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Matthew Eley

Matthew Eley

Matthew Eley

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

6.10.2011 Matt Eley
altI was lucky enough to be taken to the Budvar brewery in the Czech Republic last week.
It’s a fascinating place where the traditions of an old brewery intertwine with a modernisation programme that ensures the beer from relatively small town of Ceske Budejovice can punch above its weight throughout the rest of the continent and beyond.
Whilst in the Czech Republic I was intrigued to see how they ‘do it’ in their own pubs. This is after all the country that drinks more beer per head than anywhere else in the world. They don’t appear to drink much else either.
There are no real gimmicks or selling points and you do not have numerous brands competing in the same space.
Now it turns out that this is because of the way pubs are run in the Czech Republic.
There is virtually no brewery ownership of pubs in the country. Instead, brewers, who are naturally keen to ensure their brands are visible, cut deals with the pubs to ensure they have exclusivity or good bar presence.
This means that if you go into a ‘Budvar’ pub you are very unlikely to see a competing brand such as Pilsner Urquell and vice versa. The bar owner gets something from the brewery at the start – maybe some cash for a refurb for example – and then he is contracted to buy his beer from that brewer for a set period of time.
In theory it sounds OK with both parties getting something out of the deal but the danger is that if it is too heavily weighted against the brewer they may focus more attention on the off-trade where profits could be greater.
So, like our own system, it has it strengths but it would also appear to have its flaws too.
One area where the Czechs have got it spot on though is with its products. Everyone seems to drink Czech beer. Locals, tourists, young and old, men and women.
And there are no gimmicks for women: no special glasses or extra bubbles in the beer to make it look more female friendly.
Perhaps this is the one thing we could learn in the UK and something I have been convinced about for a long time. Women will not drink a beer because it is a bit more like a glass of wine. They would rather have a glass of wine.
But if it is a good beer, with plenty of flavour and served in a clean glass in a pleasant environment then why wouldn’t you try it? The image of beer might need to beb tweaked but the liquid itself does not.
The Czechs, and especially Czech women, are the perfect example of just that.
Matt Eley
27.9.2011 Matt Eley
altThe Cask Report was launched this week and it has convinced me more than ever before that pubs would be daft not to have at least a couple of handpumps on the bar.
And not for the usual reasons that cask is our traditional drink or because it gives pubs a point of difference, though both of those are valid.
No, the reason why pubs should stock cask is because, according the report, cask drinkers will drink more of your other products as well, be it wine, lager or cider.
Basically cask fans like a drink and are happy to spend a few quid on the experience.
Forget the stereotypes of beardy old men nursing a pint and looking down their fat, red noses at anyone who orders a cold drink in a bottle served with a bit of fruit because this is just a minority. Most people who put their hands up to cask can be classed as ‘repertoire drinkers' according to the report. I put myself in this category, though I prefer the term ‘promiscuous drinker’ because, well, it just sounds a little racier.
It means I, and my other promiscuous friends, will happily drink cask if the environment and conditions are right but we also might go for a wine, lager or – the drink that the report says takes a big share from cask – Guinness.
And while I don’t like to be boxed up as a certain type, I can see how I can be compartmentalised here.
If I go into a pub and see handpumps, while I might not always drink cask, it does make me think that ‘this lot probably know what they are doing’. Perfect cask fonts, the correct glassware, tasting notes and menus simply scream out ‘you can trust us’.
Even better if there are a few people drinking cask in the pub as well. For when all of that information has been processed the decision to order a beer is much easier and the issue of price will rarely come into it at all.
That said Pete Brown, beer writer extraordinaire and Cask Report author, said that £3 (the average price of a pint this year) is a bit of a tipping point so quality of the product is now more important than ever.
Cask Ale Week kicks off shortly and this year one of the main drives is to encourage pubs to offer tasters to encourage customers to give cask a try.
Pubs who don’t stock it should do the same. Get the brew, range, promotion, staff and service right and you will be onto a winner.
Right, I fancy a glass of red…

Matt Eley is the Inapub editor. Follow him at www.twitter.com/mattheweley
Matt Eley
23.9.2011 Matt Eley
altThere are still a lot of misconceptions about social media and they can probably be summed up with the single most repeated phrase by those who have yet to venture down that cyber path:
‘But why would I want to tell people every time I go to the loo?’
Well, presumably you don’t tell your friends that in person, so why would you say that on Twitter, Facebook or any other channel?
I have never read about anybody’s bathroom habits on either Twitter or Facebook and if I did our friendship or following may not last very long. Unless, of course, it was a particularly fascinating story!
The point is the ‘toilet’ thing is a cliché used by many who are either cynical towards social media or have yet to fully explore it.
Yesterday I had the pleasure of listening to three presentations on the subject. OK, so one was byInapub chief Robin Brattel, so I’m a little biased there but the other two came from Fuller’s marketing man Mark Roberts and beer Blogger Marverine Cole, otherwise known as Beer Beauty.
All had some fascinating insights into how they use social media for business.
The view was shared that social media is really much the same as people talking in a room, they just happen to be doing it in a different space.
Is it about interaction, honesty and building relationships.
Mark pointed out that social media can not be a ‘one way street’. Fuller’s wants information and interaction from customers and to get this there needs to be incentives, such as giveaways, exclusive news and rewards.
In return it gets data, loyalty and, ultimately, spend from its friends.
There were some interesting stats as well.
For example while six out of 10 people actively use social media another there are 40% who are so turned off by Facebook and Twitter they have vowed to never use it.
So while social media is increasingly important it will not replace other media forms. TV, radio, the printed press will not be killed off by the internet. Challenged; yes, and changed too but they can all work together.
All these media channels are important to businesses in general and to a certain extent pubs as well.
Social media is another tool for pubs to use and it is in growth so it would seem silly to rule it out. Just use it right and keep those toilet habits to yourself…

Follow me at www.twitter.com/mattheweley
Matt Eley
15.9.2011 Matt Eley
altI am choosing my words carefully when writing this blog because I do not want to give the impression in any way that I take pleasure in seeing a pub close and, in turn, people losing their livelihoods, savings and dreams.
Going past boarded-up pubs always brings a sense of sadness as I picture the good times that went on inside those four walls, and how they would have come to an abrupt end.
But saying that, I am getting the distinct feeling that there is a general shift in attitude towards the closure of some pubs.
In conversations with two landlords with hugely different businesses this week, I was struck by how both seemed to be of the opinion that the demise of several thousand pubs will not, in the bigger picture, be bad for the industry.
Go back just a couple of years and this view was essentially considered to be treacherous to the trade. After all how could any businesses shutting be a good thing?
Well it isn’t a good thing, but it is probably inevitable.
Not just because of the recession but because of heightened competition from the likes of supermarkets, coffee shops, bars, restaurants, X-Factor, PlayStation. You name it.
There just are not enough people or pounds to support as many pubs as we have been able to in previous eras.
Now I am not doubting that some extremely good operators and pubs have been lost along the way, in fact I know that they have, but it is also true that some of the pubs that have gone will not be missed as much as others.
Some simply have not been used enough by their customers. Now this isn’t to gloss over issues such as smoking, beer ties, rising costs, wage bills, utilities, bureaucracy etc that have all made running pubs so much more difficult in recent years.
But it also means that the ones that survive must do more, and in many cases already have been, to attract and keep their customers.
This results in higher service standards, more professional staff, better quality food and drink, and a more varied and enticing all round offer.
These days pubs have to be better than average to survive and better than good to really reap the rewards.
Overall consumers should benefit as the standard across the board improves.
And this is what we should be focusing on as industry: where we are improving, how pubs are better and more professional now than they have ever been. It is a much more compelling story for us to be telling to the wider world than that of pub closures, which makes us look like an industry on the way out.
And despite the difficulties of recent times pubs are here to stay and are going to get better and better.
Matt Eley
7.9.2011 Matt Eley
altI have had the pleasure of being down in Cornwall for much of this week.
In between stuffing my face with pasties while my one-year-old went for a menu of sand and sea water I managed to get in a visit to Sharp’s brewery.
All is going well since the Molson Coors takeover, we were told, and in fairness it seems like the big brewer has had a positive influence – retaining the quality of the beer, encouraging the development of smaller brands (Doom Bar currently accounts for 90% of production) while of course looking to increase sales.
Its stated ambition is to make Doom Bar the UK’s number one cask beer, overtaking the likes of London Pride and Greene King IPA in the process.
Achieving this will be a huge success and a large part of that will be attributed to head brewer Stuart Howe.
The 39-year-old was recently crowned the All Party Parliamentary Beer Group’s Brewer of the Year. Perhaps not the catchiest title but lofty praise indeed for one still relatively young in brewing terms.
Whilst at the brewery, based in Rock, one of the other hacks present questioned why there are no celebrity brewers, after all there seem to be dozens of celebrity chefs.
It was a good point and I can see no good reason at all. After all brewing is a highly skilled job, I mean we can all knock up a half decent meal, right, but how many of us can make anything approaching a half-decent beer? I’m sure plenty would like to have a go too.
Plus, and let’s be honest about this, brewers are a funny old bunch so the chances are you are going to get some really interesting characters on screen.
Surely there must be some national newspaper or TV show just waiting to hear the beer experiences of one of these guys?
I am by no means a beer nut of an aficionada (I just like drinking and trying different options) but I personally could see a show about the development of beer, its flavours and how it came to be our national drink working.
But for some reason it just doesn’t seem to. Beer writer Pete Brown and brewer Peter Amor had a go recently with a series of vlogs (you can see the final one on our homepage). They were informative and brilliantly produced but for some reason TV companies just would not bite.
It’s a little depressing in a world of multiple channels stuffed full of reality TV that we can’t seem to get a show about our national drink or the genuinely interesting people who make it off the ground.
Call me weird but I’d much rather watch that than a bunch of apparently famous oddballs fighting and getting drunk in pretend house.
Matt Eley
30.8.2011 Matt Eley
altA shocking statistic was revealed by the British Beer & Pub Association last week. The average pint now costs more than £3. 
Socking in the sense that the price was so low because I swear I have been paying about that much for a pint for the last 10 years.
Now, OK, I accept that may have a little to do with where I live and tend to go out.
But I was genuinely more surprised at the prices of the local ales I was enjoying at a pub just outside Durham last week. £2.90 for a locally brewed craft lager. I obviously ordered a second, with food, immediately.
It’s no surprise that the price of a pint fluctuates from place to place. After all every operator has their own running costs and buying power. They also know what their customers are willing to or can afford to pay.
The point is that I don’t think a headline figure of £3 a pint is going to make many MPs or outside commentators sit up and take notice of this industry
I can even pictures aides in Westminster reading the headlines and thinking ‘All that fuss you make about tax and it is still only £3 a pint. Looks like there’s room for a little more duty come Budget time.’ No wonder the Lib Dems are thinking along these lines.
As an industry we have not been great with the stories we tell to the government: tax is too high, loads of pubs are closing, beer is too expensive, tenants and landlords can’t get on.
We paint a very negative picture. And as one senior indurty representative told me the other day we can be viewed in Westminster as a bunch of whingers, and that rarely leads to getting your own way.
We know it is tough trading out there. But it is for virtually every industry, especially in the retail sector.
But rather than going to government complaining about our hardships we need to better promote the things we do so well; be it fundraising, community work, boosting tourism, events, parties etc.
We are much more likely to be given support and seen as a benefit to the nation if we focus on our strengths rather than our weaknesses.
Can we raise a reasonably priced £3 pint to that?
Matt Eley
23.8.2011 Matt Eley
altIn a trade beset with pointless laws I think one of the daftest yet is about to come into force.
I am talking about the outlawing of cigarette vending machines from October 1.
Let me make one thing clear from the outset, I have no issue whatsoever with the smoking ban, which came in at a time when I enjoyed a cigarette or two.
For my money there is just no sensible argument about overturning it when it has vastly improved the atmosphere and environment in pubs for the vast majority of staff and customers.
But I fail to see how banning vending machines is going to do anything to tackle youngsters smoking in this country.
For a starter have you seen how much it costs for a packet fags from a machine! Last time I looked it was about £8.20 - and you don’t even get a full deck. That made me baulk, so I can only imagine what a 16-year-old looking for a pack of smokes would make of that.
Plus, apart from those who have got lucky on fruit machines, how many teenagers have eight pounds in change in their pockets? Oh and incidentally the young gamblers shouldn’t be in the pub anyway.
Actually, while we are on that subject shouldn’t fruit machines be banned from pubs for encouraging teenagers to gamble? Surely the same principles apply as with cigarette machines?
The facts are if teenagers want to smoke they will and banning vending machines will do nothing to stop them.
Kids do not generally source cigarettes from vending machines. They steal them from parents, get them from other kids, buy them from shops or get the older looking kids to buy them while they wait outside.
It amazes me that those who make the laws can not remember what it was like to be young.
You can ban all the vending machines that you want, hide cigarettes under the counter, create packs without branding and slap up as many adverts as you like about the dangers of smoking but it won’t stop those who want to smoke from doing so.
The only real way of making a big dent in the number of smokers is to ban it altogether but there is way too much duty at stake for that.
Instead, legislation gets tinkered with around the edges and things like vending machines pay the price, as indeed do the pubs which use them as another, admittedly small but not insignificant, revenue stream gets taken away.
The way I see it is that banning vending machines a statement of talking underage smoking is nothing but smoke and mirrors.
Matt Eley
15.8.2011 Matt Eley
altTo be completely frank I was a little nervous about heading for a night in Peckham on Friday.
Normally I wouldn’t worry at all but it was the scene of some pretty horrific rioting and looting just a few days prior and even though the situation appeared to have calmed it could have potentially kicked-off again.
I no longer live in London but my brother does and, as I was visiting him, it was his rules for the night ahead.
‘Peckham’, I said, ‘really? Would you not prefer to go out in Hampstead or Greenwich instead?’ But no middle class enclaves were on the agenda on Friday.
Instead my brother had two venues he was keen to check out and I’m glad I followed his lead.
First up was The Rye, now owned by Capital Pub Company, and formerly famed for its ‘Meateasy’ – essentially a pop-up burger bar in the backgarden.
The Meateasy has moved on and the burgers are now cooked in the kitchen. Mighty fine they are too, as was the beer and the amusing member of staff who danced and sang as he served us.
So a good start to the night. No violence and a decent drink and bite to eat.
Surely now we would retire to a more relaxing part of town? But no, the next stage was to find a pop-up bar on top of a dimly-lit multi-story car park, again in Peckham. For those unfamiliar with the area I should explain that this altcan be a fairly intimidating environment.
Again I was proved wrong. The pop-up (pictured badly by me, right) was simply thronging with people of all ages, enjoying an artistically created set-up with stunning views across London. The Meantime lager was pretty tasty too.
My expectations on both occasions had been well and truly exceeded. But then I was hoping to just avoid bricks being thrown at my head or pubs being razed to the ground.
It was in fact an up-lifting night, made even more so after reading the hundreds of post-it notes pinned up in the town centre by Peckham residents proud of their community and angry at the rioters.
So what did I learn? That Peckham is not as bad as I thought? Well, yes, but the main thing was that it is a place with a proud community, no doubt like everywhere else that suffered at the hands of the mob last week.
It has its problems but it has a lot going for it too. Other places that have been smashed up by thugS could probably say the same THING.
What is important is that people are not afraid to go out and can support the pubs and other businesses that are a vital part of keeping those communities functioning and thriving.  
Matt Eley
9.8.2011 Matt Eley
altI have seen evidence that the continental drinking culture New Labour wanted to introduce is here – and of all places I saw it in Ipswich.
Now I wasn’t there for work or indeed to scrutinise changes in drinking habits. No, Ipswich is my home town and I was simply back for a night out with some old friends.
Initially I thought the night time economy must be in tatters because the town centre was bereft of any people or action when I wondered down memory lane at about 7pm on Saturday night.
Most of our old haunts were either empty, quiet or, in one particularly upsetting incident, a Starbucks.
However it was not until we moved towards the regenerated docks area that I realised how the culture in the town had moved on.
This is a flourishing area with numerous bars, restaurants and residential developments. And this, it seems, is where people start their evenings these days.
I was astonished to find myself in a queue for a pub at 10pm. Normally, I would go somewhere else first and return later but we were meeting friends and I was told this was the place to be.
Chatting in the queue nobody seemed that concerned about the delay to their night. They were used to this place making you wait to go inside and once you were there, they said, it was worth it. Turns out it was, incidentally.
They also said this was the place people tended to start the night – at around 10pm.
After that it was back towards town for more pubs and bars with late licences. The nightclub scene in the town, like many other places, has been hard hit by licensing changes and the economic downturn.
Now it seems, in my old hometown at least, that people are happy to go out later with friends and stay out later too. Some people go home at midnight while others will be out as late as 4am.
This means you no longer get the mad rush to the pub at 7pm, the crazed drinking-up at 11pm, followed by everyone piling to a club before spilling onto the streets at 2am, which inevitably led to problems.
Now, I am not saying it is perfect by any stretch as a lot of those people coming out at 10pm will have been happily drinking at home for hours before. And that drunken yobbish element has not been removed from society.
But it is definitely better.
We are constantly told about binge-drinking youngsters tearing through the streets.
Matt Eley
1.8.2011 Matt Eley
altIt’s been something of a key period for the team here at Inapub of late.
Last week we received the first copies of our new magazine from the printer and this week it will be landing on the doormats of 10,000 pubs. Tomorrow we will be touting our wares to the industry at the Great British Beer Festival.
It has been a real labour of love creating a new title for the pub sector – and fingers crossed people like it.
We have tried to create something new for pubs that informs and entertains, provides those helpful business building tips but also a few moments of light relief when people have a break from the bar.
One of the mantras we had when we started putting plans together for the magazine was ‘we must make it feel like a pub’. That might sound like a bit of a vague concept but we wanted to capture that kind of ‘work hard, play hard spirit’. So the magazine should be welcoming, filled with laughs, debates, good food, drink, events and, above all, interesting people – just like all the best pubs.
You can let me know if we have achieved that when you get hold of a copy and I am eager to hear feedback – good and bad.
It also occurred to me that creating something like this is not a world away from running a pub.
Obviously you have the business costs involved, the desire to provide information or events that appeal to a wide customer base – but also the knowledge of knowing that what you do will probably not be for everyone. alt
We also have to promote it, talk about it and make sure it stands a good chance against the opposition.
And of course we have to get the right balance with our offer – is their enough food and drink coverage? Are we talking about the right brands? Will this connect with our customers.? It has to, because consumers in the word of both pubs and media have so much choice these days (albeit a little less on a Sunday after recent developments).
And of course that’s just the beginning because after one issue we are now on to the next one while constantly thinking about what we do online as well.
It never stops, as is of course the case when running a pub.

Matt Eley