Tuesday, 7 June 2016

What's the Point?


I'm quite a fan of JD Wetherspoon though I'll readily admit its many faults, but on the whole, I quite like what they do.  People do call it a vast monolith that sucks the life out of other pubs, but I for one never forget that not so many years ago, there wasn't a single one. They have been built by one man and who can grudge such business flair that consistently gives a lot of people what they want? Not me.

Now back to these faults which can manifest themselves differently in different places. I'm not expert on the JDW pubs in Scotland outside the centres of Glasgow and Edinburgh,  but like their pubs in England, they vary and usually vary down to the competence or otherwise of the manager. As in all businesses, good managers bring flair, direction, purpose and enthusiasm. Take these away and you have a bad pub. Recently I was visiting my old mother in my home town of Dumbarton. Now Dumbarton isn't a wealthy town. The Wetherspoons there,theCaptain James Lang, only opened just over three years ago and it has added a lot to the town. Mothers and old ladies love it for coffee in the mornings. Old soaks like the prices, though I don't detect the same hard cadre of  9 a.m. John Smith's drinkers we get here in Middleton. It sells cask ale for the first time in Dumbarton since I left over 30 years ago and here's the point. No bugger drinks it.  I have tried when I visit and every time I have ordered a pint, I'm assailed by vinegar and the beer is "taken off". I'm offered a replacement with the same results.  Frankly if you don't drink Tennents Lager, get out of town  I shudder to think of the wastage rates.

On the following night I took the family for something to eat - no, not at the Captain James Lang despite the fact that there is less choice to eat in Dumbarton than you'd get in a Welsh Chip Shop - but to a carvery run by Crown Carveries, a subsidiary of Mitchells and Butlers.  The venue displays a Cask Marque sign outside, so all will be well? No, it won't. This time I asked for a taster. The Deuchars IPA was vinegar. The barmaid offered to pour some off as no-one had had any for "a few days". I declined and looking at the pumps, ordered a Heineken. No dice - "that's just for show".  So, a pint of Tennents was ordered.  The chatty barmaid explained that only Tennents and Guinness sell and that they have told M&B repeatedly that no-one drinks real ale, or Coors, or Heineken, but it seems it is a standard offer, so no changes. The barmaid said disparagingly "They are English - they don't get here. Just wasting their money."

The Pub Curmudgeon recently wrote about this subject here. I agree. What is the point of selling real ale where clearly there is no demand? There is none.  You have to grow a cask market and you won't do it by selling them vinegar and cask, in what is already stony ground for it, will get an even worse reputation. A downward circle of death.  That is not to say that you can't do something - you can - but you need to start off slowly, have offers and tastings, educate and encourage. If you don't do that you are lost.  Maybe M&B and Timbo should take a good look at their Scottish outlets. The market is different there and they should cut their cloth accordingly. 

As always, "It's the offer Stupid."


Why didn't I eat with the family in JDW?  Because I had an atrocious meal there when I had the duff beer. No prizes for saying which eggs were cooked by my 84 year old mother and which by JDW.
 
And no, I'm not saying either company should give up on real ale in Scotland, but apply a bit more individual thought and intelligence according to location. 

The carvery was really rather good and great value.

26 comments:

retiredmartin.com said...

Spot on.

The two Spoons in "Little Scotland" - Corby, have similar problems. The Deuchars I had there from a tiny range was corking though.

When Spoons opened in Northern Ireland in the late 90s I had a similar experience in Ballymena. Even got the actual "it's real ale, it's supposed to taste like that" from a lad who wouldn't taste it himself. It wasn't great 10 years later. Be interested to see what it's like when I visit again next month.

Cooking Lager said...

Why would anyone want anything but Tennents? Decent lout the Jocks should be proud of. I'd neck it if it where more available in England but unfortunately all we get down here is "real ale"

The Beer Nut said...

Strange. I don't know if cask is selling any better at my two local JDWs in Dublin -- from looking around the bars and beer gardens I suspect it isn't. But it's always in great condition: properly cool and fresh tasting. I've had poor beers, but they all left the brewery like that.

Tandleman said...

BN: It must be turning over. No other expalnation.

john lamb said...

I do not believe that Dublin is a fair comparison as it is a large capital city with a more diverse population a comparable Irish town would be Sligo where I suspect cask conditioned beer sales would struggle

The Beer Nut said...

Fair point, John. I guess you'd have to ask at The Swagman or any of the other cask beer selling pubs in Sligo.

Velky Al said...

When I was home a couple of years back I was surprised at how readily available real ale was in the Inverness area. Even out on Skye I was surprised to see it, I wonder though how much of that was that it just wasn't on my radar as much before leaving for eastern climes?

I've not been to a Spoons outside of Glasgow in a very long time, but will be popping into a few in a couple of weeks, partly to see what how the Devils Backbone IPA stacks up. Hopefully this is a more localised issue.

RedNev said...

No-one drinks real ale, or Coors, or Heineken, but it seems it is a standard offer, so no changes.

If as a result the pub begins to struggle, they'll say it isn't viable and close it down, when in reality the blame lies with stupid business practices such as these.

DaveS said...

Al - I'd guess that the tourist / hillwalker market has a big impact on the availability of real ale in the Highlands and Islands. There are definitely some good pubs and breweries up there! Relating to the original post, we were impressed when we went to the Clachaig in Glencoe in November a few years back and they apologized for only having three ales rather than the usual eight, but "it's off-season so we don't get the turnover to keep them well".

Dumbarton is probably a bit less of a tourist draw, though...

Curmudgeon said...

I'd say this approach is actively damaging to real ale, as punters will come to associate it with being wildly variable and often disgusting.

Cooking Lager said...

which by all accounts, it is.

py said...

Is it really what people want though? That's a very naïve view of human psychology.

I'm sure when asked to describe their ideal pub, not many people describe a huge barn with sticky tables, long queues at the bar, subtitled sky sports news, cocktails in fishbowls and microwaved food, and yet we settle for it because its familiar and we are faced with an ever diminishing choice of options.

Cooking Lager said...

I settle for it 'cos it's cheap, I'm cheap & the beards send me tokens.

Otherwise I'd go somewhere proper posh, with champagne cocktails, that wouldn't let you lot in.

Tandleman said...

I've seen you Cookie. If I'm not in, you aren't!

Stono said...

ah but its easy to pick the 'spoons, because the plates (you can tell from the pattern) are identical in near every pub theyve got, once youve spotted it, you cant unspot it :)

so the problem is they dont sell the beer, but what are they doing to promote it to try and sell it, it wont just sell itself by sitting on the bar, we moan alot in CAMRA that the difference between good cask pubs and not so good ones, is often the good ones have staff who are enthusiastic, knowledgable and actually do as much to sell the beer as the product itself,, have you ever walked in a Wetherspoons during a beer festival and been offered the 3 1/3rds for a pint as a way to sample which beers, ever tried the I fancy a golden beer can you recommend one. No because even with good managers and I agree they do make a world of difference, the staff generally dont see their job as one to promote the beer, its just to pour the stuff and push buttons on a till, and so the staff have decided in that particular 'spoons or the M&B clone the cask ale doesnt sell, so they dont bother with it.

fwiw Id also say Cask Marque in a pubco chain pub, like an M&B, GK, its not always a guarantee the beer will be on form, its the classic check what other people are drinking in the pub first, and it will give you an idea.

Curmudgeon said...

Someone on Twitter - Oblivious, I think - reported that cask was selling well in the Dublin area Spoons

Curmudgeon said...

@Stono - if there isn't the potential demand, all the promotion in the world isn't going to shift cask beer.

And most products on the bar seem to sell OK without any need for constant flogging. I've never seen any OBB posters or offers in Sam Smith's pubs, but on the other hand I struggle to remember when I last had a returnable pint.

Curmudgeon said...

@py - people can only choose from the options available to them, of course. And somewhere that offers a wide choice of good-value food and drink in an environment welcoming to all comers has a lot going for it.

We all have a vision of our ideal pub, but how many others would share it? I can't honestly see mine enjoying much commercial success. (It would be illegal anyway)

Cooking Lager said...

illegal? eh? is that because of the dogging in the car park, the drugs taken in the toilets or the guy walking around flogging knock off gear?

py said...

I think a lot of people would share a roughly similar view of a good pub, its probably a lot like that Greene King advert from a few years ago.

The problem is that there is an information asymmetry problem: good pubs and shit pubs look very similar from the outside and some people are very risk averse. At least with wetherspoons, you know exactly what you're going to get.

Its a bit like going to McDonalds rather than taking a chance eating in that new restaurant that might be fantastic, or it might be terrible and expensive.

Curmudgeon said...

People *say* they like olde-worlde pubs with a mixed clientele, but in practice they tend to choose stripped-pine gastro dining emporiums. It's that dastardly revealed preference again.

Cooking Lager said...

Maybe whats needed is a quality accreditation scheme to assure punters the cask ale is okay. Urm.... Cask Marque?

Do pong drinkers trust that scheme as an assurance of quality and look and notice it?

Oblivious said...

Yep my local one the Great Woods, it's been in very good condition every time I have been. Not sure how may are drinking it though.

Oblivious said...

Mines a Dublin residential suburb, so no real tradition of linking anything other than Guinness and lager

Sweetman bar sligo does cask at the weekend I believe

Oblivious said...

Mines a Dublin residential suburb, so no real tradition of linking anything other than Guinness and lager

Sweetman bar sligo does cask at the weekend I believe

Oblivious said...

Yep my local one the Great Woods, it's been in very good condition every time I have been. Not sure how may are drinking it though.