Monday, 17 August 2009

Hotel with public bar or Pub with rooms?


It's an interesting job running a place that has two very different trades. On the one hand we have a section of the building allocated to providing an establishment that has comfortable rooms and a restaurant that serves quality food. Carpeted throughout and we're trying to raise it's standards.

Alternatively we are in the middle of the mountains. It's beautiful and there are plenty of opportunities for outdoor activities. When it's sunny we get very busy with passing trade. When it suddenly starts to rain everybody runs for cover and many make it to our bar. We get muddy boots, wet dogs, dripping waterproof clothing. When it rains for a few days on the trot, which it can do, it all goes very quiet. For 6 months of the year it is just very quiet.

Our hotel trade is far more lucrative, is stable for more of the year, the customers demand higher standards and due to the lack of wet clothing, muddy waterproofs and careful control of resident's dogs the place is more comfortable.

3 years ago we segregated the general public from our lounge bar and reserved it for residents and restaurant use only. We have now gained 3 stars with the AA for our accommodation. The muddy path that crossed our lounge bar carpet has gone. We are increasing the revenue from the hotel operation.

We think of ourselves, in some ways, as a hotel with a pub attached. The pub is here because there is a hotel, not the other way round.

We still welcome all manor of wayward walkers, dogs, muddy boots and even, if we have to, children into our walkers bar. Our walkers bar is sparse but robust. Some fail to understand the need for segregating the bars. I was inspired to write this after this post appeared by Adrian Tierney-Jones, he's a good guy and entitled to his opinion. To be fair we really TRY not to be grumpy, at least most of the time and we don't treat "off comers" with disdain. Meshing quality with the outdoors can be tricky. Matching tourist trade with local trade is also a problem.

20 comments:

John Clarke said...

So let me get this right. If your customers aren't staying or eating in the restuarant then they can only use the basic bar and are denied the comforts of the lounge - regardless of whether they are muddy walkers or smartly dressed car borne trade just out for the day? Sounds like you've developed a touch of the Hyacinth Buckets here.

Woolpack Dave said...

It's very difficult to make rules based on clothing. We tried it and it doesn't work.

We have a public bar and one that isn't. Is that so wrong? We have a pub and we have a hotel. The two businesses are quite different.

One makes money, one doesn't.

Velky Al said...

Hotels have always had residents' lounges in my experience. A public bar may not be as salubrious as long as there is decent beer then I really don't see why a fuss need be made. Unless of course the public bar is squalid in comparison to the lounge, which I doubt is the case in your place.

At the end of the day you have to do what works for you, and your customers have to accept the fact that you are a business and not a working man's club.

John Clarke said...

Al, The point is that no matter how much Dave tries to dress this up, the Woolpack is still a pub with some letting rooms (albeit very nice rooms) and people will inevitably see it that way. To segregate those staying or dining in the restuarant from those, gasp!, just wanting a drink eally does smack of snobbery. I can see a case for restricting people covered in mud from the lounge but that's as far as it goes.

To answer Dave's question "is that so wrong?" - well, yes, I really think it is. As I said earlier, the spirit of Hyacynth Bucket clearly lives on at the Woolpack.

Ed said...

I went to you pub a while back Dave, and I do remember pining for the comforts of the lounge I could see from the rather austere public bar.

Mind you, I must admit I had just come off the hills so was quite possibly wearing muddy boots.

Tandleman said...

I think I'll stand by on the sidelines before chipping in on this one.

Cooking Lager said...

I agree with you John, but it's his gaff, his rules.

If I had a gaff, I'd have a seperate room for people with beards.

Adrian Tierney-Jones said...

Dave
have commented on my blog re:your post, but I do understand where you are coming from, especially regarding the muddy boots syndrome (mats?, leaving boots in porch?); the wonderful Pen-y-Gwyryd in Snowdonia manages to make it work without making you feel as if you are the lowest of the low. But I still stand by my comments on the Pilchard.

Woolpack Dave said...

Al, thanks for your support.

Ed, thank you for your understanding.

Well John, I'd have to say I'm quite depressed to know that there are people who can't understand this one.

Our income is approximately 2/3 from the hotel. We simply are NOT primarily a pub.

There are things we know we could do, and would like to do, to improve the situation. Firstly, we could do more to make the public bar more comfortable, this we know. Secondly, avoiding the obvious jealousy driven attitudes by illuminating the sight of the residents lounge would help.

But another thing to think about, we live and breath this place, it's our life every waking moment of the day. Managing to cope with the huge psychological stress of staying pleasant all the time needs careful management. Controlling how our home is used for the pleasures of the public is part of that.

John, I make no apologies, if you're unhappy about that then perhaps you need to think about why pubs are closing.

On a positive note, we always have space for the drinker, even when we are busy with meals. Many pubs that major on food simply have not got the space to welcome people who just want a drink. Our public bar is a drinkers bar.

Every place is different.

Woolpack Dave said...

sorry, eliminating the sight, not illuminating.

Silly me.

Tyson said...

"I think I'll stand by on the sidelines before chipping in on this one."

Two feet behind you, TM!

John Clarke said...

Dave,

I;m not sure Ed's that understanding. Pub's close for many reasons - one of these is if they try and stigmatise part of their clientele. This is what you are doing - and even if you don't see it that way I am sure plenty of your customers will. Hence perhaps the rather mixed reviews on beerintheevening?.

Nor am I really very impressed with your claim to always make room for the drinker even when busy with meals. Cheshire is littered with dining pubs all of which manage to accomodate drinkers without relegating them to an "austere" bar.

However as Cookie has said, it's your gaff so you can fanny about as much as you like.

Woolpack Dave said...

John, I'm not alienating anybody. Everybody is welcome in my PUBLIC bar.

If my restaurant and hotel were across the street there would be no problem. They just happen to be in the same building as the pub.

Mind you, were I a sensible business man I'd have shut the public bar long ago and concentrated on the hotel and restaurant. I'd have not done up the public bar 2 1/2 years ago and put a gym and sauna in instead, and I'd have certainly not started to brew beer. I'm sorry you don't see it that way.

Anonymous said...

I stayed at the Eskdale Youth Hostel late August two years ago for the best part of a week. A friend of mine was supposed to come as well but as I later found out his plans were buggered about by work, so I was on my todd for the duration.

It certainly would have been a lonely stay apart from the wonderful hospitality I received in the public bar of the Woolpack. Dave and Ann could not have done more to make me welcome in the evenings. This was despite that for all but two nights I rather ungraciously dined elsewhere (requiring basic cheap carbohydrates (rather than finer dining) after very long walks). I'm also a skinflint. On one night I did dine there I was allowed to sit at the actual bar with my meal, so relaxed were Dave and Co. Certainly no snootiness there!

Of course the excellent beer helped keep the old pecker up. On one quiet night I was invited into the resident's lounge as there were a pleasant couple from the West Midlands in there. I certainly did not find myself having to look up anyone's nostrils that evening. Dave is far more Basil Fawlty than Hyacinth Bucket anyway!

Walkers' bars are not particularly an oddity in the Lake District. One of my very favourites is at the Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel in Great Landale. There you queue for your beer and food order, wait twenty minutes before someone yells out your ticket number so you can collect your nosh from the hatch. The beer is great, the food good and substantial and the atmosphere is splendid, particularly when people (including the landlord) play folk music. In fact I almost feel a bit sorry for anyone who might still be in the Residents' Bar and Lounge. In fact many of them come to the climber's bar for the atmosphere.

I certainly do not feel excluded at the ODGH or at The Woolpack by drinking in the public bar. In fact I prefer it. And I'm not just saying this because I'll be drinking at The Woolpack public bar tomorrow night. If I felt excluded or looked down on I would be drinking elsewhere tomorrow.

Incidentally I find these pub-rating sites such as Beer in the Evening such a load of old subjective cock. Sometimes very amusing old subjective cock, but old subjective cock nonetheless.

(That's got to be worth a free pint Dave?)

Washy

Woolpack Dave said...

Washy, bugger, that's definitely worth a free pint. I'll have to be careful or you custom will cost me too much...

Sorry, I still haven't got a fire in the walkers bar yet. It's on the to do list though.

Anonymous said...

That's alright Dave. I'll have my pint in the sauna if I must (after a workout in the gym). There's certainly room for a heated jacuzzi apart from the health and safety issues surrounding the selling of Brewdog's Tokyo near to running water.

Washy

Curmudgeon said...

"were I a sensible business man I'd have shut the public bar long ago and concentrated on the hotel and restaurant."

But if you did that, you wouldn't be eligible for the Good Beer Guide, which as you've said before is a key source of trade.

I've never been to your pub, but I have to say that from the sound of it your facilities for drinkers are somewhat limited and spartan.

In my experience there are plenty of fairly upmarket food-oriented pubs in the Lake District that manage to be more generally accommodating to drinkers (and for those who just want a buttie or a bowl or soup).

Obviously it is your business and you are entitled to run it how you like, but I would suggest alienating a substantial chunk of customers is perhaps not a good long-term policy. Many people may call in for a drink on one occasion and come back for a meal another time. Going in the nicer part of a pub and being asked by some snooty person "are we dining today, Sir?" is one of the most offputting things that can happen to you in a pub.

Woolpack Dave said...

Curmudgeon,

Thank you for a more ballanced argument. Of course the GBG issue is compelling.

But still, we think for the walkers, who are our major passing trade, we by and large get it right.

As Washy says, many, many places in the lakes differnenciate like this. Most residents lounges however are secreted away from the view of the public bar so that the jealousy thing doesn't cause these sorts of problems.

But I've said it so many times before, and I'll say it again, probably not for the last time; Our public bar still needs improvement. But you know, everything we've ever done to try and make it better, soon gets wrecked again, because we're so close to the great outdoors.

Adrian Tierney-Jones said...

Fires in the bar? Is it that cold in the Lakes already? Here on Exmoor we are starting to put in our orders for logs but it’s more dampness we have to contend with — I do remember a climbing trip that took in the Old Dungeon Ghyll Hotel years ago in the dawn of the world when Old Peculier was a legend. Big Ale drank six pints and fell into a barbed wire fence and lay there laughing. We mere whatever-was-on-that-night-in-the-bitter-spectrum mortals ran off screaming.

Woolpack Dave said...

Cold? We've even had to put the heating on.

Old Peculiar? must go over to the ODG for a pint of that. Must be at least 2 years since I had a pint. Hope they still have it on.