Thursday, 8 October 2009

Nothing to do with beer or pubs

I needed a break. It's been a good year we think. Slightly above average and with a sudden flurry of trade during September. Careful staffing levels has reduced overheads and perhaps we might stave off what we thought would be a very lean winter indeed. However, the effort required from us has taken it's toll on our well being. We really are shattered and a day out, properly, without any pub related business whatsoever, was desperately needed. I suspect I've been getting to the point of psychological illness as a result of the stresses of trying to get the business and the cracks have definitely been showing. Just to top it all there are still some people out there that think the pub industry can fix itself easily. Well guys, why don't you just have a go? otherwise, shut up.

It's October now and trade has dropped off to a level that doesn't pay a barman's wages. Despite that we decided to get our dependable barman Alan in yesterday. He's great, sure sometimes his customer care sucks, but he's a loyal employee and extremely honest and gets on with the job of looking after my cellar with only minor interference from me. With the level of trade we knew that almost nothing could go wrong, so we ran away for the day.

I had heard about a place called the Chill Factor and had also seen it from the motorway, "have to go there" I had mentally noted. It's close to the Trafford centre near Manchester, which I'd never been to either, so if all else fails a bit of numpty consumerism would take my mind off things as there would sure to be some gadget shops and junk food.

The Chill Factor consists of a great big frezer with a ski slope inside, an over simplification but not inaccurate. Real snow and all that. Before we bought our pub I used to do loads of outdoor activities. If I'd note one thing I hate about what I do now more than anything it'd be the lack of ability to get out there and do some walking, climbing or better still, skiing. Chill Factor is a solution, for a couple of hours at least.

I love snow, I'd eat it for breakfast, lunch and tea, providing it's not yellow. Real snow in Manchester I had to see. So, arriving at just gone 3pm we were still in time for an off peak session of 2 hours.

"Shit, these boots are crap" I thought to myself after the first run "Can't get the tension right at all, I wish I'd brought my own" My toes got cramp as I overtightened the straps and my ankles still flopped around, rather than cramping my legs tight, my style seemed to take their place. 30 minutes in and my legs hurt, I am worrying about going too fast, wiping out and damaging my knee that is arthritic from the skiing accident I had nearly 3 years ago. Then it dawned on me a further half an hour later, for the first time in 9 months I had spent an hour not thinking about the pub, the business, worrying about if the staff were doing their jobs right or any other worries about our place.

The rest of the day was great. I got my boots bedded in and I was really feeling like I was skiing the best I have since I tore the top off my tibia back in early 2007. Although the two hours was probably enough - the music was obviously tuned for the key demographic and consisted of terrible sampled modern stuff. God I'm getting old. I'd think it was loud, except if it had been Dire Straits, Pink Floyd or Genesis1 I'd have probably asked for the volume to be turned up. But I thoroughly enjoyed that two hours, the most enjoyable I've had this year, well almost, but I'm not telling you about the others.

After that we visited the Trafford Centre. Despite taking the Good Beer Guide we decided to eat in a nice "Latin Restaurant", spending no doubt more than we would have done on a pie and a pint of real ale, but it was great. We did do a little bit of usual hospitality ideas searching, but it made me wonder; we spend our time out looking at what we can learn from the places we go to. We often choose places that are a little more expensive because we know that is where the quality is. It seems 94% of the population look for the cheap option and then find it didn't match their expectations. Silly fools I'd say.

Most of all the day made me realise how hard we work and for how little reward. How much it impacts on our normal lives and how little people appreciate that. It makes me realise that most publicans are probably in the same boat, worrying about how they can get through to staff exactly what they want them to do, how to make the customer happy and how to deliver the service that is required at the price that people expect to pay. It makes me quite upset to think that while we look for the good ideas from the places we visit, most people seem to spend their time looking for the worst and criticising.

At the end of the day pubs provide a service at a price. I think most do it too cheap and the level of service they provide shows. Cutting back on staffing costs are bound to also impact on customer service for instance. I think we get it right most of the time at our place, but in order to do that we have to work extremely hard to do so. We also get it wrong sometimes and it upsets me when we do.

Most of all what I can't understand is why there are sweeping generalisations about the pub industry. It's easy to fix, it is stated. If that is so, in the free market we have, then why are there not entrepreneurs making great gains providing what people want? The reason is because the prime thing people want is a cheap pint. The level of service is then determined by that price level.


1 Gabriel years, since you ask.


Anonymous said...

Don't get me wrong... I love my cask ale, but at £2.60 a pint plus tip (20p) and with Sainsbury's offering 3 bottles of Concha Y Toro del Diablo for just £10 the pub is an expensive place to be.


ps. Homebrew is another answer.

Crown Brewery said...

sounds like a nice day out dave, see you monday.

Cooking Lager said...

Chin up Woolly, don't let 'em grind you down.

BeerReviewsAndy said...

souds like a good day out that! we went past chill factor on our way to the airport hotel, i really wanna go there.

Sat In A Pub said...

Chill Factor is fun but the only good thing about the Trafford Centre is the Wetherspoons next to Chill Factor.

Anonymous said...

You actually pay Alan? I thought he was part of furnishings and fittings.


Velky Al said...

Sounds like you had a grand day out Dave. Hopefully you didn't wear the wrong trousers to go with the boots!

Seriously though, I sometimes wonder if us beer geeks forget that there is more to life than cask breathers, the evils of nitrogen and where the best place is to get a pint. Recently I have started to feel guilty planning trips around the various breweries and brewpubs a place has to offer and dragging the ever patient Mrs V around to various watering holes.

Having said that, she is making cider this afternoon, planning our next batch of dandelion wine and would dearly love to own a still to make her own moonshine - like a good Southern girl!

Whorst said...

I just get pished on quality and rarely find a need to write about it. I can understand a business man who's in the trade using blogging as a way to help business. But those who are not in business, should turn to tasteful nudes, or just hang it the &^%$ up. There's only so much insight and knowledge one can put on display, and I've cornered the market, which is too getting old.

Tandleman said...

Yep. You need a break Dave.You are one of the good guys doing right things.

If you worry about getting it wrong, well there isn't much hope.

Unknown said...

Tandleman, I think you are absolutely right, a proper break is needed, then perhaps I can return to my usual open minded status. Although I've been doing some major maintenance work today involving a big hammer. That made me feel better.

Ben, yes there's always going to be a difference between the supermarkets and pubs. Of course a pub serves the beer in a glass, provides an environment in which to drink your beer, this is something that supermarkets don't do.

Cookie, you give me faith, even lout drinkers have a soul it seems.

Tyson, I enjoyed the Trafford Center, but then living where I do even this confirmed country bumpkin needs a tacky consumerist fix once in a while.

Al, I wore my trusty salopettes, not trendy these days but they keep out the cold. Yes I think I've been getting a bit wrapped up in things lately, it's nice to free up from the pressure a little.

Wurst, I shall have to confess to enjoying last week tasteful nude.....

Jukka I said...

Keep it up. Never been to your pub but I'm hoping to visit next summer.

I'm no expert in the pub trade, but you seem to have the right attitude. I guess it's about finding a balance. You don't have to - and cannot - please everybody.