when there’s no one to serve, that energy transfers across the ramp to the customers. That’s what was happening in the Snowdrop the other night.

An island bar enhances this effect, but it can’t produce it by itself. That’s down to the people behind it.

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About the author

Phil Mellows

Phil Mellows is a freelance journalist and writer specialising in the UK pub industry and alcohol policy. For more information, and the Politics of Drinking blog, go to www.philmellows.com
You can also follow Phil on Twitter at www.twitter.com/philmellows

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