Matthew Eley

Matthew Eley

Matthew Eley

Matt Eley is an Inapub contributor. Follow him on Twitter @mattheweley

10.5.2012 Matt Eley
altI have always had mixed feelings about the value of awards, mainly because I have never won any myself.

Yes, there is a lot to be said for recognising talent, hard work, innovation and all of those other many factors that go into making something a success.

If done properly awards can be a great asset to a deserving pub or individual that has been handed such an accolade. They can then use it to their advantage to gain column inches and in turn more trade.

A case in point is Mahdis Neghabian of the Camden Eye in North London. The 31-year-old was named BII Licensee of the Year on Tuesday and widely praised for turning a pub around so that it is now making 20 per cent extra year on year.

A great success story, and a well deserved winner. Hats off, thumbs up and a big well done all round.

However, the same can not be said of another BII Award that was handed out, or rather not handed out on Sunday.

In a shocking example of a corporate power trip, sponsors Diageo refused to give the Scotland BII Award for Bar Operator of the Year to winners BrewDog. This is despite the fact that an independent panel of judges had picked them and the trophy had been engraved with their name on it.

Instead they tried to hand it to another pub team, which, in what must have been a very embarrassing situation all round, refused as it was clear they were not the first choice.

For whatever reason Diageo didn’t want BrewDog, a company that is never shy of an opinion on the big boys of the drinks world, to win the award.

Unsurprisingly, it has backfired dramatically.

Judges whispered to BrewDog that they were the winners, the bullied and embarrassed BII apologised, and Diageo had to admit that it had made an almighty balls up, though the words they used were more along the lines of ‘we made an error of judgment’.

Too bloody right they did.

But the apology is all too late. The damage was done by the individuals who made that call at the awards. BrewDog have made sure everyone knows what happened, and can you blame them?

The problem is not just that Diageo wanted to pick its winner but that the entire thing can devalue awards to the point that people will wonder if they mean anything at all.

Corporate sponsorship and advertising is much needed by groups such as the BII and indeed by media companies such as ourselves. But if the lines become blurred integrity is lost and everything you strive to achieve becomes meaningless.

It’s a very sad day when the best in the business are deemed unworthy winners of an award because the sponsors have a problem with them.

Matt Eley is the editor of Inapub
Matt Eley
1.5.2012 Matt Eley
altI witnessed some worrying signs ahead of the European Championships last night, and I’m not talking about the lack of sparkle from the English players on show in the Manchester derby.

A game of this magnitude was a handy trial run for pubs ahead of the Euros, which should attract football fans a-plenty in June.

However, the pub I was in managed to get it so wrong that I wondered if it was being run by the FA.

There were only two members of seemingly junior staff on and they were clearly struggling to cope with a fairly busy bar.

They couldn’t change a barrel between them as the beers fell down as quickly as Ashley Young in the penalty area.

‘Pint of EPA please?’
‘Sorry, that’s gone’
‘Timothy Taylor Landlord’
‘That too’
‘Sorry, that’s off as well’,
‘Right, what’s on. Peroni?’
No, we’re out.
‘OK I’ll have a bottle of something in that case’

Running out of beer is pretty basic and when there is a big game on surely it doesn’t take too much to ensure the orders are in.

Also, staff up for these occasions. It might cost more in wages but trust me if you don’t do it people will just leave, as I did at half time.

The lack of drink, service and an inaudible sound system, meant the experience was entirely unenjoyable.

We headed to another pub to watch the second half. They had clearly got it right because the pub was packed and it was tough to find a spot to watch the action (or lack there of) unfold.

Eventually we gave up the ghost and went to a third pub without Sky and enjoyed a chat and a few beers watching the last 20 minutes playout on our smart phones - the modern day equivalent of watching football on Ceefax.

The way the evening panned out was largely due to the offer at the first pub. If it had provided the right experience we would have stayed there all night, spent a decent wedge of cash and returned for future football matches and recommended it to friends.
As it is I will avoid it from now on and watch games elsewhere.

Pubs need to get it right to ensure customers choose to visit them when England take on the rest of Europe in June.

An average or poor pub offer is just not good enough when people can watch the game in the comfort of their own home.

Here’s to getting it right for the Euros, and hoping Roy can do the same.

Matt Eley is the Inapub editor.
Matt Eley
25.4.2012 Matt Eley
altIn the last couple of days two celebrities have been involved in serious debates around the matter of alcohol and drugs.

One of these was a politician and the other a comedian.

But I have no doubts about which one I would take seriously.

Actor, comedian and former heroin addict Russell Brand yesterday gave evidence to a panel of MPs on the subject of drug addiction and his experiences of being treated by the system.

He turned up in a black vest and flamboyant jewellery, as befits his image, and spoke wisely and articulately on a subject that he has first-hand experience of.

Now contrast that to the Radio Five Live programme ‘Drunk Again’ hosted by Ann Widdecombe.

The premise was that former Tory MP and celebrated dancing buffoon Ann would head around town with a group young professional women to see why they liked to get absolutely blotto of an evening.

The usual clichés were trotted out about women drinking ‘shots’ (heaven forbid) and how town centres are no go areas on a Saturday night for normal members of society.

Now I am not saying that alcohol consumption is not an issue in this country but let’s get a bit of perspective here. Alcohol consumption in this country is in decline. People are drinking less - the statistics revealed as much in the first five minutes of the show

Nobody likes to see people puking on the pavements at the weekends but this is not as widespread as Ann and the Daily Mail would have you believe.

The vast majority of people who drink in this country do so for social reasons and not to go out and cause problems for themselves and others, yet this side of drinking is rarely explored on television or radio.

I don’t believe you have to be an expert in a subject to make a programme or broadcast about it but was Ann really the right person for this job? I am sure she has read and studied a huge amount about alcohol but what can she really know about being young, going out and wanting to have a drink?

For the girls on the show it must have been like having your granny out on a Saturday night, trespassing into a world that in a practical sense she is entirely unfamiliar with.

Ann may protest that the programme was not about those who just want to have a bit of fun but these things rarely come across that way. They end up demonising a section of society who by and large just want to have a drink, relax and maybe a bit of a jig. If it goes beyond that the vast majority of people feel the regret and remorse the following day.

Yes, there are some who have a serious problem, but this is a very small percentage of people who go out to pubs, bars and clubs
Back to our man Russell. He told MPs that he would much prefer it if politicians regarded drug addiction as a disease rather than a criminal justice matter and that those involved should be treated with compassion.

Could it be argued that the same approach is required for the minority of people who drink to excess on a regular basis?
Nobody is saying that it is not a problem, but are we really tackling it properly as a society?

The more we demonise those who can not drink responsibly the further away we are from helping them deal with their own demons.

Matt Eley is the editor of Inapub. Follow him on Twitter @mattheweley
Matt Eley
17.4.2012 Matt Eley
altI was a very lucky boy at the weekend as I had the pleasure of being invited along to the John Smith’s Grand National.

By the time I got there my luck had run out somewhat as I came away much lighter in the pocket than I had started the day.

That really is by-the-by though because I never expect to win at the races and just being there and enjoying the day is the main draw for me. Witnessing such a close finish was pretty incredible too, though by this stage my horse, Shakalakaboomboom, was going backwards.

Being at Aintree also gave me the chance to go out in one of my favourite cities in the country later that night.

There are certain places that hold good memories and always seem to offer a cracking night out. For me Liverpool is one of those places.

It has a great mix of party pubs, boozers and bars; the people (and I know this is a generalisation) are more often than not welcoming and keen on having a laugh.

I had a slight concern that Saturday night in Liverpool could be fraught with tension. For while 40,000 happy Reds were travelling back from Wembley, there were an equal number of blue Blues.

The combination of 80,000 football fans meeting up with the 70,000 folk who had spent a day at the races could have been troublesome. As far as I could see it was nothing of the sort.

The pubs were packed and full of fun and one of the key ingredients seemed to be live music.

We visited the famous Mathew Street – home of The Cavern, The Grapes, and a load of other places frequented by The Beatles some 50 years ago. Their legacy lives on here as bright young things, and slightly older and more jaded ones, take to the stage to provide entertainment.

It reminded me just how enjoyable a spot of spontaneous live music can be. Most of the pubs and bars were free to enter and had a fairly simple set up with one or two musicians belting out covers.

It provided a great focal point in every pub and it didn’t take long before groups of people were joining in to have a good old sing song.

For me, live music, when done well, provides a great energy in a pub that you just can’t get from a DJ or a juke box.

And now with the laws changing to allow live music to grow pubs should really be able to capitalise.

The Live Music Act is expected to become law by October and, among other things, this means venues with a capacity of up to 200, will not need a special licence to host live acts.

It is a cutting of red tape that should help pubs and hopefully replicate the talent and atmosphere I experience in Liverpool at the weekend.

Matt Eley is the editor of Inapub. Follow him on Twitter @mattheweley 
Matt Eley
13.4.2012 Matt Eley
altOne of the oft heard mantras in the pub trade is that the value of the offer is key.

The considered view is that most customers are not looking for something cheap but they do want to feel that whatever they pay they are getting what they deserve or more for their money.

This week I had two examples that I believe perfectly highlight the importance of value.

On Tuesday a friend and I went to a pub with a great reputation for food and prices to match. We had three courses, a bottle of wine and ended up spending the best part of £100.

However the food and wine was superb and the member of staff who looked after us was charming and knew what he was talking about.

He explained why gurnard was becoming more prevalent on menus (it was mighty fine too) nodded in approval at our choices (thus making us feel what we knew we were talking about) and offered to get extra bread, water, and to order a taxi when we were finally ready to leave.

It was the kind of experience you would want and expect from a high quality restaurant but it was delivered in a pub that you would feel equally comfortable turning up in flip-flops, shorts and a t-shirt (if you’re lucky at this time of year) and lounging at the bar with a pint.

Put it this way, we left having spent a good whack of cash but I know that when I am I that area again I will head straight to that pub (The Harwood Arms in Fulham in case you were wondering).

However yesterday I paid about 20 per cent of that price for two burgers and chips, onion rings and a couple of soft drinks (again I was with a friend, I wasn’t being greedy). And despite this being relatively ‘cheap’ I left feeling I had not gotten great value.

The chips were soggy, the onion rings greasy and the burger, while big enough, was dripping in fat. After the meal I felt like I had eaten a kebab; guilty, fat, and sure that in a few hours time I was going to be punished for my crime.

I was in a town centre managed house that serves very standard pub meals. My expectations were low yet they were still not met. I will not be returning there in a hurry.

So I wholeheartedly agree with the mantra. The perception of value is of huge importance to me as a customer.
But then there might be one other factor that I should take into account with these two pub meals. I paid for the second one

Matt Eley is the editor of Inapub
Matt Eley
3.4.2012 Matt Eley
altI have just started reading something that I believe all prospective licensees should have a look at before they take on their first pub.

No, it is not a code of practice, a guide to cellar management or indeed a copy of Inapub (though all of those are of course very valuable too).

The book I am reading - Cows to Corpses - is a first-hand account from a licensee who had grand plans after taking on a pub with her husband, but alas, things went a little awry.

Alison Archer kept a diary of her experiences at village pub The Bell at Bosbury in Herefordshire and is now trying to sell enough copies to stave off the threat of selling her own home to pay off debts.

It’s fair to say that her dream didn’t quite work out as planned.

And that is exactly why prospective licensees should read this cautionary take.

Alison and her husband Rob were no strangers to running a business, they sold their marketing company to have a crack at running their village local.

However it is not long before they discover that ideas, good intentions and a warm welcome are not enough to ensure a profitable pub. After the recession hit hard in 2009 they had to move on.

It is admirable that Alison can write the book in such a humorous way considering that the venture has clearly been such a financial disaster for the couple.

The warmth and humanity in the tale will help newcomers to the trade understand lease assignments, cellar management, dealing with staff, lawyers and customers in a way that they are less likely to glean from dry industry handbooks.

It is also packed with amusing anecdotes about diva chefs, cows, corpses and a range of other stories from her side of the bar. It appears that life as landlords was an enriching experience, just not financially.

In this day and age it is hard to imagine anyone thinking that running a pub could be a lifestyle business or something you could turn your hand to with little to no experience. Sadly Alison demonstrates a degree of naivety in her pub career and pays the price.
Hopefully her book can save others from doing the same.

For if there is one thing I have learnt from my time writing about pubs is that I am totally ill-equipped to run one.

You have to be a humorous and welcoming host, a creative inspiration, tough enough to deal with potential trouble-makers, an accountant, a leader of staff, a friend to customers, early to rise and late to bed. And that is to name just a few of the skills required and why successful licensees are such a constant source of inspiration.

If you are reading this and think you have what it takes why not read Cows to Corpses by Alison Archer, just to be sure. For more information visit
Matt Eley
22.3.2012 Matt Eley
altSo after months of lobbying and campaigning by our trade groups and captains of industry, George Osborne did precisely what everyone secretly knew he was going to do anyway.

In a single sentence he announced that he had no plans to ditch the controversial duty escalator that was introduced by his predecessor Alistair Darling four years ago.

This means alcohol duty will again go up two per cent above inflation – around five per cent – and will result in another 5p being added to a pint, 11p on a bottle of wine and 42p on a bottle of spirits (give or take a penny or two).

And the sad fact of the matter is that really this is actually the best the industry could have hoped for.

For while we would all love to see a pub and alcohol friendly chancellor ditch the escalator and cut tax to give the industry a break, it just isn’t going to happen.

The escalator was a gift for Osborne; a legacy from the Labour government that was brutal with its swingeing tax increases. It isn’t really his policy but he can see no good reason to change it now.

Cutting tax on alcohol – one of the sins - is just never going to happen. Not when stories about increases in liver disease or alcohol related hospital admissions dominate the papers on a daily basis.

And not when a fervent health lobby has the ear of the both the press and the government.

He also isn’t going to be inclined to drop alcohol duty when he glances at the balance sheets of the big brewers, who are the ones who pay the bulk of the tax.

Take Heineken for example. Its most recent results boasted of a 40 per cent increase in profits globally. Yes volumes are down in the UK but they said that earnings before tax still ‘grew strongly’.

It is a similar story at the other big boys. And while profits grow they are doing what they can to offset the duty increase. AB InBev increased its prices by nearly eight per cent and dropped the ABV on some beers below five per cent to save on tax.
Carlsberg and Molson Coors made similar moves around ABVs.

Big breweries tend to have shareholders to answer to and as such they need to show profit growth. While they grow, the Chancellor will not be minded to change the duty regime.

Yes it’s lazy and doesn’t show the full picture of the industry but it is very easy for him to justify.

Of course it works down the line and the pub and man buying a beer end up being the ones who pay for all of this. It’s just the Chancellor may not see the same link we do between duty leading to pub closures.

He just sees big profits from big companies.

So what can the industry do to change this? We can’t just bang on about getting rid of the escalator, however unfair it seems.
The lobbying has to continue to focus on the contribution pubs make to society. The jobs they create and the positive social impact that they have on local communities.

This might help him see the link with local producers more clearly and there could be a possibility of tax restructuring for smaller producers, but an overall cut or removal of the escalator is unlikely at best.

Matt Eley is Inapub's editor.
Matt Eley
15.3.2012 Matt Eley
altThere is little doubt that the pub story of the week has involved The Hobbit in Southampton.
In a ludicrous lawsuit the Hollywood executives behind the film franchise are applying pressure to get the pub to change its name.
You see it isn’t ‘official’ in their eyes and, for a reason that isn’t entirely clear to me, an old pub selling Gandolf cocktails and the like could be damaging to them. Or it could be making money that the film company wants for itself.
No matter that the original Lord of the Rings trilogy was one of the most profitable movie franchises in the history of cinema. The final instalment ‘The Return of the King’ returned $1bn from an investment of $111m.
As most people in this country know pubs are not really in a position to make that kind of profit at the moment.
The Hobbit film is guaranteed to make millions so it seems a little churlish to have a pop at a pub that has been trading with that name before the film came anywhere near the silver screen.
It is a British pub that celebrates an incredible feat of British writing that has become part of our popular culture. Collectively as an industry we need to let the Hollywood big wigs know what we think of their bullying.
Stephen Fry, star of the film and the man most Britons would like to have a pint with, seems to think so. He backed the pub on Twitter and helped create a huge fuss around The Hobbit’s plight.
Sir Ian McKellen, Gandalf himself and part time pub landlord, has echoed Stephen Fry’s sentiments and criticised the ‘unnecessary pettiness’ of the lawyers taking action.
Such heavyweight support has done the pub no harm. Already 41,000 people (and that number will be out of date by the time you read this) have shown support on Facebook. It is also gaining serious momentum on Twitter and in the national media.
It appears Hollywood has got a fight on its hands and all pub fans should do their bit to support this pub.
For more information and to join the campaign visit!/SaveTheHobbitSouthampton
Matt Eley
23.2.2012 Matt Eley
altIf you were a hop, what kind of hop would you be?
That probably sounds like a ridiculous question but it was one a bunch of hacks and other guests were asked to consider at an event the other night.
Actually that isn’t entirely true. We were in fact asked to rub different types of hop from around the world, give them a good sniff and think of three adjectives to describe them. We were then asked to name the celebrity that the hop reminded us of.
My list included Moira Stuart, Jamie Oliver, Alan Titchmarsh and Katie Price. I have never got close enough to have a sniff of any of these people but the aromas of ‘earthy, honey, bacon and dirty’ that I picked up, for some reason bought them to mind. I’ll let you work out which smell went with which celeb.
Reading this you may well ask ‘are you sure it was just hops you were sniffing?’ Well, yes, I am because this was all part of an event by Midlands brewer Marston’s to promote its new range of ‘Single Hop’ beers.
Each month it will release a virtually identical four per cent beer with one key change, the beers will feature a different, sole hop every time.
Varieties from countries such as New Zealand, Poland, England and the Czech Republic will all feature.
It’s a neat idea and one that shows the subtleties of brewing our national drink. It should get people talking about beer, the ingredients, the craft and the process that goes into bringing a pint to the bar.
For me though the key has to be the communication of the message to pub customers. Technical terms or phrases that are popular in breweries do not always translate well in the pub.
‘Hoppy’ and ‘malty’ mean next to nothing to most customers and are not really going to encourage many people to buy more beer.
Plus, our little hop rubbing session highlighted the huge array of aromas that different hops give off, so the word 'hoppy' can actually serve to confuse. Adjectives chucked about in the room included ‘passionfruit, grapefruit, dusty and mouldy’. Now the latter two might not sell beer but the first would give a clear indication of the notes customers could expect to find in their pints.
It helps break down barriers of entry to beer as a category, gets people talking about it and potentially buying more.
Now, to answer my original question, I would like to think of myself as the American citra, but if you want to know why you’ll have to have a sniff!
Matt Eley is the editor of Inapub
Matt Eley
15.2.2012 Matt Eley
altI popped into my local pub at about 8.30pm on Saturday and was slightly put out to see a bunch of kids running around.
And by this I don’t mean teenagers or those just about qualified to drink. I mean actual children aged about eight or nine and not really my ideal drinking companions on a Saturday night.
I actually like children, I have one of my own before anyone starts saying ‘yeah but you don’t know what it’s like to have kids and not be able to go out’.
Actually I do, and admittedly it is quite rare for the wife and I to venture out together these days. So yes I do take my little lad to the pub, but strictly at certain times of day, preferably somewhere that has a garden and absolutely somewhere that welcomes families.
But when it comes to 7pm, or 8pm at a push, I don’t really want to be in a pub with children. I get that at home and for me the pub on a Saturday night remains a place for adult company.
I enjoy robust and colourful conversation and frankly I don’t think that is necessarily the best environment for children. It certainly isn’t an environment that I want to be in when the little one is finally asleep.
This is of course very different to the culture on the continent where families are often out together until very late at night. Kids are up until all hours and the experience of eating and drinking out can be a shared family occasion.
I just can’t really see this happening in the UK. The climate and culture not conducive for starters.
And, like it or loathe it, as Northern Europeans, we simply enjoy drink in a different way to our Mediterranean cousins.
This is not something that should be frowned up, after all tourists come from the world over to sample our pub culture and we should be careful not to water down the experience.
But when children reach a certain age I think we should do more to encourage them to go to the pub with parents and also sample alcohol at home – this is something we can borrow from the French.
This way the pub and alcohol are not so mysterious when they are finally let off the leash as young adults. For me that is a far more likely cure to ‘binge-drinking’ than the scare tactics that are currently employed and often have a reverse effect.
So I guess what I am basically saying, in a very roundabout way, is that the pub is an important part of our children’s education. Just keep them out of my way on a Saturday night.

Matt Eley is the editor of Inapub. Follow him on Twitter @mattheweley
Matt Eley