Since we’ve been back in the UK we’ve heard about how badly pubs have been hit by cheap supermarket booze, alcohol tax and the smoking ban.
Well after 2+ years I’ve formed my own opinion about this and I’ll qualify this by saying that I used to work as a pub/cafe/restaurant manager for Whitbread in the SE, London and home counties. It’s also worth noting that pubs in Australia have similar issues to deal with and not only are they thriving it’s not often you come across bad service or bad food.
I’ll agree that the above as well as advanced home entertainment, like HD TV, reality shows, the Internet and gaming consoles all contribute to the ‘stay indoors and buy cheap booze’ issue. I can also see that the global downturn has hit peoples evening entertainment spend.
But the pub trade isn’t helping itself either. With apparent lack of training and obvious lack of investment it’s plain to see that what they offer, on many occasions, is sub standard. We’ve been to some great pubs, as part of chains (The Woolpack) as well as privately owned and run small groups (The Tree at Cadmore End) or individual businesses
Recent retirees Geoff and Jenny were beacons of success at both Whitbread and Shepherd Neame over a 25+ year period, just take a look at The George Inn at Leeds village close to Leeds Castle in Kent. Excellent food, atmosphere and hospitality.
So onto the reason for this article; our recent terrible experience(s) at The White Hart in Beaconsfield, the third time this has happened. Last time the service was painfully slow, but we’d given it another chance after the prior visit when we only got one of two meals ordered, Louise had almost finished her meal before mine arrived but the food was good, putting aside the fact we ate 30 minutes apart.
We went again last Thursday (why? because we’ve already written off The Royal Saracens Head opposite, even though it’s part of the same chain as The Woolpack) at about 7:30pm, a time we’ve been before and previously the pub had been buzzing with lots of eaters, it wasn’t so alarm bells immediately went off. Something had changed in the intervening few of months.
Going straight to the bar the usual lack of acknowledgement, that is a big fail on the hospitality score, and long wait to not be served, prompted us to opt for the restaurant instead of the bar.
The restaurant greeting was excellent and the staff friendly but the carpet and seats we had are well overdue for replacement, there’s not much worse than flooring and soft furnishings with ground in food to kill the appetite!
So onto the starter, a safe option, or so we thought. Garlic bread with cheese. This was appalling, doughy, a wet cheese sauce which was nasty and the portion was far too large even for two. How hard is it to make good bread? I do it several times a week.
Onto the main course. Louise likes (liked) the burger and how good is fish and chips in a pub? :) Should both be simple to do. No, the burger was dry and tough with no relish/garnish and whole lettuce leaves had been tossed onto the plate as ‘garnish’! I got soggy battered fish and luke warm mushy peas. We both got soft chips in very small portions, mine obviously the scrappy end bits. We were both hungry so ploughed on.
That done with onto the desert, no room for error there as I’m assuming most chains still buy in ready made or frozen deserts. Sure enough desert was fine, Louise’s coffee was OK(in terms of what’s usually passable for coffee in the UK) and my beer was great, I had another.
We left without tipping, not because the [food] service was bad but because the hospitality was non existent, the atmosphere poor due to lack of business and worm out feel of the place and we were too busy bitching about the food to each other.
We eat at home every night so as a once a month treat we expect a nice dining experience and decent food, hopefully better or as good as home cooked. It wasn’t. At £40 for two of us it’s disappointing, basically all we did was save the prep time and washing up at home!
It’s not hard to get service and pub food right, we know we used to do it for Whitbread so please if you want to be in the hospitality business and serve food you need to make it worth the trip out to you, you need to earn your customers time as well as their hard earned cash.
So in summary, yes the UK pub scene has crashed but it’s in no way wholly attributable to the price of alcohol and the smoking ban. It’s down to a change in the way people want to and a can afford to be entertained in the evenings and value for money.
Most people go out a lot less than they used to and if they are going to make the effort and spend their money then you as the recipient of their custom need to make sure you deliver memorable hospitality, food and drink otherwise you won’t have earned their repeat custom.
It’s not difficult, someone just has to care.