Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - January 2001

* Don't Count Your Chickens *

We've been here before on the full measures issue

It was good to see Stephen Byers at the DTI deciding to grasp firmly the nettle of full measures and go for the full 100% liquid pint option, rather than being prepared to tolerate a 3% shortfall or whatever. Pubs have been given two years' notice before the change comes in, so they will have ample time to renew their stock of glasses over the normal replacement cycle. Oversize glasses will not be compulsory, so each pub will have to make a decision as to whether to serve beer in brim measures with a shallow head, or to go for the larger glasses to reflect customer preference for a bigger head.

Some people have said this will lead to increased prices, but any pub that raises its prices to cover full measures will in effect be admitting that it was deliberately serving short pints before. And pub prices are driven by what the market will bear, so it may not be in a pub's interest to jack them up, although you can be sure that full measures will be used as an excuse.

However, don't count your chickens yet, because I distinctly remember that the previous Tory government said they would do something similar when re-elected in 1992, but in the event the plans were quietly shelved. So it will be interesting to see whether any of the dwindling band of pubs still using oversize glasses switch over to brim measures in the next couple of years, because if that happens it will strongly suggest - as it did eight years ago - that the plan is dead in the water.

* The Tortoise and the Hare *

Success in the pub trade comes from long-term application, not quick fixes

You often read in the "Pub News" column of "OT" a report to the effect that "We welcome Fred and Vera as new licensees of the Jolly Plover. They have ambitious plans to revive the pub's trade by extending the range of beers, serving a wider range of food and introducing a variety of events such as quizzes and live music." These plans are no doubt entirely genuine, and a couple of months later they seem to be making a go of it. But the customers never quite turn up in the numbers they hoped for, and the guest beers start going off before the barrel is empty. Slowly but surely their initial enthusiasm drains away, and with it what extra trade they attracted. Six months later, the Jolly Plover has reverted to being the same gloomy deadhole it was before, and Fred and Vera have learned the hard way about "the best laid plans of mice and men".

Sometimes it does happen that new licensees with fresh ideas and enthusiasm can really make a difference to the trade of a pub - and there are a handful of good examples in the Stockport area at present. But it isn't easy to swim against the tide in the pub trade, and it's littered with the casualties of those who have tried and failed.

By and large, most of the best pubs are ones that have been doing what they do for a long time, know what works and are able to build on their earlier achievements rather than constantly starting from scratch. In contrast, many of the least successful pubs seem to get into a vicious circle of having new licensees every few months. This also underlines why it can be very risky to select pubs for the "Good Beer Guide", however promising they may seem, on the basis of only a couple of months' trading, when we know from bitter experience that it all too often turns pear-shaped not too long afterwards.

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