Friday 1 November 2019

Just Say Hello and Smile

One of the things that is often overlooked when it comes to pub appeal is what is sometimes called "Engagement with customers" or in old fashioned terms, the welcome.

One of the first things I was taught when I became a part time barman back in the early 70s was how to welcome customers.  The Boss, an old school landlord and  stickler for such stuff, was very keen that things should be "done right".  First lesson. Rule number one. When a customer comes in and approaches the bar, no matter what you are doing, you look up and say "Hello" or "I'll be right with you" or some such other nicety.  He explained it as putting the customer at his ease; setting the tone. That kind of thing.  The second was to let people waiting at the bar know they had been seen.  You would preferably say "you're next", or second or whatever. And yes, you were expected to know whose turn it was and if you ever said "Who's next?" you'd be rewarded by a growl in your ear and the Boss saying "It's your job to know who's next".

Now back in those days there were many more pubs and indeed, many more customers.  The Boss reckoned that good service would often make a difference in the customer's mind. (Likewise he always said that if anyone complained about a pint, you should exchange it without hesitation. His argument was that the goodwill thus generated through word of mouth was worth more than the occasional drainpoured pint.) Returning to customer welcome, in that respect I'll venture nothing much has changed about the fact that it works.  Good service, a smile and a word can make a big difference. Far too often these days barstaff  will rarely even look at you if they can avoid doing so and as for knowing who is next - well - not going to happen. I have often been served a pint with no eye contact and no words being exchanged. How poor is that? And don't get me started on the now ubiquitous "You alright there?".

I was reminded of this when I was in Liverpool a few weeks ago. In every pub we went in, we were engaged in some kind of conversation - even in the busy JDW at the station where we met to discuss our drinking plans for the rest of day.  OK, it was lunchtime to mid afternoon and the pubs ranged from busy to moderately quiet, but in each you felt that you were actually important, where as in many these days you do well to be even noticed.

Too often what is missing from the hospitality business is hospitality.  In the days of pubs struggling, that should be an easy win, but one that is so often noticeable by its absence.

Another thing we had to do was say goodbye and thanks to customers. When did that last happen to you?  And then by the way, we had to clean the entire pub including the toilets, before we went home. We were paid buttons and supped it all when we finished. And we loved it.  It is likely where my enduring love affair with pubs was forged.

I wrote about this kind of thing a few years ago. Well 8 years ago. Here  it is. Time flies.

The Thomas Usher ashtray came from that pub. It is the only physical thing I have from there.


Curmudgeon said...

Spot-on. Grudging, half-hearted, disengaged service is far too common in pubs. Plus the tendency to find anything to do messing about behind the bar that doesn't involve actually serving customers.

Tandleman said...

I worked in the pub for nearly 4 years. The Boss always said that whatever you are doing - and we always had to do something - stop it and serve the customers - they pay the wages.

Mark said...

I was in a strange pub in a strange town yesterday afternoon, the service was notable. The young lass greeted me with interest and warmth, served, chatted, showed me to the skittle alley etc.

When I came back in she was engaged in the kind of sweary boyfriend-dissing conversation with a mate that can make some grown men blanch. So whilst I was in somebody else's local, run to the standards of the local trade that some might regard as a bit ‘rough’, the barmaid was the height of courtesy and professionalism with me, a stranger, never before seen. I absolutely love that!

Unknown said...

Good service as described above seems to become rarer as time passes.

Cooking Lager said...

Pubs have always been crap. This is the golden age. The Spoons App means the Bud Light just comes to the table.

TheWickingMan said...

It's very difficult to run a financially successful pub these days. However the successful ones always seem to meet your above standards whatever their style.

Vaux Wanderer said...

"Another thing we had to do was say goodbye and thanks to customers. When did that last happen to you?"

It's still extended as a courtesy to the regulars at my local each day, and to passing customers too if they pass by the bar to return glasses and such. They do things properly in my local, though the behaviours you describe that should be second nature in any pub frequently aren't elsewhere. Though I always return glasses to the bar before I leave any pub and always get a "Thanks" and usually a "See you now" in return.

@WestBromEL said...

The mantra of the late, lamented landlord of my local in West Brom to his staff was "time to lean, time to clean"

retiredmartin said...

Spot on.

Hello and eye contact every time please.

On my travels I do feel find young people more cheery and chatty than I remembered being at that age, and 95% of the time service is great.

The exceptions tend to be the gastropub where there's no one at the bar and you're totally ignored and the understaffed Spoons whose sole barman shouts "Right, who's next?" to a long row of bewildered punters (Perth, this week).

RedNev said...

I'm less concerned by "You all right there?", because you have been acknowledged, than by being served out of turn. The Spoons problem is the environment: very long bars with often too few staff, meaning it can't be easy for them to keep tabs on when customers arrived at the bar.

In JDW's Willow Grove in Southport recently, a barmaid came over and said "Who's next?" and a group of young women who had just walked up to the bar began ordering. I had been there for several minutes and said for all to hear, "Actually, I'm next." The women shut up, as they knew I was right, and I was served. While many Spoons customers try to maintain a fair serving order, some are happy to jump in ahead of people who were already there. The usual excuse/lie is "Oh, I thought you were being served", to which I sometimes reply, "What made you think that?" This selfish behaviour is not the fault of the staff.

I'm not certain that I agree service standards have fallen. Yes, you clearly worked for a good licensee TM years ago, and the things you've quoted are what the licensee at my local in Southport sometimes says. She too has a 'no quibble' policy about pints returned, telling me, "I'd rather lose a pint than a customer."

There have always been badly-run pubs with surly staff who weren't particularly welcoming to customers they didn't know - or even sometimes those they did know. I avoided such places in the 1970s, and I still do now. It's worth remembering that some customers can be very rude - for example ordering drinks over their shoulders while chatting to mates or while on the phone, and others are just plain miseries.

I have no problem with most of the bar staff I come across. But then, I do live in Merseyside.