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Matthew Eley

Matthew Eley

Matthew Eley

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

24.1.2013 Matt Eley
altI have to give credit to the writer John O’Farrell for the above headline because I found it in his novel The Man Who Forgot His Wife. 

The character makes the argument that people use Twitter to confirm their identity to the rest of the world. As if it is the modern equivalent of shouting “look at me, I exist!” at the top of your voice.

For some, perhaps it does provide that affirmation. While for others it will always be a pointless device for talking about mundane topics such as what you had for breakfast (Special K Honey and Oats and a banana, in case you were wondering).

As a journalist, I think Twitter is one, if not the, most effective way of connecting with a lot of people in a short space of time.

It used to be that a hack’s contact book was his greatest tool, nowadays it can be the followers he amasses on Twitter.

About four years ago I was one of the cynical brigade. I basically didn’t understand the point of Twitter and was sceptical towards a new media tool that a bunch of geeks had embraced.

In my own time I created a profile and experimented with various tweets and searches.

I have now amassed a number of followers who I can provide content to and occasionally ask something of.

For example, today I needed to find a pub that had hosted a race night for a feature I am working on. I could have rung around some contacts, searched online or called a few friendly PRs, but a quick tweet resulted in an instant response.

Similarly, the most effective way of driving traffic to content such as this very blog will be by putting a link on Twitter. I have found that you have to give something to expect something in return.

The same is true for pubs. I follow hundreds across the country, both pub accounts and licensees. There are many that just tweet about their offers. This is fine, but I believe to really make the most of Twitter you have to get your personality out there as well.

News, titbits, jokes, funny photos of the pub, can all help bring the personality of a business to life in a social media sphere such as Twitter. It helps people connect with you and remember why you are different to the multitude of others out there.

If you only Tweet about deals that basically say ‘come here and get a bargain’ don’t be surprised if you build up a following of people looking for offers rather than a potentially loyal and connected customer base.

If you successfully build a Twitter profile that can reflect your personality or the personality of the pub then I believe it can be a hugely beneficial marketing tool.

In the last week tweets about warm fires, mulled wine and cider and snow-based pub activities have grabbed my attention. They can also grab the attention of potential customers too.

It won’t happen overnight but Twitter is a tool that is worth persisting with.

Right, best tell my followers about what I’m planning for lunch…

Matt Eley is Inapub’s editor. Follow him on Twitter @mattheweley
Matt Eley
17.1.2013 Matt Eley
altIt’s been another rotten week for the High Street.

Former stalwarts HMV, Jessops and now Blockbuster have all gone into administration.

A decade ago this would have seemed impossible as they were seemingly robust businesses and fixtures in our town centres.

And it is not so much what they have to offer that is no longer wanted by society, but rather how they deliver it.

Our habits of listening to music, watching films and taking and printing photos still exist but the way we get there has been revolutionised by online shopping.

Companies such as Apple, Love Film, and Amazon have had as much to do with the demise of certain street retailers as the recession.

Why would you need to go to a shop to rent out a DVD when you can do it at a click of a button and return it in the post?

This is one area where pubs have an advantage, providing they get it right.

To an extent you can get the same products your favourite pub serves, albeit not necessarily on draught and certainly not on cask. So if people purely go to the pub for drink and food they could opt for a cheaper home alternative, or even order the products online.

However, what you can’t buy at the click of a button, as yet, is atmosphere and friendship.

Now that might sound a little trite but it is the main reason many people go to the pub, for human contact, laughter and companionship (actually there are websites that promises that too, but let’s steer clear of that for now).

Of course, we have seen thousands of pubs go to the wall for a variety of well-documented reasons. But one reason pubs should not have to contend with is that there is a more efficient business model that can offer virtually the same service.

The off-trade and the internet can both offer cheaper booze, but it can’t give you a licensee with personality, a charity pub quiz once a week, a lairy football team who up the energy levels on a Saturday evening or the old boy in the corner who just wants to watch the races and enjoy his pint.

Online trading removes human contact and customer service from the equation – but was anyone going to Blockbuster and Jessops for that anyway?

That is one of the main selling points of the pub and while getting it right does not guarantee a secure future it certainly puts you on a stronger footing that outlets that merely sell food and drink.

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

Matt Eley
11.1.2013 Matt Eley
altSo far this year I have slept soundly in a couple of pubs, had breakfast overlooking the sea, had a brilliant pie, tried to answer some quiz questions, played a new game I had never heard of, watched some live football, had a drink or two, met a group of walkers, a Tai Chi instructor and chatted with a group of mums and toddlers.

That isn’t an attempt to show how busy I have been because all of those things happened within a few days of each other at just a few pubs.

In my job I am lucky enough to get to travel around the country and meet operators in all four corners.

And from my trips in January alone I can report that pub customers have never had it so good.

Pubs are becoming more and more creative as they attempt to work out where that next few hundred quid is coming from, which means that consumers have more choice than ever.

At one pub, The Dock Inn, in Penzance, they had something on every night of the week to attract people in. I was there for the quiz and the curry. I struggled with the former but not so much the latter.

Others, such as The Staunton Arms, in Nottinghamshire, are providing great accommodation deals. Midweek you can get dinner, bed and breakfast for two for £90! Having stayed there and sampled one of their pies I can assure you this is a deal very few would be disappointed in.

I remain convinced that accommodation will become an increasingly important part of the trade’s business. If you have room for it then it makes financial sense to capitalise on it.

Whenever I go away now I always, always, look for a pub. Standards have improved so much that you now get a far better experience than at a hotel at a far better price. The rest of the world will catch on soon enough.

Looking ahead for the rest of the year, food will of course remain important, as will events, but the key to the industry’s success will be pushing standards and innovations to new levels.

It has never been harder to get people out of their homes, which means that despite the closures that still get sited, pubs have actually never been better.

There is more diversity and creativity in the trade than ever before.

I can’t wait to visit more brilliant pubs throughout the year. I just hope they get the rewards they deserve.

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

Matt Eley
3.1.2013 Matt Eley
altSo how was it for you?

Did the earth move? Could you hear constant sound of ching-ching? Were you surrounded by happy, smiling people having the time of their lives?

Or was there a huge build-up, followed by a disappointing anti-climax as you wondered where the hell everyone had got to?

I’m talking about Christmas of course.

It should be a banker for the trade. So if it went badly over the festive period, the signs are not good for the rest of the year.

The anecdotal evidence and reports from corporates suggests that Christmas actually went fairly well as the nation emerges from recession and remembers that going out is both fun and can be part of that all important work/life balance.

But you would expect companies to say they were doing well at Christmas. Ones saying it was as popular as an unwanted, oversized jumper, are few and far between because it is hardly the sort of thing they will want to shout about.

But for those who didn’t have the bubbliest Christmas imaginable, the next few months take on even greater significance.

A decent Christmas can help carry the load for the anticipated drop in trade in January and February. But if it didn’t go so well, you need to make amends.

Inapub’s All We Want campaign is designed with exactly that in mind. We have already given aw
ay a couple of iPads to a pub and a customer who made the most of the online element of the activity.

We encouraged customers to Ilike their locals using our website and mobile apps to create an online buzz around the pub. We now want to see that buzz translated into footfall and sales in January and February, when we know things have a tendency to fall off a cliff.

One of our aims as a new media business and magazine is to share great ideas so the pub industry can help itself attract customers. So let us know how you will be attempting to drive trade in those quieter months and we will cover your stories and share your top tips.

If Christmas is about people coming together to celebrate the important things in life – which they thankfully like to do a bit of in the pub – then the trade should do what it can to try and maintain that spirit throughout the year.

Doing so will not only mean a successful Christmas but a brilliant 2013.
So please get in touch (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and we will do what we can to support you and help spread the word.

Here’s to a prosperous new year.


Matt Eley
13.12.2012 Matt Eley
altAs another year draws to a close and awards get handed out all over the shop for a variety of different and often pointless things, we look back on 2012 with our own proud ceremony.

The difference being that you don’t need to hire out an expensive frock or dress-up like a waiter (even though you might think you look like James Bond) to attend The Inapub Alternatives.

For the event is here, right here right now, and the award is simply the recognition itself. Who knows, next year we might even get round to handing out some tat in a pub function room somewhere, but for now I present the 2012 ‘winners’.

Quote of the Year
We have had some belters in Inapub magazine this year but perhaps the best interview of them all was with that witty bugger Danny Wallace (though Michelle Mone was very popular too…). Anyway, when asked if he thought computer games and social media had created a ‘stay-at-home’ culture that could do the pub trade harm he puffed out his chest and proudly replied:

“Nothing will do too much damage to pub culture. We are Britain!”

For that reason alone we suggest you buy Danny’s debut novel Charlotte Street. It’s really very good.

Pantomime Villain Award
Who is the most dastardly and deserving off this gong for doing harm to the pub trade? Tax dodgers such as Starbucks? Utility companies that constantly whack up their prices? Supermarkets for their continual undercutting and value deals? Uncompromising pubcos?

Nope, for us this year there is only one winner. This award goes to someone who likes to portray themselves as a friend to the trade, but when the trade gets the courage to talk about something that’s bothering us that friend sticks its fingers in its ears and shouts ‘la la la la la la la la la I can’t hear you’.

More than 100,000 people signed a petition against the beer duty escalator to secure a debate in Parliament which was supported by 100-plus MPs. The government’s response was very Brian Clough: ‘We’ve sat down and talked it over and agreed that I am right.” The collective effort of the trade was outstanding. The response of ministers? Not so much.

The Phoenix from the Flames Award
Rik Mayall was a contender for this for reprising his Bombardier character in a series of TV ads. In fact beer ads on TV were in with a shot themselves, with Greene King IPA also making a return to our screens. But real ale gets so much of the glory in the pub world (up front there with its impressive pumps and artwork) that we thought we would go for a star of the back bar that we believed would never see the light of day again.

The last time I saw Hooch was when a girlfriend at university regurgitated about five bottles of the stuff on my bed. That was a night to remember. In fairness it was her fault for not knowing her limits and not the alcopop itself.

After a lot of tut-tutting from the media and politicians in the general direction of this popular style of 1990s drinks, they largely did a Dodo. But unlike that old bird (not the one in my student halls, who somewhat unbelievably is now my wife) they have returned with a lower ABV and in a bigger bottle (which in fairness, would be tough for any extinct creature to do). So congratulations Hooch and brand owner Global Brands, we salute your return. We hope it is more successful than Ricky Hatton’s.

The People’s Champion Award
Just when you thought that Stephen Fry (has he been knighted yet?) couldn’t snuggle up any tighter to the warm and welcoming bosom of the nation, he nuzzles in a little closer.

In pub world he has already been named by drinkers as the celeb they would most like to have a drink with (he’d probably be useful on the pub quiz team too) and now he has done his bit for the little man. When sharp-suited and fast-talking (we’re guessing here, but go with us) Hollywood bully-boy lawyers (please don’t sue us) got tough with a little pub in Southampton, Stephen Fry came to the rescue.

The lawyers were representing the interests of the studio behind The Hobbit films, and they wanted to ensure the pub of the same name (which incidentally has been around while some of those lawyers were in high chairs as opposed to the High Court) stopped trading off its title.

Fry, who stars in the film, along with Gandalf himself, Sir Ian McKellen (highly commended in this category) stood up for the pub against the might of the studio and forced them to backtrack.

The pub is safe for now but the battle goes on…a bit like a lengthy film trilogy…hey, maybe there’s a script in this.

The What Was The Point In All That Award

Lawyers again I’m afraid. This one goes to the Karen Murphy v The Premier League case over showing foreign satellite football in her Portsmouth boozer.

After years, six at last count, of legal battle Murphy won the case. But then the Premier League claimed a victory of sorts too. And Sky. Basically Murphy won but you still can’t screen copyrighted material in your pub unless you have a Sky contract. Or you manage to find a way around it. Which is probably illegal.

Read the judgment yourself, it is brilliant for the complete lack of clarity it brings to the situation.
Still, probably best not show that foreign feed unless you want a big old fine. Or a court case that we all forget the point of by the time it’s concluded.

Lifetime Achievement Award

BII Licensee of the Year Mahdis Neghabian was a contender for this one. She has overcome the unfortunate barriers of being young, female and originally from another country to make a name for herself in this still all-too traditional trade to make a real mark on the industry.

But, brilliant as she is, she has been praised plenty this year and will no doubt win more accolades in the future.

Instead we want to highlight the work of who we believe to be the longest-serving barmaid in the country.

Dolly Saville is nearly 100 and has been working at The Red Lion in Wendover, Buckinghamshire, since 1939. Simply astonishing stuff and a wonderful example of the brilliant people that make pubs across the country the wonderful places they are. Our sincere congratulations.

And that is all for now, save for the after show party…anyone care to join me?

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


Matt Eley
5.12.2012 Matt Eley
altEver get the feeling you have let yourself in for more than you bargained for.

Last week I offered my services to pubs free of charge so I could get more hands on experience on the other side of the bar.

The idea is that this will surely benefit Inapub’s coverage of the trade, while the pubs get an extra pair of, hopefully not entirely useless, hands.

I suspected I might get the attention of a couple of sympathetic licensee friends who wouldn’t mind if I got behind the bar for an hour or so.

But no, it turns out there is plenty of work out there for an enthusiastic and, most importantly, free, pub trade journo.

I have received emails and tweets from across the country with subject lines such ‘Sucker wants to work in a pub?’ and ‘I was looking to take a break in January’.

So there’s no getting out of it now.

I will leave it until January because nobody, myself included, wants to have a hapless hack getting in the way while trade is so busy.

But come January I will be pouring pints, serving food, chopping veg and doing basically whatever it is that the pub wants.

And although part of me is looking forward to the prospect, I have to admit to being a little apprehensive about it all as well.

Just thinking about it makes me realise how much there is to know. ‘What if someone orders a drink that I don’t know how to make, what if I drop a plate, get the wrong change, mess up the till, fail to spot who is next to get served, and how should I deal with an obnoxious drunk?’

I’ve not even started yet but already the sheer volume and variety of work is playing on my mind. You have to be multi-skilled, hard-working and good-humoured. I’ll soon find out if I have got what it takes, though I suspect I already know the answer.

So thank you to everyone who has been in touch already. The offer remains open to anyone else who fancies getting involved and I will be in touch in the new year to pick up my shifts!

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

Matt Eley
29.11.2012 Matt Eley
altNope, I’ve not been given the old heave-ho just yet, but I thought I would make my services more widely available.

One of the biggest criticisms pub trade journalists receive, as we commentate from the sidelines, is that as we don’t actually work in the trade then we can't really know the intricacies of what we are on about.

Well, I can see some merit to that argument but it is a bit like telling Motty that he has no right to commentate on top flight games because he never made it as a footballer.

Clearly Motty knows what he is on about and I like to think that I, and my contemporaries, are in a good position to report on and write about the pub trade too.

That said, I can also see the benefit to getting a bit more practical experience. Save for a few shifts here and there back in my student days (many, many moons ago) it has been a long time since I worked in a pub.

So consider this my application letter to anyone who could do with a spare pair of hands every now and then.

I like to think of myself as a people-person, well-presented, a fast-learner and able to adapt to a number of tasks. I’ll get stuck in and I’m also very, very cheap. In fact, sod it, I will do it for free.

I am really looking for licensees to give me hands on experience in all areas of the business. I will empty ashtrays, wait tables, pour pints, change barrels, collect orders, run your Twitter account, put up posters.

Whatever it is, I am willing to do it to learn more about the trade that I write about and have viewed primarily through the eyes of those who work in it and my own eyes as a customer and a journalist.

On the downside, I am currently employed so the shifts will have to fit around the day job and I am likely to write about my experiences and put them out there in the public domain. I might even exaggerate slightly to make them appear funnier.

Also, let’s leave this until after Christmas, shall we. I’m keen, but I’m not a glutton for punishment.

But if you want to give a hack a chance at learning more about the business then I’m your man. I’ll do my best not to get in the way too much, I promise.

Interested?

Then drop me a line at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Matt Eley
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