Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - December 2010

* Freezing Your Drink *

A freeze on drinks licences will hit responsible consumers while doing nothing to tackle alcohol abuse

A NEW high water mark has been reached in the anti-drink tide flowing through Scotland, with the news that West Dunbartonshire Council has decided to impose a complete ban on any new drinks licences, in both the on and off-trade, in 15 out of 18 areas within the authority. In the remaining three areas applicants for licences will have to prove that customers would not travel from an “overprovision” area to purchase alcohol.

Inevitably this will lead to stagnation in the market and act to the detriment of responsible consumers of alcohol by blocking any new entrants. If this policy applied in this area, we wouldn’t have any Wetherspoons, none of the innovative new bars in places like Chorlton, and no independent off-licences like Carringtons. The policy is also likely to hold back economic development in the area, as who would want to open a new supermarket, hotel or sports club if they were unable to get an alcohol licence for it? Patrick Brown of the Scottish Beer and Pub Association was quite right to say “The Board appears to be more interested in political grandstanding than it is in public health.”

The Chair of the Licensing Board, councillor Jim Brown, said: “We have far too many pubs, bars and off-sales shops given the size of the area.” You have to ask what right this self-important killjoy has to make judgments as what constitutes “too many” pubs or off-licences. Surely the number is determined by the level of business – if all are trading profitably, then there cannot be too many. And is there really any evidence is there that freezing licences is likely to reduce either consumption in general or so-called “problem drinking”?

It hasn’t been made clear whether existing licences will be transferable – if they are, the move will have the unintended consequence of handing a potential goldmine to anyone who has one, as they will be able to sell it on to the highest bidder.

* Music to Whose Ears? *

Bar staff should never impose their choice of piped music on pub customers

IT’S SOME TIME since I referred to the subject of piped music in pubs, but recently I encountered what to my mind is one of the worst offences, in a pub that I would have expected to know better, where hip-hop style music (possibly Radio 1) was being played at considerable volume. The average age of the customers was well over 50, so I doubt whether that would be their favoured listening, but the bar staff were all, by the looks of it, under 25. So no prizes for guessing who chose the radio station.

It’s my firm belief that most pubs are better off without any piped music at all. But surely, if there is to be music, it should make some attempt to match the preferences of the customers, not the bar staff. A jukebox does provide some customer choice, but it was a frequent complaint when they were more commonplace, that the staff could override customer selections and impose their own tastes. Of course, one of the big plus points of the main Wetherspoons chain (although not Lloyds No.1 Bars) is that they are music-free.

* All Wrong *

Staff give a poor impression greeting customers in an offhand manner

THE LATEST trend amongst bar staff is not to say the usual “Can I help you?” or “What can I get you?” but instead simply to ask “Are you all right there?” I know this is just a fad of contemporary speech, and I’ve heard it in shops too, but even so it comes across as offhand verging on rude. Rather than ordering a round of drinks, the obvious temptation is to reply, “I’m fine, thank you very much,” and put the ball back in their court.

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