Wednesday 9 September 2009

Group Think

I didn't start this blog to promote my pub. I have The Woolpack Blog for that. Not that I put much on there these days, it seems a little pointless. To cut a long story very short, The Woolpack Blog was started first and then I found myself trying to write about issues that are more generic. I felt the need to write about running a pub, pub culture and drinking culture. I wanted to write about some of the frustrations I felt when I found established culture prevented me from trying new ideas.

The last few posts have seen me writing about my philosophy here, which I admit is a bit left field, but it's the way I feel it works best in my place, and more importantly works well for me and my family. I know it's not going to work in many other pubs, they must find their own innovative solutions. All of this brings me back to thinking about pub culture and the way it seems to be.

Cooking Lager, in his own drinking culture challenging blog, talks about group think. His mention of the concept struck a chord with me; I learnt about it in a course I studies several years ago and when you look out for it you see it all over the place. Very simply, it is is where a group of people all say that one idea, method or answer, for example, is the best. Because they all agree that this is the way it should be, they fail to find a better answer to whatever problem it is they are trying to solve. The group may miss some difficult but significantly superior solution, or even dismiss it out of hand.

There are some fixed ideas about what a pub should be and what it should provide. But why is it wrong for a pub to decide to try and break the mould of pub culture1? I think the whole of the pub industry is stuck in a kind of rut, trying it's best to keep the general masses happy, but not producing anything new or innovative.

I have long held the concept that the pub industry is partly being killed by the view of the sceptical vocal few who say a pub should do a check list of none negotiable things. I believe that there is going to be some changes where a few radical pubs will do some very different things. Many will fail but some will grow stronger and develop a new style of pub. Either that or we will end up with trendy bars and snobby restaurants being the key force in the food and drink sector and the pub left as a hollow shell, leaving drive through takeaway emporiums and the supermarkets to mop up the rest.

The future is bright, lets rejoice and recognise innovation in pubs, rather than trying to tie them to some sort of fixed bargain basement formula.


1Sorry, that pun made itself up.


Curmudgeon said...

Actually, I think recent years have seen a huge amount of innovation in the pub industry. We have Wetherspoon's, we have gastro-pubs, we have multi-beer tickers' paradises, we have new family dining formats, we have new urban bars in former shops, some of which even feature interesting foreign beers, although not real ale, heavily. I don't see naysayers as in practice holding anyone back. But, of course, this leads to the pub market becoming much more fragmented, and fewer and fewer pubs conform to a conventional stereotype of what a pub should be.

Rob Sterowski said...

I often find myself thinking that my city could surely support more than the two brewpubs it has. But then I go there and see people drinking Tennent's and Desperados.

Most businesses of any kind chase the market they believe is there rather than trying to do something new.

There are trendy new bars, but the desire to open a trendy new bar doesn't necessarily correspond with a desire to serve good beer. Beer is still unfashionable; their efforts go into getting decent wine and employing bar staff who can mix 50 different cocktails. None of these are bad things, but nine times out of ten when you go to such a place the most interesting thing on offer beer-wise will be a bottle of Leffe, if you're lucky.

I don't go to such places much, but it's down to the beer, not because I insist on drinking somewhere with varnished wood and horse brasses.

On the whole, however, I think things are changing in a positive way, if more slowly than I would like. Anecdotal evidence from my acquaintances suggests more and more people are discovering good beer. Trouble is it hasn't reached a critical mass yet. When it does, we will see a blossoming of new-school pubs.

Tandleman said...

I agree with both of these comments. Curmudgeon is right that since, say, the early eighties, pubs have changed. Not always for the better, not in every case, but changed, evolved and innovated nonetheless. All pubs need to find out what is right for them, or they are for the chop. Sadly many are stuck in a trough of hopelessness.

Barm is right too, but take Glasgow, which I know a bit about, you have the option when running a brewpub there to supply mainstream products, or you just supply what you brew and make your overall offering such that people will go there anyway. I know which I'd do. In the case of the German brewpub, whose name escapes me, I'd make the bloody beer better for a start. No wonder they want Tennents in there.

Critical mass for good beer is some way away, but I agree there are encouraging signs.

Alistair Reece said...

Isn't the German place in Glasgow called West? Next time I get back over to the UK (if it still exists of course by that point - different conversation altogether though) it is on list of places to visit. All I need to do now is save enough money to take the 6 weeks pottering around the country and showing Mrs Velkyal what a fantastic bunch of islands the UK is, naturally finding pubs/brewpubs and the like from north of Alness to Kent.

Sat In A Pub said...

My Vulcan logic forces me to point out that, presumably, the thinking behind keeping the masses happy is that, that is where the money lies.

Tandleman said...

Then why bother brewing your own Mr Spock?

Unknown said...

Tyson, yes indeed, mass production has always worked on that principle. Many pubs need to hold onto that principle.

But there is also the need for specalisation. There are many companies out there that play to a niche market and succeed very well. I personally think that pubs are individual and need to think that way if it suites their business.

Tandleman, I think I just answered your question.

My problem is not the differentiation, but the objection to it that occurs.

Tandleman said...

You didn't Dave. My question was "why brew your own and undermine it by selling mass produced stuff in competition?" and was a response to the "logic" of Tyson.

Curmudgeon said...

"the pub industry is partly being killed by the view of the sceptical vocal few who say a pub should do a check list of none negotiable things"

Can you actually provide an example of anyone saying that?

I have no problem with innovation in the pub trade, but equally I'm fully entitled to slag off pubs I don't like, which often seem to be those that have tried to be "innovative".

There was a huge wave of innovation about 25 years ago when it was considered modern and forward-looking to rename the "Red Lion" as "Wankers" or some such stupid name with an S on the end, rip out the real ale, and fill it with chrome, mirrors and red upholstery. Unfortunately, it proved a total failure...

Unknown said...


All the time. "Soup, you should do soup, you're a pub and a pub should always have soup on the menu"

Ketchup, sandwiches, post-mix, jukebox, pool table, dart board, skinny chips, mix and match menu, gammon and egg, shandy, cordial and water and all manner of different things.

I sometimes have people being quite aggressive about the subject. It does get very distressing for us when we believe in what we do and fight hard to make it work. The important thing is we are building a customer base that appreciates what we do, we have to be determined to stick with our formula if there is any chance of it working. We do what we do and other pubs do what they do.

I think innovation can end up with failure, this is true. I think I would disagree that it is always the case and I can think of several pubs in Cumbria that come in for heavy criticism but in fact you only need to inspect the business to find they do very well indeed.

The thing is, the old fashioned model of the pub is failing, otherwise there wouldn't be so many closing and this is partly caused by other styles of hospitality reaping the benefits, for example restaurants. It seems that this IS what people want.

I will agree that removing real ale is a mistake in most cases, but not always.

It's tempting to pigeon hole you into the backward looking category, but interestingly I agree with at least 50% of what you write on your blog. Of course you are entitled to your view, although sometimes this can be difficult to take when you live and breath a job like we do.

Curmudgeon said...

Dave, I think you're slightly confusing people's reactions to your pub with general trends in the market. I don't see overall that a stereotypical view of what pubs should offer is harming the pub market.

People do, however, value the "public" element in the concept of a public house, and there is a broad expectation of certain basic things a pub will offer, which doesn't apply to restaurants, which can get away with being much more idiosyncratic.

Maybe you should consider rebranding your establishment as a "restaurant with rooms and bar" which might change people's expectations of it.

I make no apology for there being a nostalgic element to my blog - but I accept that changing consumer tastes will result in changes in the pub and bar market and it is naive to imagine that government action can stem the tide of history.

Unknown said...

'Maybe you should consider rebranding your establishment as a "restaurant with rooms and bar" ' - which would result in one less pub.

quod erat demonstrandum

Stonch said...

Brilliant bits in that post.

Stonch said...

Curmudgeon is clearly one of the vocal minority you describe, Dave. He's highlighted exactly what you've said. However, he's also right to say he's entitled to slag off places he doesn't like. The places he does like are going out business, though.

Curmudgeon said...

Jeffrey, if you read my blog and comments you will realise that I have always believed in the law of the market - that if you don't attract customers your establishment will close.

It may be sad that some pubs close, and it certainly is sad that pubgoing plays a much smaller role in national life than it did thirty years ago, but it's a fact of life. I have never suggested that pubs should in some way be featherbedded by the government.

Having said that, around here the pubs that seem to be thriving are those that combine a respect for tradition with an eye on current market trends, not those that have gone hell-for-leather for modernity for its own sake.