A couple of months ago I wrote about the need, both legally and from a beer point of view of a good landlord. However it is the bar staff that are the face of the pub to most customers. From bartenders to duty managers, bad bar staff can result in poor quality beer being delivered and disappointed customers the other side of the bar.
Last week I had the chance to spend a couple of afternoons catching up on the local pub scene around Halifax and its surrounding town, visiting lesser frequented ale houses and enjoying longer sessions at my regular haunts. When you have a young family you end up visiting the same pubs a lot, usually only for 2-3 pints at most. Having the time on your own allows you to enjoy pubs at your own leisure, as they should be.
Last Thursday I popped into the Jubilee Refreshment Rooms at Sowerby Bridge after 5 miles of my 12 mile pub hike and enjoyed a nice pint of Saltaire Summer Ale and a short chat with some knowledgeable locals before strolling down the road to one of my favourite haunts in the town, the Works. It is the little extras over and above the expected standard of service which endear you to a pub. For example, there is no obligation for pubs to offer samples of the ales on offer before purchasing, however most good ale pubs do so now on request.
Faced with mostly unfamiliar beers, I asked which were hoppy pale ales. After being told, the bar staff poured a sample of both beers for me to taste straight away without request. Both were decent beers, but the drier Hopsack Crop Circle won out and washed down the plate of nachos and chili very well over the pint and a half consumed. I would have happily stayed for more, but another 7 miles of walking was ahead of me. The Works has always been a favourite pub with me and still maintains that status after this visit.
The recommendation and unprompted pouring of both samples shows that the management have trained the staff well regarding ale knowledge and the customer service ethos. The second instance last week was in Lewins in Halifax last Tuesday. It was my intention to pop in for a pint at Lewins and then walk up to the Big 6 on the moors before getting picked up later. Intention is a lovely thing, as I didn’t end up leaving the first pub until 3 hours later.
Tuesday afternoon is usually a good time for pubs to catch up with paperwork before the busy sessions towards the start of the weekend creep up on you and both pubs I visited in town that day were fairly quiet as expected. I know the management team quite well at the pub and we normally end up talking beer and food for a while. The conversation moved onto roast pork and crackling, at this point the bar manager excused himself and returned a couple of minutes later with 4 chunks of excellently seasoned pig cheek cracking from the kitchen for me. Again that small extra touch makes the difference.
When looking at the pub scene, one element of the pub experience can help compensate for relative failings in other areas, that is “customer service”. A good number of pubs have a fairly average beer range, an example selection being mainstream lager and bitter from the tied brewery and a guest pump or two serving one of the Timothy Taylor or Black Sheep range. Quite a lot of these are local pubs. People don’t come to these pubs for new beers, they come because the people who inhabit the pub both in front of and behind the bar.
A good management team and staff roster will make people feel welcome, manage queues at the bar during busy periods and elicit the right level of conversation to create an inclusive atmosphere to customers both new and old. People are happy to drink a “decent solid pint” in these circumstances, as I am when visiting such establishments. You could have the best beers in the world on the bar but if the staff are rude, the landlord doesn’t really care and you wait ages to get served, you are not going to return.
I’ve been to a pub above Cullingworth which is frankly a health hazard from the wiring and utility piping point of view and they would admit themselves it could do with a bit of cosmetic work. The beer is above average but nothing spectacular, but the welcome was incredibly warm and we have returned when passing on more than a few occasions.
Customer is not always king, but should always be listened to, If customers like you and your staff, that is half the battle won. A pub is nothing without them.