Many of you who drink around the Calderdale area and surrounding areas will be familiar with Bloke From Hull. You’ll have seen the doodles pinned up similar to the one show on this page unusually with some unique modifications. Certain pubs like the Cross Keys in Siddal has quite a collection of the drawings. In fact you’ll find these all over West Yorkshire and wide afield. The guy’s real name is David Litten and he is a beer blogger and writer based, not surprisingly in Hull. I’ve met the guy a few times and he’s a really nice bloke who really knows his beer and seems to spend a good deal of his time visiting pubs, breweries and other beer related establishments (no tinge of jealousy here then).
A few month ago David approached me regarding a book he was writing, but my current illness blocked me helping him out. A couple of weeks ago he sent me a final draft version of the book and it really is an interesting read. The book is called “From Junk to Junction” and tells the story of a pub being brought back from the dead in the past 5 years, in this case the Junction in Castleford. But reading it, 75% of the story could apply to any pub which has gone to nothing to being a healthy business. One of the more unique things about this pub is that 99.9% all the real ale served there is kept in wooden casks, with the pub having a collection of traditional casks which breweries across the county are happy to fill with their beer.
It is interesting to reading the struggle to get operations setup, and coping in the early days, moving into finding it’s niche as the business stabilises, and how unexpected emergencies are dealt with. The story is told from the point of view of the staff, owners and customers, the three key components of any pub. There is even a foreword by one of the biggest UK beer writers Roger Protz. All profits from the book are being donated to the Alzheimer’s Society and it costs £10 (more details on http://www.northernbeer.co.uk on how you can get this).
And now to rant, one day last week I after visiting the hospital, I drove out towards Ilkley from Leeds. Stopping at one of the many chain pubs you find along most major routes, the car park looked fairly busy for a lunch time. Given I’m not drinking alcohol or eating solids at the moment, there is no point searching out a CAMRA Good Beer Guide and as long as there is a decent cider or Bacardi behind the bar for my wife our drink needs are satisfied. The first thing I noticed is that it was rather more quiet than the car park indicated, with maybe 6-7 tables out of 80 in use. We’d ordered our food and initial drinks already, so going up for a second tonic water for me, no one was on the bar to serve, a couple of minutes later, I knocked loudly on the bar to get attention, soon after that more customers arrived and resorted to shouting “Service at the Bar” as loud as my damaged throat allowed. It was only at this point that I was acknowledged, still taking another minute until I finally got service. It appeared for a lunchtime they had 2-3 front of house staff for a 300 seat venue, obviously too low. This is from someone who has got some experience of rota-ing from my time working for a large restaurant chain (and I have for my sins, designed a system to minimise staff numbers based on turnover and customer numbers).
It is hard to achieve customer service when there is no one to give the service. One local pub landlord in Calderdale expects one of his staff to acknowledge a customer within 5-10 seconds, even if they are doing other parts of their job. It makes you feel welcome and even if you have to legitimately wait a few minutes to be served, it doesn’t matter. There is an art to being a good bar person, it’s not just pulling a pint, but one of my big bugbears are bar staff who can’t manage a mental queue of customers, being repeatedly passed over for someone who has just walked into the bar and having to be quite forceful to simply get an alcoholic drink. If you are in a nightclub style venue then having to be a bit pushy at the bar is par for the course, but anywhere else there is no excuse. Nothing puts people off a pub quicker than poor customer service and those that do offer such level of service soon find less customers frequenting.