Friday 15 February 2013

Are CAMRA's Wetherspoons vouchers good for The Pub?

CAMRA like to champion the "Community Pub" I applaud that. When we ran The Woolpack Inn I was a little unsure about the term Community Pub, as ours served the Tourist Industry more than locals, but still, a minor point I feel. Even a pub that serves tourists is serving the tourist as a transitory local I guess.

Anyway, a problem I always had was the Wetherspoons voucher incentive is that the pub chain is as much, if not more of a problem for established pubs than supermarkets. If the reader thinks about it, there are only so many drinkers. Those drinkers only have so much money to spend on beer. Most Wetherspoons open in buildings that have never been pubs. One I know is a huge cavernous building that used to be part of a bus station garage. I reckon that every Wetherspoons that has opened has taken away the revenue from numerous smaller pubs.

Now, the commercial minded side of me says that competition is good. If the public want Wetherspoons over other forms of pub then that is fine. However, CAMRA on the one hand fights to keep pubs open but then instigates a commercial partnership that is contrary to that. If CAMRA want to support Wetherspoons then they just have to accept that other pubs will fall as casualties as a result.

Harry Berger bought The Woolpack off us. He and his wife are making a fine job of running it. They buy our beer and as far as I know have it on the bar most of the time. Harry phoned me up the other day, quite outraged really, because CAMRA had asked him to help recruit members, and display information1 about the Wetherspoons vouchers.

He isn't pleased. It's not that he doesn't want to help increase CAMRAs membership, and would happily display the information if it didn't contain the reference to a competitor. But to ask a favour of publicans with this lack of sensitivity seems slightly ill thought out and so I agree with him. I feel this is one of the many issues that irritates a lot of publicans when it comes to CAMRA.


1The information is in the form of a tent card which is designed to be displayed on the tables in the pub. I expect it was a waste of money on CAMRA's part as Harry probably isn't going to display them, and to be honest I wouldn't either.


Neville Grundy said...

He was outraged at merely being asked to do something - a bit of an overreaction, surely? I could understand "not pleased", and I hope he told them why he wouldn't display their cards. But outrage - surely that's a response we reserve for much worse things in life. No need to list them here.

I'm not a CAMRA member for JDW vouchers (I joined long before they existed) and I usually end up throwing most of them away. I'm not entirely happy about the inaccurate message they send out, i.e. that there may be a sweetheart deal between CAMRA and JDW. CAMRA's position is that it is prepared to accept similar offers from other pub companies, most of which are so large that they make JDW look like a minnow. So far, no other pubco has stepped forward with an offer. I'm sure that many licensees would be happy to implement a system of CAMRA discounts, as long as they weren't expected to fund it themselves, which would be unreasonable as JDW licensees don't have to. The main rule of the capitalist game is competition - match or improve upon what your competitors are doing - but then, pubcos make lousy capitalists.

Your suggestion that vouchers issued to 147,000 CAMRA members is seriously skewing the market in JDW's favour is unrealistic, seeing that 99.99877% of the population aren't CAMRA members.

Benjamin Nunn said...

would daves opinion be the same if azimuth was the spoons house beer?

Unknown said...

Well, Nev, he did post this on twitter just before calling me;

"@CAMRA_Official have a screw loose. A Join CAMRA ad to be pushed by pubs: the benefits? £20 to spend at a national pub-chain. Thick or what!"

And I can assure you he sounded fairly outraged to me. He might have been feigning it mind, to encourage me to blog about it.

But, the point still stands that Wetherspoons are damaging other pubs and CAMRA are cosying up to them. Would the vouchers do much harm? To some particular pubs I'd say yes. In particular the ones that appeal to those CAMRA members that also like Wetherspoons.

Anyway, Ben makes a good point, of course, if Wetherspoons were happy to buy Azimuth at a price I was happy to sell it at then of course I'd have a different view.

Not a likely scenario I'd suggest.

StringersBeer said...

This one's been going since the camraspoons deal started. David Mayhall (Allgates) did a piece about it all a while ago.

Cooking Lager said...

The economic error in your assessment is one of believing the market size is fixed. There are X number of punters and Y number of pubs competing for those punters. Take sides! That is really not the case. The number of punters is fluid depending on what is on offer. A new provider in the market, like a Spoons, can bring new customers to the market that are not existing customers of existing providers. It is either the pricing or the choice but the old couple having fish and chips in the afternoon would not be doing that in a more traditional pub in the Spoons were not there.

Also pubs in an area can complement each other in making that area an attraction. Among locals they may in competition for where to go on a wet Wednesday night, but as a collection of establishments they make for a night out worth getting a bus across town for.

Having said that if I ran I pub I would not be sticking adverts for Wetherspoons in my pub. I would be happy for other community events like the Am Dram society to stick a poster up without regard to the fact that everyone sitting through an excruciating performance is not sat in my pub. My pub would be part of the community. Somewhere to go and talk about how crap the show was. I can understand the reluctance of the new Woolpack proprietors. As for whether CAMRA ought to have a commercial relationship with Wetherspoons, well that depends on what you think CAMRA is. If you think it the traditional pub supporters (think football supporters) group then the answer is no. If you think it is a customer (rather than trades) union then the answer is yes. As for whether you think a pub needs to be “in with CAMRA” well that depends on the degree you think that would affect trade. I gather winning CAMRA awards improves trade if you are a pub that appeals to that demographic. A CAMRA award is good for Ye Olde Pongy Bitter Inn but of no use to Muffys Titty Go Go Bar. I think many pubs overestimate the importance of CAMRA, personally.

Yvan Seth said...

As a CAMRA member who joined and became an "active" member mainly because I cared about some of our local pubs I find the vouchers incredibly irritating. They're one of the reasons I question my involvement with CAMRA.

A while ago someone from HQ asked what people would like changed about CAMRA. I said the 'spoons vouchers must go. The response was that too many members would quit as a result. My response to this is that some members who actually DO STUFF like myself will bloody quit if they don't go.

Note I don't have anything much against Wetherspoons myself. They mostly tend to attract a different kind of clientèle than my sorts of pubs and there are even some very good 'spoons out there. In some cases they even bring decent cask ale to an area that otherwise doesn't have any pubs filling that role (most pubgoers and beer drinkers don't seem to give much of a shit about good cask ale in good condition). However, I don't think CAMRA should be seen to be promoting one pub brand over & above other options - especially not one that is so "supermarket"-like. I can't even begin to guess what the economic/market impact of the vouchers/promotion is... but I know from personal experience that they make a lot of pub landlords unhappy, resentful, and markedly anti-CAMRA. That's counter-productive and makes branch relationships with their local pubs more difficult.

(I have never used a Wetherspoons voucher, they go in the bin.)

Ed said...

Seems reasonable to me for a beer consumers organisation to get deals for cheaper beer for its members. Mind your I very rarely use the vouchers as I hardly ever got to 'Spoons nowadays.

I do make good use of the BMC discount a lot of climbing gear shops do though.

Neville Grundy said...

That's a fair response, Dave, though I would like it if we 00.00233% of the population (i.e. CAMRA members) did have the clout you suggest. Concerning your mate: if that's all he's got to be outraged about in life, he's a lucky man.

Phil said...

I've been drinking beer for 35 years, off and on, generally real ale when I could get it. I joined CAMRA two years ago, and I've been drinking a lot more beer since then. I appreciate it more, enjoy it more, seek it out more, drink more (often). 40 pints at Spoons over the course of a year is easily compensated for by the beer I wouldn't have been drinking in other places.

It is a tough one in terms of CAMRA's relationship with the free trade, and it has to be costing them some advertising opportunities - I'm sure Dave's mate's reaction isn't unusual. But I'd be amazed if it was having any economic effects to speak of (even at the Spoons end).

Yvan Seth said...

@Phil - it isn't just the free trade, is ALL non-Wetherspoons pubs who may see CAMRA's promotion of Wetherspoons in a negative light. There's a lot of grumbling about it, good cask ale publicans have trouble with Wetherspoons because they (especially the tied houses) simply have no chance in hell of competing on price. A good chunk of the price blame can be laid at the feet of the PubCos of course... but it is the poor landlord/lady who's stuck in the middle here and I think it is these people running our pubs who CAMRA should be championing, supporting, and trying to foster a healthy relationship with.

@Ed - I'm not sure the BMC can be compared and IIRC they don't mail me sheets of "50p off" at, say, Cotswold Outdoors. Sure some shops and chains choose to offer a BMC discount and this is sometimes advertised in BMC publications. That's fine, and Wetherspoons and other chains/pubs do the same thing. The sheets of vouchers are so direct and so prominent it looks like CAMRA is going out of its way to advertise/promote Wetherspoons.

On the pub-relationships side of things I'm not saying the reaction of publicans isn't over the top... in many cases it certainly is. But it is what it is and it does make life harder for CAMRA branches and active members IMO.

Rob Nicholson said...

This particular issue has come to motions at least once, maybe twice and keeps getting defeated. I personally don't like the relationship. CAMRA should be independent. The voucher scheme is an endorsement by CAMRA (heck we even deliver them via post) and for that reason is bad.

Sat In A Pub said...

I think Cookie has this one right. CAMRA is a “customer union” not a “trades union”. It is about promoting real ale-whoever sells it. The facts are quite clear: Wetherspoon, despite not being the largest, sells far more real ale than any other pubco. It would be churlish to end what is a very successful partnership just because of perceived bias.

As for disaffected landlords, well they existed before the Spoons vouchers. There was always grumbles that CAMRA wasn’t doing enough to promote their business because, apart from promoting a rather vague concept of The Pub, it is difficult to do on a national scale. The reason why no other pubco has come forward is because only Wetherspoon can guarantee cask in all their pubs. Which brings me back to promoting real ale.

Of course, many members prefer to drink in a “proper pub” and CAMRA takes a paternalistic interest in local and historic boozers. This will inevitably lead to seemingly strange bedfellows and contradictions, but it’s all about finding a balance.

As far as I can tell, most members are happy with the vouchers and those that aren’t don’t have to use them.

SLA said...

"It is about promoting real ale-whoever sells it"

I thought CAMRA also publicly espoused the aim of promoting the traditional community pub, something Wetherspoons clearly is not.

Did I read that wrong?

I don't understand how people can't see the quite obvious contradiction between claiming to be a consumer organisation seeking to save the traditional pub, and simultaneously openly promoting their main source of competition.

I wonder what the national independent grocers campaign would say to you if you suggested they started handing out Tesco's vouchers?

Cooking Lager said...

A national independent grocers campaign, as a supply side organisiation would clearly not hand out Tesco vouchers.

However a demand side consumer organisation for say “organic vegetables” may offer discount tokens on tesco organic vegetables with some members appreciating them, others saying it wrong to get in bed with tescos because we like small independent grocers, and those small independent grocers moaning about it because they think the “demand side consumer organisation” ought to be an uncritical supporter of what they are doing. Ce la Vie.

Cooking Lager said...

Oh and @Rednev

I'm not sure I agree or disagree. I think CAMRA has less clout than many think. However it must have some clout. It is a campaign and if it had no clout it would be a failure. It isn't so must have some clout. How much?

I gather many people read the free pub magazines it distributes and think the awards it gives to be a recommendation for that establishment. So it influences at least some customers. I gather some customers leave its beer festivals with a greater appreciation and knowledge of real ale and may want more of it subsequently, over what they previously enjoyed.

I think some landlords with a predisposition to be sympathetic to it's aims think it more important than it is. It is a small number of punters, a further small number of which might write something about you in a magazine that reaches more people than an average person telling his friends whether he likes your pub or not.

Depends how much clout you think it's got really.

SLA said...

I think its a mistake to think that just because so many pub goers and real ale drinkers aren't CAMRA members don't mean they don't listen to what CAMRA says on certain issues.

If CAMRA wishes to support the profilation of real ale above all else, then it should just drop its hypocritical "community pubs" campaign, because it obviously doesn't really believe in it, else it wouldn't be quite so obviously in bed with Tim Martin, the inventor of the anti-pub.

Either one thing or the other, please.

Tandleman said...


I think you should read what Tyson and Cookie say, rather than just repeating a load of tosh. Many more people drink in "community" pubs than in JDW. There is nothing illogical in supporting both.

Consumer choice.

SLA said...

Of course its illogical. The two models are in direct competition with each other. Its like supporting both sides at a football match.

I'm not saying Wetherspoons should be banned, obviously they have found a business model that works and good luck to them.

But the point is that IF you're an organisation who claims to wish to protect and promote community pubs, then equally supporting and promoting the ultimate corporate anti-pubs is completely contradictory with your stated aim.

It really is directly comparable to CAMRA handing out vouchers for pints of John Smiths Smooth.

We need to make up our minds - do we care about traditional community pubs or not? If not, fine, take down the posters and lets all go to Spoons for beer and a burger. But if we do, then we need to distance ourselves from also promoting their most direct form of competition.

Neville Grundy said...

Except, PYO, as I pointed out above, CAMRA is perfectly willing to give out offers from any pub company. It doesn't favour Spoons; it's just that all the other pubcos, which are much bigger than Spoons, are too tight to do the same. Just like they are too tight to stop ripping off their own tenants.

The fault lies with neither Spoons nor CAMRA.

Sat In A Pub said...


It's not illogical at all. Firstly, it's the Campaign for Real Ale, not the Campaign for community pubs. CAMRA treats all pubs equally. That is why there is the National Pub of the Year and why it is National Pubs Week. There is no 'anti-pub", only pubs. Although off course some licences will disagree but as I've already said, CAMRA is not a union for the licensed trade. So since Spoons are just another pub group promoting real ale and qualify for the GBG, it is not contradictory for us to issue vouchers to members.

SLA said...

"Firstly, it's the Campaign for Real Ale, not the Campaign for community pubs."

Are you actually being serious? You've honestly never heard of the CAMRA community pubs campaign? Never read any of the rhetoric? Never seen it mentioned anywhere, on posters, on the website, or in What's Brewing?

Nope? Nothing?

As Mudgie said, Wetherspoons business model is to be deliberately designed to be as different from a traditional English pub as possible.

Cooking Lager said...

Wetherspoons pubs are recognisable as pubs, albeit a corporate identikit version of one. I can understand why some like and others loath them, but they are not some sort of anti-pub. I thought the beards considered Tesco’s to be the anti-pub. Even if you have a favourite sort of pub, it makes no sense to consider other types of pub a direct threat as those other types serve different markets. Punters are not going to turn up in droves to your favourite style of pub because they are denied the choice of owt else.

Does anyone really think that for local back street boozers to survive war must be waged on all other places to have a drink? As far as I can see Wetherspoons sit in most town centres far away from community locals. Also the CAMRA favourite pubs tend not to be community locals anyway. They sit in town centres; offer 12 pumps of cask beer and the lager is the acceptable stuff of Paulaner, Augustiner & Vedett and none of that Fosters rubbish. Fleeces are more a stereotype than beards and sandals and by and large the beer is pretty decent and not too expensive. They lack dart boards, which is sad. If there is a community it is one of beer enthusiasts, not of any wider representative society.

SLA said...

Amusing description, but not the sort of community pubs I am talking about. I'm talking about the three pubs in my old town that were maybe a bit round the edges, didn't get into any CAMRA guides, but were a thriving part of the community, with pool teams, darts teams, cricket teams, football teams, folk musicians in the back room, student societies running pub quizzes, and the little old ladies turning up to watch Corrie every night on the tv with a half of lager and lime.

That is of course, until a huge Wetherspoons opened up next door, sold beer at prices they couldn't compete with, and all three were shut within a year.

I KNOW its market forces etc etc and Spoons are not the only villains in the piece, but that doesn't mean its not worth protesting against.

Rob Nicholson said...

>didn't get into any CAMRA guides

Ahh well at least the old boy is finally getting around to correctly that. With just the dead-tree format GBG, CAMRA was always doomed to just promoting the top 5% of pubs which does a disservice to the remaining 95%. With the impending launch of, this can be corrected and CAMRA can help promote every pub

Toby Westcott-White said...

Pubs in my area don't do enough for real ale. I don't drive so walking distance is my radius and one pub is actually committed to real ale and it's a Wetherspoons. The other pubs push lager rigorously while Spoons actually stock my local (and favourite) brewer. While at University my union has the Cask Marque, Spoons in my home town is the only one who has the local pint that I want most of the time.

Big Nige said...

I have 3 'village' pubs, that regularly serve real ale, easily within 5 minutes walk of my humble abode. And another 'chain' one that sells it too. I drink in all 4, a couple more than the others perhaps. And I drink in 'Spoons if I'm in the central 'town' parts of the area (about 7 in all I think). Happy to drink in any of them as long as they have a favourite or interesting beer on. So I probably would use some of the vouchers, but maybe not all. It wouldn't alter my trends shall I say :-)