Wednesday 31 December 2008

Chain pubs aren't all bad

I'm back in the UK and feeling very little the effects of timezone travel. Getting back home was greeted with some bad news, I found out that a pub that was part of my formative drinking experience is about to fall into the hands of a big brewery. Not only that the brewery is one of the worst around for the quality of ale. I can't blame the outgoing owner though, he deserves to get the best price he can for his assets. The independent property market is not fairing well so anyone's best bet is to sell out to larger companies. I just hope nobody is stupid enough to take on the lease.

While in Oregon I was introduced to a chain of pubs that seemed to really work. They all served their own beer and each have an individuality and friendliness that our own UK industry could learn from. If the reader knows a little about US liquor laws then they might question how a chain of pubs can serve their own beer. It would seem that at least every other pub in the chain is a brew pub. This enables them to comply with the liquor laws.

The pubs are McMenamins and across Oregon and Washington they have 24 Breweries and 57 Pubs. We were only introduced to two but they were both nice and individual. Edgefield is actually a large leisure complex and would be plastic and tacky if it were in the UK. As a large venue of a large organisation the care and individuality of the decor and conviviality of the staff was amazing. Mind you, not for the first nor last time, my English accent was a noticeable asset for the female staff, if only I were young, single and handsome again.

High Street Brewery and Cafe has significant individuality. All the properties have hand painted wall decor. The service again was superb. Perhaps the tipping culture here helps. This makes for interesting economics. Leaving food aside, which frankly does not deserve a high price tag, the beer is typically $3.50 upwards a pint (16oz) for quality beer. At current exchange rates this is starting at around £3.20 for a 20oz British pint. You are expected to tip at least 10% on top of this. 15-20% is common for a large group. This is effectively retailing the beer at around £4 per pint and sometimes more. But boy do you get good service.

No snow? yeh, I pinched this picture off their web site and all the others on this post.


Jeff Pickthall said...

It will be interesting to watch what effect the slump in the housing market will have on the pub trade.

High property prices have had developers rubbing their hands with glee at pubs coming on the market, and this is one of the factors killing our pubs.

If the economy is clipping the wings of developers, will we see fewer pubs turning into flats and houses? Let's wait and see.

(BTW, Dave, watch your apostrophes - you're a member of the Guild of Beer Writers now, not the Guild of Greengrocers!)

The Woolpack Inn said...

Yes, you're right about the apostrophes, a weakness of mine I'll have to work on.

I hope you're just as right on developers.

Erlangernick said...

Heh may have just opened a big can o' worms by praising the service (let alone the beer!) at McM's! People I know love to hate & trash the McMempire. I, for one, miss McM's; a uniquely Oregonian (cum Washingtonian) experience.

But tipping only 10%--that you can get away with this is another asset of your accent, I bet! A native would be asked if anything was wrong if he tipped less than 15% these days.

I personally like the English approach to pub service: I only have to rely on myself to get more beer, and I like going to the bar to do it. The Lucky Lab is beautifully English in this regard, I think.

In the same way, I prefer Krautish Biergärten without service to those that have them.

It took us a while to adapt to non-American gastro trade service practices. That is, to realise that the world really doesn't revolve around our every whim, and that maybe we don't have to be quite so rushed.