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Matthew Eley

Matthew Eley

Matthew Eley

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

23.11.2012 Matt Eley
altA phrase I hear a lot these days is ‘if you stand still, you go backwards’.

Pubs have to continually come up with new ideas, menus and concepts to keep their punters interested enough to keep coming back.

Failure to do so means they will simply go somewhere else or stay at home.

So while it has never been tougher or more challenging to run a pub it has also never been better for the customer in terms of the choice available to them.

Take this week as an example. I have been to several pubs (I know, this is a tough gig) and have seen a stack of ideas including a Man v Food challenge involving 30 sausages for £30, a pub that went from selling no food to turning an outside space into a kitchen and making food account for around half of its sales.

I have also been to a pub that runs regular quizzes, plays live music with the licensee in the band and another that makes scrambled eggs from the rheas it has roaming in its gardens.

And that is just a fairly typical week. There is so much creativity going on that I am convinced the future of the trade is in safe hands.

However, every now and then you go to a pub that makes you despair.

I had such an experience the other day when I popped for a pint with my Dad.

The pub in question has been in decline for years and is one I usually avoid, but despite my warnings he was keen to give it a go.

"I’ve been to worse places than this, son" he said, judging the book by its cover.

We went in, it was dark and unwelcoming and nobody else was there save for a barman and hooded teen behind some decks.

On the plus side, I thought, at least there was no music blaring out.

We ordered the one beer that was still on. Guinness. But halfway through pouring the second pint the pub ran out of the Black Stuff. Dad had to settle for a bottle. It was probably safer than the Guinness, which wasn’t in great condition.

At least I can have a chat with the Old Man, I thought. Alas no, because at this point the DJ must have assumed we, the only customers in the pub, were looking to enjoy some heavy hardcore played at such a volume that I feared the shaky walls of the pub would not be able to take it.

OK, we’ll have a game of pool instead, we decided, if only to get a safer distance from the ‘music’.

The pool table was stained with drink and appeared to have traces of food on it too, but at least it was free – I knew this because the tray had clearly been ripped from the table. We picked up our cues, of which there were plenty, but they didn’t number a single tip between them.

I went to the toilet. No lock on the door. Floor covered in booze that had been through the body.

I returned to see Dad had left his drink – that never happens – and was ready to go. So we did.

"I have been to worse places’, he said "but I can’t remember them right now."

It was of course disappointing to have this kind of experience but it was very rare and is in no way reflective of the industry as a whole. I also don’t know the circumstances that led to the pub falling into such a state.

However it does highlight what happens if you stand still and make no effort with your offer. That pubs needs some tips in more ways than one.

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

Matt Eley
13.11.2012 Matt Eley
alt
Meal deals might not be everyone’s cup of tea, or even their plate of fish and chips, but meal deals look set to play an important role for pubs next year.
As part of Inapub’s All We Want campaign to boost business in those quiet months after Christmas we conducted a YouGov poll to find out what would encourage people back to their local.
And of the 2,000 surveyed, more than half (58 per cent) said a meal deal would give them the nudge they need. The stats are even higher for women, with 63 per cent saying they would be interested in meal deals.
Getting a chunk of the female pound has always been important for pubs because women often control family budgets and, also, where women go out, men tend to follow.
However, utter the phrase ‘meal deals’ in polite company and you can be met by scrunched up looks of disapproval by pub purists who associate such offers with the lower-end of the market.
 But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Meals can of course be two-for-ones or discount vouchers but there are plenty of other innovative ways of providing a value offer.
One of my recent favourites is a ‘777’ deal, where customers can choose from seven options for £7 before 7pm. It works as a way of getting people in at quieter times of the day and keeps the menus fairly straightforward for chefs.
Some licensees who run these kind of offers go for the exact same meal served to diners later in the evening while others might protect margins by providing slightly smaller portions.
Bounceback deals are another good way of persuading punters back. Now is the perfect time to do this by giving people who book for Christmas parties a discount return package in the New Year.
Others can look to extend the party-booking season into January for those workforces that want to go out as a team but may prefer a better value offer in the New Year.
Value, or perceived value is still the key here. People do not want to stop going out but they do want to feel they are getting a good deal on something that can’t easily be replicated at home.
This could be where more findings from the research come in handy. Live music and live sport will also entice people in January and February.
Perhaps events combined with food offers can do the trick. Bands and bangers, football with half-time snacks or final whistle meals might just keep people coming back. Though I am sure the great, creative pub operators out there will come up with more original ideas than this.
How will you be generating custom at this time of year? We would love to write about your ideas as part of the campaign to help the trade as a whole.
For more information visit www.inapub.co.uk/allwewant
Matt Eley is the editor of Inapub. Follow him on Twitter @mattheweley
Matt Eley
8.11.2012 Matt Eley
altIt’s always nice when your expectations are exceeded.

As a customer this could mean being presented with a meal that surprises, exceptional service or something as simple as having some free goodies in a letting room.

It can make a huge difference to whether you will return to that pub or recommend it to friends.

My expectations were truly smashed this week on a visit to a new training centre.

Truth be told, I was not anticipating a huge amount when Stonegate – the managed group that numbers the likes of Slug & Lettuce and Yates’s among its armoury – invited me to have a look at its new training centre in Birmingham.

No doubt, I thought, there will be a food development kitchen (all the rage these days) and a classroom for managers to go to for licensing updates and the like.

Well it did have those things, but much more as well.

As a company they have completely overhauled the way they approach training and there are things that all pubs can probably take something from.

Previously, the first experience a new recruit would have when joining a Stonegate pub would be to sit down at a computer and go through a two hour Q&A about the industry and the business.

Chief executive Toby Smith explained that this was simply “too dull” for a workforce of which more than half is aged between 18 and 24.

So they have developed a range of new and engaging ways for people to learn on the job. One such way is an intranet. Now, this might not sound overly exciting on the face of it but is clearly a great tool for staff and comes complete with a range of cool and slickly designed tools.

Staff across the company can log on when they want and from a variety of devices – laptop, tablet phone etc – from there they can take their e-learning courses, read industry news, get perfect serve tips from brands, check out job vacancies and even sign up for extra shifts at different pubs.

The latter part could have a huge impact on Stonegate’e business because it means staff can work across their portfolio of pub concepts, gain extra hours, cash, insight and, crucially, could be more likely to stay in the business and progress.

Retaining staff is clearly key to the company's new ‘Albert’ approach to training – which is based on Einstein’s theory of progression and includes a periodic style table of modules that map out career routes for employees.

Star performers are even plucked out and placed on a yearly course for those who are deemed likely to succeed at higher levels of the business.

One of these chaps, a bar manager, was responsible for running the intranet project - a cute move which means it is being delivered by someone close to the action on the shop floor rather than a suit from HQ.

During my visit, these 16 stars of the future where in a lecture which we briefly interrupted to ask a few questions. And while you would expect them to say positive things in front of their bosses it was clear that they were engaged with the course and could see the potential for developing their careers as well as taking tips and ideas back to their respective pubs and bars.

Stonegate expects Albert’s Academy, for that is what it is called, to be full of staff throughout the week.

They expect the e-learning side to continue to grow as well. There have already been 2,000 online visitors in the first few weeks which isn’t bad for a company with around 550 pubs.

So how is this at all relevant if you have just one or even two pubs and are not likely to invest hundreds of thousands into a new training academy.

Well, it doesn’t have to cost that much and whatever level your business is at you will have to deliver training.

How much better will that training be if staff are not just taken through a list of questions on day one in the job? And how much more likely will staff be to stay and work harder if they can see a clear career path that could lead to them running their own business?

One of the biggest challenges for pubs is making staff see that their plans to serve a few pints for beer money of their own could actually be the first step to a successful career.

Stonegate is taking that challenge head on and exceeding expectations in the process.

Matt Eley is the editor of Inapub. Follow him on Twitter @mattheweley 
Matt Eley
26.10.2012 Matt Eley
altI’ll let you into a secret, if I wasn’t the editor of Inapub I’d quite like to be James Bond.

The career leap from here to jumping out of airplanes and landing in a beautiful Russian spy’s boudoir is admittedly quite a large one, but 007 and I do now have something in common.

It turns out we both like a beer.

Heineken reportedly pumped around £23m to be associated with the film, including advertising and product placement.

It’s a huge price to pay to be linked with the most successful movie franchise of all time but it highlights that while talk around the pub trade can often be about money being tight, there is a fair few quid sloshing around where the big brands are concerned.

So is this kind of investment worthwhile for Heineken – who, let us not forget, where also the official beer of the Olympics.

They were critised for that – a Dutch behemoth representing London! – and the company has received a fair bit of stick for its link with Skyfall as well.

Surely Bond should be drinking Bollinger or vodka martinis and not a fairly ubiquitous lager?

In the film itself, Bond is seen swigging from one of those famous green bottles in a post-coital embrace during the secret agent equivalent to going travelling on a career sabbatical.

It is not a ringing endorsement for a product that likes to see itself as premium, but I suspect bosses are not concerned.

Millions of people across the globe will see Bond drinking Heineken and that association will have been made.

It is the same for the wide-range of other products – Coke Zero, BMW, Sony, to name a few – that feature and help fund the movie.

Hardcore Bond fans might not like the link but it has created a huge noise. Just check out how many newspaper articles have been written about it.

And this is not just about Britain’s greatest agent drinking lager.

It is about the world. A large chunk of Skyfall focuses on China. Now, that’s a market that Heineken will be very keen to smash into like Bond making a spectacular entrance at an ambassador’s dinner party.

Sales in Western Europe are more of a challenge whereas its sales in emerging markets such as Brazil, Nigeria and China are on the up.

Heineken will have invested that £23m in Skyfall with a view to making a killing in that part of the world.

Matt Eley is the editor of Inapub. Follow him on Twitter @mattheweley
Matt Eley
18.10.2012 Matt Eley
altIt’s not often that marketing types get singled out for praise.

After all, a group that refers to themselves as ‘marketeers’ to sound a bit like the swashbuckling Musketeers, deserve a bit of ribbing from time-to-time.

But we should all don our plumed hats in the direction of Chris Keating from the Marston’s owned Wychwood Brewery,

Last night he received the Chairman’s Award at the British Beer & Pub Association dinner in recognition of the campaign he started against the beer duty escalator.

A few weeks ago the online petition against the escalator – which has increased alcohol duty by 42per cent since 2008 – reached the magic 100,000 signatories mark. This means the issue has to be debated in Parliament.

Now it doesn’t mean it has to be axed or even dealt with at a high level but it does have to be debated.

The people have spoken and the politicians have to listen.

Whether the duty escalator is axed or not though is hardly the point, for what Chris and the campaign have done is to show that this industry can work together for the greater good.

A few years ago the thought of the various players in the market campaigning so successfully was virtually unthinkable, such was the fallout from mediation and the continual disputes over the pubco model.

And while that hasn’t been completely solved – no matter what the latest Pubs Minister may think – it is encouraging that the various players have worked together for the same aim.

Licensees, brewers, marketeers, PRs, trade groups, trade press, Hobgoblins, directors and executives have all played their part in ensuring the petition hit that important milestone.

I am sure it is a sign of things to come.

For the great irony about all of the rows that have arisen in recent years – from pubco v tenant disputes through to minimum pricing – is that most people in this trade agree on about 90 per cent of things.

Nearly everyone I meet loves the pub and wants to see it thrive and survive.

Working collectively and highlighting campaign successes to the wider world and indeed the Government, can only help achieve that aim.

Matt Eley is the Inapub editor. Follow him on Twitter @mattheweley
Matt Eley
11.10.2012 Matt Eley
altI’m sure most of us have had an experience eating out when the wrong meal is delivered to our table.

Normally this is sorted out with a smile and the correct food being whipped up and apologetically placed in front of us.

Occasionally it doesn’t go quite to plan, as was the case when I was out with my wife at the weekend.

We were enjoying a very rare weekend away without our toddler in tow, so we thought we would try a few restaurants. Now, Mrs E is a vegetarian and the choice of Prague as a destination was not exactly ideal as the Czech’s are a people who truly like their meat.

After a stroll around the cobbled streets we found an open air eaterie that looked as if it had at least one option she could stomach, so we duly ordered the ‘crusty bread with a head of cheese’.

I went for more sausages.

We were enjoying a beer and chatting away when the food, minus the crusty bread, was whacked down on our table by a burly waitress.

The lack of a loaf was the least of our concerns though as the ‘cheese’ on my wife’s plate looked distinctly like a slab of jellied pig.
Now jelly is ok for veggies but I’m fairly sure pig is not on the list of approved food types.

It took about five minutes to grab the attention of the waitress and eventually we explained that there must have been some kind of
mix up. She nodded apologetically and went back to the kitchen, we assumed to bring a plate of cheese.

We were wrong.

She came back with a bowl of bread (not even that crusty) and disappeared to see another customer before we had time to ask about the pink, meaty, ‘cheese’ that was making my wife’s face turn an amusing shade of green.

Five more minutes passed before we grabbed another waitress.

‘We have been given the wrong meal. We ordered cheese’

‘Yes. Cheese,’ she said, pointing to my wife’s plate.

‘That’s not cheese,’ I said, brilliantly.

‘Yes. Cheese.’ She argued her case well.

‘It looks like pork,’ my wife chipped in.

‘Yes. Pork. Head of cheese.’ She said.

‘This is pig’s head cheese?’ I asked, though I knew the answer.

‘Yes.’ She said as if were both idiots for not knowing that cheese was not just a dairy product but could also refer to the mashed up remains of a sow’s bonce.

‘Well my wife’s vegetarian. She can’t eat that.’

‘Can’t eat?’ said the waitress, with a look of absolute disgust at the thought of someone volunteering to deprive themselves of meat.

‘No.’ said Mrs E.

‘You don’t want?’

‘No. Thank you’, she added.

‘Can you just take it away please?’ I asked to confirm that this wasn’t going to be consumed.

And with a shake of the head and an audible ‘hurumph’ she stomped off to the kitchen with the plate in hand.

Now, I’m not saying it was the fault of the waitress as we could have asked for more information on our meal before ordering it, but the way it was handled the situation made me hanker for a British pub.

There was no apology, no understanding of the customer’s position and no offer of any kind of alternative meal.

Perhaps it didn’t matter to her as she knew we were tourists and we would never go back to the restaurant anyway. But that is hardly the point.

A successful multiple-operator said to me the other day ‘an unhappy customer used to tell their friends. Now they tell the world.’

His point being that the proliferation of social media and online review sites makes it easy for a customer to vent their frustrations, fairly or otherwise.

It just highlights how important every detail of customer service is. That, and making sure you understand the menu before ordering a plate of pigs head jelly for your vegetarian wife.

Matt Eley is the editor of Inapub. Follow him on Twitter @mattheweley
Matt Eley
3.10.2012 Matt Eley
altIt was national Talk Like a Pirate Day recently, but I didn’t see many people going ‘arrrr’ as I carried out my daily business.

I’m not entirely sure of the point of that one or many of the other special days, weeks and months that dominate our calendars but get it right and it can be worthwhile.

Take Movember for example. You can guarantee that next month thousands of people will be growing unfashionable facial hair all in the name of charity. It’s funny and has a point to it which has encouraged people to get involved. Plus most men secretly want to know what they would have looked like had they been around in the 1970s.

Meanwhile smokers are being encouraged to quit their habit this month as part of the first ever Stoptober. If that can be more successful at getting people to quit than Non Smoking Day remains to be seen.

The difficulty with smokers is that while many would like to quit, as a group they tend not to like being told what to do.

Which brings me to two events that are taking place this week that have particular relevance to the pub trade: Cask Ale Week and the inaugural British Roast Dinner Week.

They are separately organised but both should have great resonance with the trade, after all a pint and a roast are a pretty decent match in my opinion.

The hard part with these events is making them interesting enough for pubs to engage and for the pubs in turn to get the interest of their customers.

Obviously cask is important to many pubs, as the perfectly timed Cask Report that reveals volumes are on the up, indicates. But how does a week such as this make a difference to a trade in which pubs are either focused on cask all year round or do not see the benefit of it to their businesses at all?

Perhaps it is with the latter pubs that the engagement work really needs to be happening. Pubs that specialise in cask probably don’t need a week to celebrate it as they do it all year round and, in many cases, have their own weeks and weekends in the form of festivals.

The trick is educating the pubs that as yet have not seen the value in cask. So how is this achieved? Brewers have to be out there in force, offering tips, free samples and incentives for pubs to stock cask for the first time and to see the value it brings.

British Roast Dinner Week has started by encouraging people to go for a roast on days when it might not be at the forefront of their minds, basically not just on Sundays. This is ambitious because it takes more than a week to change eating habits that are deep-rooted.

But it is a start and the organisers at Unilever’s Knorr Gravy brand are pleased with the number of entries they have had in their first search for the nation’s best roast dinner. If my mum doesn’t win I’m betting it will be a pub.

It is an event that should gain momentum over the years, and who knows maybe the organisers between the roast and cask events can work together to raise the profile of both going forward.

Meanwhile, I’m going to do my supportive bit by ensuring I enjoy both weeks as much as I can.

Matt Eley is the editor of Inapub. Follow him on Twitter @mattheweley
Matt Eley
19.9.2012 Matt Eley
altThe minimum price debate has reared its head again and it looks like the government wants to complicate matters.

Usually when the words ‘minimum ‘ and ‘price’ get mentioned in quick succession those in the ‘against’ camp start talking about legal issues, Europe and how it could never be implemented.

Now that the government has said that it is going to introduce a minimum price for a unit of alcohol those noises have been slightly muffled. However, a government report on the matter this week has raised new concerns by suggesting a minimum price could be linked to inflation.

This has given the naysayers more ammo to shoot down a proposal that they were always against. You see many people just do not want government meddling in pricing at all.

But generally that group does not include licensees, who are, in the main, supportive of such as measure. This was backed up by a survey of members of the BII recently, in which 77 per cent said they want a minimum price. Of those, the majority want a minimum level of 50p.

Personally I have always been of the view that a minimum price would at least close the gap between the crazy cheap deals in the supermarkets and the prices pubs have to sell their products at.

I am also a great believer in price not being the most important issue for pubs but when money is tight there are plenty of people who will opt for a slab of beer and their flat screen TVs rather than a couple of rounds at their local.

A minimum price of 40p – the likely government starting point - would not affect prices at many if any pubs in the country. It means you would be restricted to selling pints for a minimum of about £1, and it has been a long time since I got any change from a single coin when buying a beer.

Therefore a minimum price potentially has the unintended consequence of doing a good PR job for the pub trade, by showing how responsibly alcohol is retailed compared to the off-trade.

And perhaps if the industry could show collective, constructive support for a government measure designed to improve public health it might just help the debate on issues that have a more direct impact on the tills, such as alcohol duty.

Matt Eley is the editor of Inapub. Follow him on Twiitter @mattheweley
Matt Eley
16.8.2012 Matt Eley
altSo the general consensus is that the Olympics were a rip-roaring, joyous success and celebration of a nation that realised why it has the word ‘Great’ in its name.

The absence of politicians and the Premiership from our screens, newspapers and radios was hugely welcomed as the general population spent two weeks in splendid positive and proud form and kept a lid on the moaning cynics.

For pubs, reports of how the Olympic spirit translated into sales is still being worked out but the early signs are positive.

Certainly if you were near a venue you were laughing and if you managed to ensure the spirit in your pub was aglow like the Olympic flame then you also had a decent chance.

Surveys by trade group the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers indicated trade slumped fairly dramatically in the first week of the Games with people leaving London and staying at home. But like Mo Farah digging in on that final lap things turned out to be a lot better in week two.

Trade was up at 60 per cent of pubs and bars, according to a survey of members representing more than 1,000 venues.

Not a bad return at all for a sport that is not traditionally one that packs out pubs.

But this was a unique event, an opportunity that will never present itself in this country again. So those entrepreneurs that made the most of it will be patting themselves on the back, while others will have to look at what is coming up in the future.

One thing that is coming up and is itself a unique opportunity is the Paralympics.

I can almost hear the ‘hurumph’ from cynics as I write those very words. How could a minority sport event such as this be good for the trade?

Well, consider it an extension of the Olympics and a further, arguably greater, celebration of British (and international) triumph over adversity.

Consider too that 2.5m tickets have already been sold, which indicates that interest in this event is high.

Around 26m people tuned in to watch the party of oddness that was the closing ceremony. They simply didn’t want the party to end, though they may have reflected on that position when George Michael started his second number.

The appetite for celebrating Britishness and being proud of our nation prevails and the Paralympics is the last real opportunity this year to get the Union Jack bunting out and encourage people to have that party of your pub.

Maybe you were cynical before the Olympics themselves, it would be a shame to miss the boat twice.

Matt Eley is the Inapub editor. Follow him at @mattheweley

Matt Eley
8.8.2012 Matt Eley
altIt might be because I am getting older but I am sure there were a lot more twentysomethings at the Great British Beer Festival yesterday.

In a purely unscientific scan of the hall at Olympia it just seemed that the average age had dropped by about 10 years.

I’m also fairly sure there were a lot more women, and younger women, there than I had seen in previous visits to the biggest beer festival in the country.

This can only be good news for the organiser’s CAMRA, and indeed for the pub trade itself.

Women and younger people are taking more of an interest in beer, flavours, ingredients and what is available in their local area.

And they are drinking real beers too. Not the patronising fizzy ‘it’s a bit like a wine so you girls will like it’ type of brew that have been created in the past to tap into this market.

Condescension is no way to win people over and there is absolutely no reason why women and young adults shouldn’t enjoy what beer has to offer as much as the next, older possibly slightly overweight man.

Huge strides have been made in glassware, pumpclip imagery and the language used to attract rather than intimidate new drinkers to the category.

The stats seem to back it up as well. In one of a number of press releases that CAMRA tends to put out around the festival research revealed that 18 to 24-year-olds are more willing to try real ale.

To put a number on it, in the last four years the percentage of that age group that has tried real ale has gone up 50 per cent from 30 per cent to 46 per cent.

But while half of that group has tried it the numbers of those of that age that go to the pub is on the decline.

Simple answer then – stock more beer, make sure staff can explain its qualities and hey presto you have a whole bunch of customers knocking down your doors.

If only it were that easy.

In other news from the GBBF a barley wine has won the coveted prize of the Champion Beer of Britain. No doubt CAMRA will get a bit of stick for such a strong and specialist brew (it’s an 8.5 per cent winter ale) winning the top prize.

But then if another mild had won they would have got grief for that too.

Sometimes you just can’t win.

But many congratulation to Coniston Brewery and it’s No 9 Barley Wine for impressing the judges.
Matt Eley