Wednesday 19 June 2013

How much, is too much, for a pint of beer?

The title here is the opening question used by Mike Zeller of BBC Radio Cumbria this morning as he opened his piece on the question of prices in the centre of the Lake District compared to some town centre pubs. His point is that generally prices of beer in tourist locations are more than in city centres.

You can hear a recording of it here.

There does seem to be a confusion between towns and cities. And of course, sweeping generalisations abound.

It seems Radio Cumbria like to call me in to fill a few minutes. Never short of an opinion, and happy to get my brewery a free mention, it's a good exchange between me and the local radio station.

They always phone me up the afternoon before, give me a little gist of the subject, and I have a little think about what I might say.

This time I was determined to get across the point that buying beer in a pub is about a lot more than just buying beer. You are buying a service, renting a part of the pub for the time you are there. Possibly sharing your sorrows with the barman. Perhaps pushing your luck with the pretty young barmaid, who really doesn't need to be flirted with by some bloke who she'd not even tolerate outside her job.

We complain about pubs closing. Far too many are closing, it is claimed. And then, we complain about beer in pubs being too expensive.

Now, I understand about PubCo's. I understand about the smoking ban. I understand about beer duty. These are all undoubtedly influences on the pub's fate.

However, I'm pleased I managed to get in a key point at the end: if people don't value pubs enough to buy beer in them they will die, commercial fact.


Phil said...

How much is too much for a pint of beer? £4. End of.

(I have actually paid more than £4/pint, but only for halves & thirds - never for a pint.)

Stono said...

so if I go to a pub where I get treated as an inconveniance, as someone who the bar staff really dont want to know or serve, I should be able to ask for a discount, is that how it works ? and Im not being deliberately awkward on this as that exactly happened when I went to the City of Ale in Norwich recently

needless to say in this one pub it happened we drank up quickly and left, likely as not never to return, because we still got charged the same price as if theyd welcomed us with open arms and been really friendly. So would I feel guilty if that pub later closed because my custom or anyone else getting that treatment went elsewhere, well no actually their service offering was rotten, but they charged as much as a pub where the staff work really hard to be welcoming and friendly and those are pubs Im more likely to visit and happily pay "more" for beer in.

as I totally get the whole beer in pubs should be more expensive than supermarkets thing because you are buying more than just something stacked on a shelf in a glorified warehouse, and I actually think the majority of people also get that distinction, we buy cheap food from supermarkets, most people dont have an issue paying more for similar food in restaurants or even tipping (paying extra) for better service, they understand the difference and yet restaurants also close for very similar reasons to pubs through competition, lack of custom, cost and service.

where I start to have an issue with the price point of a pint of beer and it isnt actually based solely on a I wont pay more than this value, Ill walk out of a pub charging supermarket prices if the service is rotten, because its about what am I getting for the money Im paying, and I wont buy into the idea that a pub deserves to stay open just because its a pub where I get bad service (as described above or worse) or they are overcharging on what they offer. Sorry if you are charging £4 a pint, actually I do expected to be treated better than standing at the end of the conveyor belt having £1 cans of beer rapidly chucked at me.

and I think the key point is really if pubs dont value the people they serve then they will die, and not enough pubs understand that yet.

Tandleman said...

"I think the key point is really if pubs dont value the people they serve then they will die, and not enough pubs understand that yet."

Here Stono. Who said you could bang my drum? Spot on!

Curmudgeon said...

Yes, it cuts the other way too - pubs need to provide something in terms of welcome, atmosphere, quality of service etc that will make customers think it is worth paying a premium to drink there.

And it's by no means always or even usually the best pubs that charge the highest prices.

Unknown said...

Whenever I make this point I'm always aware that there are cases where service is indeed below par. Sometimes this is because the pub has tried to cheapen itself so as to compete on price, and sometimes it really is just because the pub is rubbish.

However, I think the vast majority of pub operators work very, very hard indeed to make their pub work. Contrary to the opinion put forward by some, most pubs are not ripping off the customer.

I firmly believe we should be shouting about how great pubs are, how fantastic it is to enjoy beer in such wonderful environments.

Sure, there will be a few that don't come up to scratch, and I agree, we shouldn't fight to keep them open.

Curmudgeon said...

Like anything else, the spectrum of pubs covers good, bad and indifferent. I wouldn't say more than about 5% could in any meaningful sense be described as "great" or "fantastic".

Unknown said...

Well Mudgie, that's your MO isn't it? You possibly wouldn't be happy unless you were being a Curmudgeon about pubs. Sorry you feel that way and would prefer to tell the whole world how awful pubs are and the general public would be better staying away.

I don't agree with you, not on the whole. I think far more than 5% are great or fantastic, in their own special way.

SLA said...

Its up to pubs to attract punters, not punters to prop up pubs under some kind of misplaced sense of duty.

How much should a pint of beer cost is a meaningless question. It will cost as least as much as it costs to make and no more than people are willing to pay for it. If there is a gap between those two numbers then congratulations, you're a successful brewer and have discovered the key to running a business.

Cooking Lager said...

How much is too much? It kind of depends on a few things. I've visited places where a beer is expensive and put up with it thinking it would be a shame not to enjoy my time in that city. Seems a shame to go to the trouble of flying somewhere and refusing to enjoy the place because a beer is a couple of Euros more than I think acceptable. It's not an everyday transaction for me to buy a beer in foreign parts, it's a bit of an adventure.

But day to day if the pubs continue to get more expensive around my own neck of the woods I use them less. I'm not made of money. I think most places are too expensive. Not sure if there is a price where I would stop, but certainly a £2ish spoons pint doesn't feel like a rip off. A £3 regular pint feels like someone is taking the piss, even though it is now normal and I put up with it. At £4 or £5 I would think about it.

I think pub prices have increased beyond general prices for years and whilst some think pubs are great and worth it, for most people daily visits become weekly, weekly becomes monthly etc.

Curmudgeon said...

"You possibly wouldn't be happy unless you were being a Curmudgeon about pubs."

Actually over the years I'd say I've made a point of seeing merit in even very flawed pubs - see, for example, this post. The quirks and idiosyncracies of pubs add to their appeal.

Pubs as a whole are a wonderful institution. But it doesn't reflect people's real-world experience to go about saying, in the manner of the Fast Show character, "in't pubs BRILLIANT!"

Unknown said...

py0, I totally agree that it is up to pubs to attract custom. Equally, if there a pubs you don't like, why not just not bother going into them.

Perhaps this is why Mudgie and I disagree on that point. These days, generally, I ignore the places I don't like.

But Cookie makes a good point, that explains both why pubs in mainly residential areas are failing and those in city centres and tourist locations are doing a little better.

People don't go out much on a school night. When they go away, or are on a day trip, or whatever, they splash out a little as it's a little treat.

Cooking Lager said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cooking Lager said...

I agree with Pyo, appealing to people to go to the pub to save them will have little effect. People will either go or not depending on the utility and value they place on them, their disposable income, the price, the price relative to other leisure activities they also like.

I'd like post offices to stay open. I don't buy more stamps to try and save them, I use them when I need to. In fact when paying road tax went online I did that rather than queue up at a post office.

A further issue is total cost of a night out, rather than a pint. From taxi fares to a glass of what the missus drinks add up to an overall cost. Static wages and rising prices make for choices for a lot of people to do things they may like to do and may like to do more of to actually do them less frequently.

By all means remind people how great a night down the pub is, it's part of the equation.

Neville Grundy said...

A bit of a strange post, in that it poses the question, "How much is too much to pay for beer?" but ends with an answer along the lines of: "With pubs, use them or lose them."

It still subjectively feels wrong to me to have to pay £3 a pint, but it's no good saying, "Don't pay it then", because going to pubs constitutes a significant part of my social life.

As I've pointed out on my own blog, if inflation had been the sole influence on beer prices since 1972, a pint of standard bitter here in the North West would be around £1.60. We can thank beer duty and pubco greed for having to pay nearly double that. With most people's wages falling well behind inflation, you can't just dismiss those factors and say, "Use them or lose them", when a lot of people are increasingly struggling to pay for essentials. For many such people, not going to pubs is not an unfettered choice, it's an economic necessity.

Unknown said...

Nev, I'll admit, I used the radio presenters words as a useful hook to get people to read the post.

How much is too much? Is £3 a pint too much?

I think to some extent it's a matter of personal opinion. In some pubs, as other commentators above have indicated, yes it is too much. If you believe that it should be £1.60 a pint then clearly any more is too much.

I know how much it costs to run a pub. I'd agree there are many costs that I feel shouldn't be imposed on pubs.

However, we are where we are. I feel that £3 a pint for a regular 4%ish beer is about right for a well run ordinary pub. There will be variables around this which might be effected by locale, which causes increased property costs either in the bricks and mortar itself, or increased business rates, insurance, or perhaps local authority licensing conditions perhaps.

A pub that has higher costs, a more seasonal trade or is offering something extra special then I'd certainly consider paying more.

Neville Grundy said...

"If you believe that it should be £1.60 a pint then clearly any more is too much."

Oh dear, Dave - that's not what I said at all. I was demonstrating that nearly half of the current price of beer (compared to 1972) cannot be attributed to inflation. And you're still ignoring the economic realities facing increasing numbers of beer drinkers, including some of your customers. It's not what you're prepared to pay that counts; it's what many of the people who might like to buy your products are able to pay.

Unknown said...

Sorry Nev, I actually wasn't trying to be a rude to you as perhaps you think I was. I know you realise that the price rise isn't just inflation. However, I'm simply acknowledging that everyone's concept of value is different. And indeed, I completely understand that many people can't afford to pay the price regularly, even if they wanted to.

Although from that point of view there are pubs that serve beer at reduced prices, like the 'Spoons of this world.

Benjamin Nunn said...

All depends on the beer.

I'm happy to pay, say, £7-8, possibly more for a pint of perfectly conditioned cask beer that is:
a) a tick for me
b) rare / one-off
c) deeply enjoyable
d) high in strength

I resent paying £3 for a pint of indifferent Doom Bar, and I'll never pay inflated prices for keg because I don't think it's worth it and it'll only encourage them.

(I think the most I've ever paid for a pint is £13 at The Rake for a Sierra Nevada beer)