Monday, 13 October 2008

It's all down to style

I have eluded on several occasions in my blogs about the fact that the British pub is largely out of date. This will annoy the anti-gastro, anti-trendy, don't ban smoking, spit and sawdust brigade. But I'm afraid it's true.

Now I'm not saying that we shouldn't have some good old fashioned pubs. My favourite around here would be The Old Dungeon Ghyll, now that is a PROPER walkers pub - slate floors, open fire, minimalist type of place. Everybody is welcome and when I was last in they still served Old Peculiar. Absolutely fantastic.

But I can't leave out The Prince of Wales at Foxfield. This perhaps is my local, if I were to declare one. The food is honest and good, the ambiance extremely friendly. Most importantly Linda and Stuart make nearly everybody welcome. If you've been there and not been made to feel welcome it's you - trust me on that. Oh, and it's the best kept ale I've found in Cumbria.

The thing is though, and I'm not sure I am happy about this mind, these places do not suit the vast majority of people. But then what type of pub does suit the vast majority of people? Very few I suspect. There are a large number of pubs that the vast majority of people put up with, but are probably not entirely happy with. Many pubs provide a one size fits all type of service. A bland and indistinct product that tries to appeal to a broad audience.

Consider the restaurant industry, it is very broad and every establishment is different. You have a good idea before you enter about the price, type of cuisine, ambiance etc. We do not say it's not a decent restaurant because it servers only standard Chinese food or Indian or Italian or Vegetarian anymore than we do if it is Egon Ronay, 5 rosette or 3 Michelin star. We just accept it for what it is.

Now the restaurant trade is likely to be a future beer blog subject, but we are talking about pubs here. I have a strong conviction that the pub, generically, has become a very bland, mass produced affair that is not really providing what is wanted by the public. I believe the public needs differentiation. Unfortunately too many people are keen to criticise when a pub falls out of their comfort zone. This has resulted in gastro pubs, trendy bars, theme pubs and the like to be heavily criticised. "So and so is not a proper pub any more" is often said, but it often these places that are doing so much better.

What is needed is a bit of innovation. However that innovation is going to upset somebody. One mans meat is another mans poison. The pub industry is just not exciting enough, but it is too scared to move forward because we are told we have to please everybody. The public also believe they should be able to walk into any pub and be reasonably pleased with what they get. This again is an inhibitor to the progress of pubs.

The final pub in my example is The Drunken Duck - Gastro brew pub. 2 AA Rosettes for it's food and 5 AA stars for it's accommodation and a string of other awards along the way. It's very snobby now and is in danger of loosing it's real ale roots, but I don't believe it has yet, quite. I have to admit I like it, even if it's from a commercial curiosity point of view. It is very successful at what it does.

I do not know a single person who has told me they absolutely love what The Duck does (quack, quack) but I've estimated it's turnover and it must be the single most successful pub in the Lakes. The reason is simple, it's very different, not many people like it but those that do, know exactly where to go to get it.

So I strongly believe every pub has to differentiate and we, somebody, I don't know exactly who - CAMRA, beer bloggers, people who contribute to beerinthevening maybe, but somebody has to make the general public understand that just because a person doesn't like a pub, does not mean it is a bad pub.

We cannot expect every pub to provide soup, sausage, curry and battered fish on it's menu, Steak garni, scampi and a ploughman's. There is a place for all these things and we know people who would only ever have Gammon, egg and chips, complete with peas and a pointless salad garnish but that's too passe for most modern pubs.

We cannot expect every pub to have a pool table, fruit machine, alcopops, dart board, Muzak, J2O, pickled eggs, be child friendly and have a smoking shelter. We have none of those things and every week we get complimented because of it. We also have difficulties with customers who can't understand why we take our stance. "What you wana do....." is a common phrase we hear, but normally the suggestion is based on us gaining less revenue. This customer education is important if we are to move the pub industry forward. We are building our customer base because of what we are doing. More pubs should make the difference and do their own thing.

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