Pubpaper 670 – Pubs, Beer and Reputation

Posted: 12th August 2012 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing
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As part of my work I have to visit the head office near Norwich every month for a few days.  I mentioned my visit a couple of months ago because it gave me the chance to try Doom Bar by Sharps at the hotel, a beer which had a good reputation and I wanted to try. The pint was disappointing, bland, flat and a bit lifeless in all aspects. However, the other beers I tried on the same evening were also not in top condition.

Where a beer has some reputation and I have a poor first experience, I always try to sample on a second occasion.  Being back in the same hotel last week I ordered another Doom Bar and it was exactly the same as the last visit sadly, so I can only conclude it is a not a beer to my taste.  Thankfully the Worthington White Shield bottles rescued the night beer wise again and provided a very nice drinking companion for the night.

The beer and pub trade is a business where reputation is key.  The general rule in life is that bad news travels many times faster and more aggressively than good news, just look at the recent RBS computer system failure, the problem itself made front page headlines over a period of a week, but the announcement of the compensation package for customers appears, to paraphrase “on column 4, page 9 on a Wednesday”.  The same applies for pubs and beer, how many times have you seen the headline “Pub has busy night with no trouble”, never, but you are likely to have seen “Vicious Bar Brawl Outside Bar X”.

Reputation is spread by two methods, word of mouth and via the press and media.  It is debatable which is more important.  For most pubs their press will extend no further than the local or regional media unless you are very well known in your field like North Bar in Leeds.  The biggest spread a pub will generally get is when it opens / re-opens under a new manager or wins an award from CAMRA or one of its fellow trade or consumer organisations.

Of course there are many free to read weekly or monthly magazines like Pubpaper all over the country which also serve a valuable service.  There is also a question of how well respected the local press is, especially those titles which have gone weekly giving less specific timeslots for venues to publicise their achievements or events as well as doubts over the thoroughness of their reporting, something a couple of pubs I know I have suffered from.

Beer is still a minority interest in the mainstream media, with relatively few beer columns being present, but every newspaper of a certain size will have a wine column sometime over the weekend.  Beer will get the occasional column, but that is the extent of the coverage.  In Yorkshire to my knowledge only the York Press have a weekly column dedicated to beer and pubs.

In my opinion word of mouth is the more important of the two, especially now that the realm of social media and online reviews have intruded the industry. There are numerous online pub and beer review sites, and a lively discussion of both on twitter.  Feedback on Facebook is also increasingly important.  However it is the physical word of mouth which is what drives most trade.

In most towns and cities the circle of real ale or craft beer pubs will be relatively small, so patrons of one will inhabit several others over a period.  It is inevitable that other pubs will come into conversation with fellow drinkers and the same pub is mentioned by several people.  On this recommendation, the fellow drinker will visit and mention the place to others, thus the circle is complete.

These dedicated real ale fans will then bring more general drinkers with them, and the awareness of the pub is extended. The reputation spread from a few drinkers has generated an exponential number of customers.  Getting the reputation however is only half the battle, keeping it is even harder over a sustained period. If the beer is not up to scratch or being rotated enough, this will spread as quick in the same circles.

Competition is always fierce and new distinct beers, brewers or other offerings are needed to keep your customers from wandering to greener pastures.  The price of success is having to keep it up, the good landlord and staff team will do this, but it will still be hard work and good beer is not cheap.

We customers just enjoy the fruits of their labour.  Happy supping until next week.