I'm not in a unique position, there are thousands of people like me. Bar and pub managers with thriving businesses. There have been lots of doom stories in the national press about the amount of pubs that are closing every week, last I read somewhere it was approximately 5 a week.
What about us? what about the success stories in the industry? I'm not asking to be singled out, what I am saying is that the general public don't want to hear doom and gloom stories about the industry every day.
I recently went to a meeting with a few other pub and bar managers and owners in Southwark, we were meeting with the local MP who wanted to hear our views on the state of the industry in his area. The meeting did not seem to me to be particularly productive, why? Well lets look at this shall we? There were landlords and owners who wanted to place blame on other people and not look closely enough at themselves. Some of the gripes mentioned at the meeting are mentioned here, in face, most of them are.
Street drinkers, and lets not confuse genuine pub customers with aggressive beggars and tramps here. The local council has community wardens that help to make the streets a safer place, or do they? At the meeting there were several stories of landlords and managers dealing with agressive beggars whilst these wardens did nothing to help them, indeed the wardens seemed more interested in handing out £5 fines for people throwing cigarette butts on the floor! I attended a pubwatch meeting the very next day and the person who runs the community wardens tried to defend these actions! Surely they should be using their new powers to help the local businessmen and women keep their venues safe rather than taking the easier option of fining someone a fiver for being a litterbug! Yes I can see their point, the streets must be kept clean but come on, don't use that as an excuse not to help out the people who are trying to run sucessful businesses and therefore help the local economy.
There are lots of reasons why pubs and bars are closing, not just in Southwark but all over the UK , here are a few of them...
Firstly there are complaints about the duty increases on beer, the Axe The Tax campaign is very high profile and the local MP I mentioned earlier is a strong supporter of this. Pubs are having to push their prices up because of large duty rises. Our little company, Utobeer, whilst not being happy about the hikes, recognises that people are still prepared to pay money for their beers as long as they feel they are getting value for their money.
Whilst we're talking about prices lets not forget the supermarkets and off licenses who are selling cheap beer, wines and spirits, some of them irresponsibly. There have always been people selling cheap booze, there always will be and frankly they do need more regulation, I for one have seen local 'corner shop' off licenses selling booze to young people without even asking for proof of age. More needs to be done by the authorities to clamp down on irresponsible retailers because they do harm the local economies by selling to tramps and youngsters.
The smoking ban? come on guys and girls, we all knew this was coming and only those who were too stupid and or lazy not to prepare their pubs and their customers for this are using it as an excuse. There has been stories in the national press about lobbyists looking for a relaxation of this law, do they really think that the government will go back on a law that made pubs and bars nicer places to go into? The Rake has always been non-smoking, it has been open for a little over three years and my bosses knew the ban was coming. Preparation was the key here and it usually is with any sort of new legislation that may force changes on our industry.
Residents? Pubs have always had people living around them so to use this as an excuse is just lazy, manage your customers and your residents, no it's not always that easy, there are NIMBYs everywhere and there always will be but if you're a responsible retailer you shouldn't have a huge problem with this.
The Recession? Hmm.. tough one, I will never ever claim to know a whole hell of a lot on the global economic crisis that has hit the world in the last couple of years but to me it seems that customers are feeling the pinch, they want more for their money, value for money as I mentioned earlier so why not give it to them? Every pub is different but it doesn't mean that they shouldn't prosper. In other economic crises the pub industry has thrived, why not this one?
Pubcos, big compaines that own lots of pubs and bars who, with the supermarkets can sell beers cheaper than the independent pub owners to get people into their pubs. It would be easy to place the blame on the big guys and demand they have more regulation on pricing but the industry in general needs more of this so that the responsible guys can continue to prosper in these precarious financial times.
So as I said at the top of the piece, what about the success stories? Lets hear about them, I know plenty of pubs and bars whose managers and teams work hard to be a success. Perhaps the answer is simple, maybe it is just taking responsibility for your operation and working hard to help not only survive the tough times but thrive in the good times. I'd love to hear from other pub operators and customers so let's have your opinions, until then...