Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - September 2013
Charging extra for halves is poor business practice that needlessly antagonises customers
RECENTLY there seems to have been a rise in the practice of pubs charging more for a half than exactly 50% of the price of pint, something that for many years has been commonplace in Ireland. Many drinkers find this irritating, especially given that the growth in the number of rare and one-off beers means that drinking halves is a lot more common than it used to be.
The usual reason given is that the overheads in terms of staff time and glass-washing are the same for a half as for a pint, and thus some kind of premium is justified. However, in general, pubs serve far more pints than halves, and the fact that they do sell a few halves is unlikely in practice to result in any measurable extra cost.
Cost should never be the sole factor in pricing Ė you also have to bear in mind consistency and what people feel happy to pay. The aim should be to establish a fair and reasonable pricing structure that covers your overheads without any anomalies. Pubs donít, for example, charge more for beer in the winter to cover the additional costs of heating and lighting.
While Iím never going to man any barricades about it, charging more for halves seems to me to be something that needlessly antagonises customers for little or no benefit to the pub. Itís quite simply a bad business practice that has no place in an operation that depends so heavily on customer goodwill. Plus itís not hard to imagine the anti-drink lobby getting up in arms over effectively giving people a discount for drinking more.
Should staff be entitled to refuse service to ill-mannered customers?
A COUPLE of months ago there was a lot of discussion about a case where a Sainsburyís cashier refused to serve a customer who was busy talking on her mobile phone. This attracted a lot of public sympathy, and few would disagree that the customerís behaviour was rude and ill-mannered, something that the widespread use of mobile phones seems to have encouraged.
However, is it really the role of staff to make value judgments about the behaviour of customers, provided that they are not actually being abusive? Attitudes as to what is and isnít acceptable have greatly changed over the years, and they should not be pulling people up for things simply because they donít approve. It could all too easily turn into a slippery slope where customers were being told off for eating, chewing gum, showing their underpants or wearing T-shirts with offensive slogans. A checkout operator Ė or a bar person Ė is acting as the representative of their employer and it is not their job to make up policy on the hoof. It may be a cause for regret, but in the real world businesses may suffer for turning away customers for a lack of manners.
On the other hand, if youíre the licensee of a pub who is effectively running your own business, you are quite entitled to take the view of ďmy gaff, my rulesĒ and ban anything you disapprove of so long as itís not discriminatory. In the past there were some pubs that imposed a forfeit on any customers who allowed a mobile phone to ring, but they have now become so ubiquitous in society that such an attitude would probably be counter-productive.
Reverse the roles, though, and there is no doubt that for a member of bar staff to be chatting on the phone while serving a customer is completely unprofessional and frankly indicates total contempt for those who ultimately pay their wages.