Friday, 2 December 2022

It's the Offer Stupid

 Cambridge Dictionary definition of hospitality: The act of being friendly and welcoming to guests and visitors:

We hear so much at the moment about difficult times for the hospitality industry.  Against a background of inflation and wage restraint, it is so obvious that there are major issues. These trials and tribulations are now featuring in mainstream newspapers and radio programmes, as well as, more obviously, trade press, blogs and podcasts.  These difficulties include, among other things, staff shortages, rising prices of everything supplied and sold to the industry as well as, lack of customers due to high prices and domestic and commercial difficulties caused by the effect of the huge increases in electricity and gas.

Of course this applies elsewhere, and the hospitality sector include restaurants, theatres, hotels as well as pubs and social clubs.  My interest, of course, is mainly pubs, so it is to that I turn in this brief post.  Now, I have used the term "It's the offer Stupid" in my blogs before.  I would draw your attention to this post in particular, which dates back to June 2013.  The main thrust of it, in case you can't be bothered reading it, is that back then, a survey said among other things that "People (47%) cite "poor customer service" as one of the main reasons not to go to a pub, along with the unwelcoming atmosphere(44%)."

I am reasonably sure, anecdotally at least, that it is highly unlikely that this generally negative view will have changed too much over the nearly ten years since the survey was taken. Service in pubs remains poor and yes I know the difficulties, but in these very challenging times you'd think that ensuring the customers are made welcome and accommodated as much as is humanly possible would be a very high priority indeed.  You really do need customers to return, so a small training investment in this basic area is really a no-brainer, and to make it even easier, the very people that you wish to convince are themselves customers elsewhere too, so it should be a relatively straightforward point to get across.

Let me give you a few recent examples.  There is a local pub that I don't go to that often, but which has picked up a decent reputation for food, though the wet trade is also a good part of the business, probably round half or so. It is a pub in which people still stand at the bar to drink, although there are plenty of other seating and eating areas.  On my once every two or three months or so visits, it is my experience that when you go in the bar staff are usually, if not actually serving, standing with their backs to the bar, gossiping.  This is quite annoying in itself, but on my recent visit, two different customers called goodbye to the staff with no response whatever.  When my time to leave came, I left unnoticed too, though I had stood at the bar for my two pints. When I worked in the pub, the boss then taught us always to say hello to new customers entering, and to thank them when they left. His simple logic? Make them feel welcome and they'll come back. That was in the times when pubs were bursting at the seams. How much more important is that simple act of appreciation now?  God knows what he'd have thought of not looking outwards from the bar.  It is simple. Look outwards, that's where the money is.

In my recent trip to Belfast, we met a couple of friends in a local brew pub.  They wanted to eat, and we didn't, having had a large hotel cooked breakfast and a meal booked later.  Firstly, it was odd that table service seemed to be mandatory.  Oh well, if that's what it is - fine.  We spent around three hours in there enjoying very good beer indeed, until the server came over to say she was going off duty, and we'd have to pay up.  This was odd, but we asked her to wait a moment while we divvied up the bill. "You can't" she said. "Someone will have to pay, and you can sort it yourselves later." What? There was no choice and to add insult to injury, a 10% service charge was applied as we were a table of four. So, I paid, was duly reimbursed by my pals, and we left, disgruntled and annoyed, for another pub.  

By way of contrast, I met three friends a few weeks ago in a pub in Manchester. We all ate and had several drinks. The friendly barman very kindly even brought drinks over to us old dodderers. When it came time to pay, and we asked to split the bill four ways, he said that as long as it came to the total, it was no problem. He got a good tip too, and we all agree we'll meet there again. 

So the message to pubs is to treat your customers well - they are all of your business. Say hello and goodbye and make life as easy as possible for them. Treat them as welcome guests. They have a choice, you know, and in these hard times, I suspect they will readily exercise it.

Oddly, the first two cases were individual business, while the Manchester example was a brewery managed house.

No such issues in our Belfast hotel, which really was welcoming to customers, as were the majority of Belfast pubs.


Benji's bag of spanners said...

Well flippin' said.

So obvious but lots of pubs havn't a clue.

Numpties most of them

Cooking Lager said...

Your blog highlights particular cases where you feel you have received good or poor service. Anecdotal examples I’ve no reason to question.

I’d say British hospitality has a poor international reputation and is often made fun of particularly in the great American cultural import of the movies. The best and classic scene of An American werewolf in London is the Yorkshire pub viewed from the perspective of two American tourists wanting to warm up with a cup of coffee. Though a film of the 80s, that sort of pub is still recognisable today, though by now we British share the joke and may have more empathy for those tourists than the weird locals.

Much is made in beer bloggery of “pub etiquette” and the correct way customers should behave in pubs. Much horror is expressed at orderly queues forming in Wetherspoons.

I would question why pubs need an etiquette? It’s just getting a drink in a welcoming establishment. Why is a code of behaviour required? Bar service favours the tall, the loud and the assertive or even aggressive. Why is it bad if punters form an orderly queue to get served in a fair manner that does not require you to learn the skill of getting noticed in the throng?

Beer bloggery is written by people that love pubs, have learnt the rules of pubs and are therefore not well placed to see what is wrong with them from the perspective of occasional customers. We will see over Xmas much moaning about these once-a-year customers ordering Guinness last and asking for complicated to make drinks that they enjoy at home all year round.

But what if the customers, occasional or regular, are not wrong? What if the system is wrong? A system pubs have developed over years and embedded as a cultural norm but serves only pubs and not the interest of customers.

What about a system that requires no etiquette to learn, no unwritten rules to learn? You only have to learn how to use an app on your phone. That is the future.

Cask Socialist said...

We need to democratise the British pub. A safe space where all are welcomed whether in a queue or a barfly. Customers called clients who are welcomed with Ritz standards of service for Duke or Dustman. Come the revolution all men will be equal in the eyes of the great publican in the sky.

Good article by the way but I like the Humpfrey Smiff one. Can you do more of those?

Cooking Lager said...

East Germany had lots of those, Cask Socialist.
Though only for tourists with foreign currency.
The service for the locals with domestic currency was another level of poor.

Curmudgeon said...

I agree with much of this, particularly the bit about staff ignoring customers.

But surely it is the norm for one person to settle a bill and divide the cost up amongst the group separately. If paying cash, each person can chip in their bit and pay the total to the server as one sum.

If paying by card, it seems unreasonable to expect the server to divvy up the total into individual figures and put through four or five five separate transactions.

I once saw a group that looked like an office lunch party try to do this in a pub and cause a massive queue at the bar.

Mind you, as Cookie says, the problem is solved if everyone orders individually on the app ;-)

Tandleman said...

Not at all Mudgie. Give the customers the total. They work out the divvy. Pay and job done. Not done at the bar, but when they decide to wait on, at the table. Eg. It is £100. Take £50 from each of us. In these times they need to be flexible. Happens all the time these days. Suit the customer or die.

Tandleman said...

And I'd add. When they decide to lump you together - why should you go along with it? Move with the electronic times.

Sat In A Pub said...

Yep, absolutely spot on. It's increasingly common to split the cost. Surely one of the advantages of the electronic age and no time wasted waiting for someone to dig loose change out of their pocket. In the States, they seem to expect that's the way you'll pay.

Matt said...

I popped to my local, which has just reopened after a refurbishment by Holt's, the other afternoon for a quick pint to see what they'd done with the place. I'm in my early fifties, but boy did I feel old talking to the new, exclusively teenage (and it should be said very friendly and welcoming) staff behind the bar, who as I sat drinking my pint I worked out could just about be my grandchildren. I know that the lower youth rate of the national minimum wage makes it attractive to employ teenagers, and with labour shortages they might be the only staff the pub could attract, but the thought did cross my mind that the inevitability higher turnover as they leave school and go to university, or get higher paid jobs once they're 21, might have the knock-on effect that the brewery will be less likely to invest as much in training them compared to those who in the past might have spent a lifetime in the pub trade.

Tandleman said...

This is true, but on the other hand, you have a pretty blank canvas to teach a few basics. And trust me, that really is all you have to do and then you have to supervise and reinforce it. I was 19 when I first worked in a pub under an old school landlord. Still the best lesson of pub life.

Tandleman said...

Only so much Humf to go round.

Tandleman said...

But a bit dystopian.

Cooking Lager said...

A difference between those countries with good customer service and those with poor is pretty much tipping.

Waiting staff dependant on tips in a culture where 15-20% tipping is a norm offer great customer service. Like in America.

In the UK pubs no one tips, tips form an irrelevant part of pay so processes evolve to serve the interest of the provider not customer.

There's even some dopey pub punters that take their own glasses back to the bar and think it rude not to. They are one step from offering to clean the bogs. Conditioned to accept poor service as the prevailing etiquette.