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Posted by on in Cask Marque Blog

By Annabel Smith, Cask Marque Training Manager.

I’m always a little wary of being asked the question “which is your favourite pub?” as it leads to lots of complications. If I name one particular pub, I risk offending a hundred others who inevitably demand to know why I haven’t named them.

It’s a bit like asking me what my favourite beer is; I can’t name just one, because my favourite beer depends on what kind of day I’ve had, what the weather’s like, who I’m with and even what mood I’m in.

I started thinking about why I love pubs when I looked at a website called www.itsbetterdownthepub.com. It’s worth having a look at the film on this website. So I compiled a bit of a mental checklist on how I pick a favourite pub; it’s a combination of things and not always about what beer they serve.

It’s got to adapt to the climate (I hate seeing unlit fires in the middle of winter or windows locked shut on a bright sunny day).

I want any music playing to be appropriate to the environment and customers. We visited a ‘family’ pub in Poole once with my other half’s children when they were younger. The rap music playing at full blast through the bar gave rise to the youngest asking me ‘what’s a hoe?’

It’s got to be clean – clean tables, clean loos, clean glasses. If you’re a beer drinker you know that sinking feeling when you walk into a pub for the first time and all you can smell is vinegar, or fish, or chemicals. 80% of what we taste is experienced through our nose, so being assailed with any of these aromas does physiologically affect what you taste in your beer.

I like the staff to look as though they want to be there, and say ‘hello’, rather than the incarcerated ‘can’t be bothered with you’ look I come across occasionally. It’s good to see a familiar face behind the bar, one who recognises you from your last visit. A little bit of good service sticks in your mind – being served in turn, the beer being topped up without having to request it, even a recommendation if I’m not sure what beer to choose.

I want to feel as though I belong. I call this the ‘American Werewolf in London’ syndrome. Remember the scene where the two backpackers walk into the Slaughtered Lamb on the North Yorkshire moors? As they open the door, every customer in the pub stops talking and turns around to stare at them for a few excruciating, awkward moments. Oh yes, I’ve experienced that a few times.

And then of course there’s the beer. I’m not bothered if there’s one beer or ten beers on the bar, as long as there’s beer that’s been looked after properly. I remember going into a pub in Liverpool that advertised ’15 different cask ales!’ on a board outside the pub. On venturing in, there was one bloke miserably supping a half in a corner. I nervously picked a beer I recognised, and it was undrinkable. Pure vinegar. As was the next one. Too many beers and too few customers does not make a happy cask ale pub.

I’m not in any way preaching to pubs about how to run their business. I’m the first to admit it can be a hard slog and you can’t please all of the people all of the time – I did it for many years, and it’s a lifestyle, not a job.

But I’m happy to say we have a wealth of pubs in the UK who tick everything on my checklist.  They know who they are because I go back to these pubs time and time again. What’s on your checklist?

Posted by on in Cask Marque Blog

By Annabel Smith, Cask Marque Training Manager

There is a scene in the film ‘Educating Rita’ which I’ve always remembered. Rita is asked to write an essay about how best to stage a production of Ibsen’s ‘Peer Gynt’. Her essay consists of five words: “Do it on the radio”. Always makes me laugh.

Every year I get contacted by university students who are about to embark on their final year hospitality degree course.  They’ve usually tracked me down through the Cask Marque website and want an opinion from an industry organisation to add to their studies. Their thesis usually has uplifting titles like “The Demise of the British Pub” or “The Death of the Beer Industry in Britain”. Quite honestly, I wish one of them would ask me how well the industry is surviving, and some recommendations on what we could do to make pubs better, rather than analyse how horribly wrong it has all gone, as though it were a study of the Third Reich.

So I was reminded of Rita a few weeks ago when I was asked to respond to the following question: “Does the pub have a future in British society?”  I sat there, chewed my pen, gazed into space, ate a biscuit whilst I tried to think of a really well balanced intellectual response. However, I got so fed up I decided to go to the pub for a couple of beers to cheer myself up.

And it was then the lightbulb went on in my head. Of course the pub has a future, ESPECIALLY in British society, more so than any other nation on earth.
Yes, the pub industry has had a really tough time. Rising beer prices, the smoking ban, high rents and low wages. Everyone’s had a tough time, whatever business they’re in. But through this crippling, exhausting recession, there are pubs who have survived. There are breweries who have survived. And much of it has been because they have looked at our changing society and drinking culture, taken a step back and said “Actually, we need a rethink. We need to do things differently”.

Customers won’t put up with poor service, or bad food, or a dirty environment. Beer drinkers won’t put up with bland, tasteless, shoddy quality beer. So pubs have changed to give customers what they want, rather than what they think they want.

I probably won’t give these students what they want. They want me to supply a controversial quote, stating that all pubs in the future will be museums that we visit with our grandchildren. The grandchildren will gaze up at us, wide eyed in astonishment as we tell them how we used to gather together and drink beer in – wait for it – public! Do we want our pubs, and our breweries to be viewed as a dying industry by the future intellectuals of this country?

But I’m an optimist, a glass half full type of girl, and I’ve never, ever entertained the thought that the British pub – or British beer – won’t be here in the future. I haven’t responded to the student yet. But I’m so tempted to be a ‘Rita’ and send a five word response. I’ll let you decide your own response...