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?