An artisanally crafted blog curated by Cooking Lager for discerning readers of beer bloggery

Sunday, 18 October 2020

The pubs will close again


The only comment it appears possible to write about beer and pubs is how utterly dire it all appears to be. It appears that the demise of the pub industry will not come about due to cheap supermarket booze but a virus. A virus that requires us all to keep our distance from each other and live within bubbles of family units. A virus that kyboshes much of the natural human behaviour that makes shared social spaces like pubs an enjoyable place to spend time.


The 1st stage of this appears a distant memory despite only being earlier in the year. Remember before the pubs shut in April? Governments advised us against wearing masks arguing they were ineffective. In reality it was more a case that they didn’t want individuals buying up PPE for personal use. How’s that economic theory of comparative advantage working out on PPE then? I remember sitting in a pub and a group of old men came and sat at the next table. Nothing unusual until one had a coughing fit. His friends joked about the virus in the news and they cracked on. I thought at the time. All restrictions and advice essentially applies to others. It is others that spread the virus not us. Others not following the rules. There is always an exception for ourselves. A week later after some debacle the pubs were ordered to shut and an eery quiet descended. Working from home, furlough and supermarket delivery slots were the language of middle-class lockdown as the workers cracked on in the factories, warehouses, shops and hospitals.


It was a strange month. Queues outside supermarkets. People crossing the road to avoid each other. Only going out for a walk once a day. Leaving groceries in my elderly parents’ porch. After a month you saw it break down. Neighbours having guests, one neighbour selling his car and showing it to visitors. All going out to clap the NHS, mind. Gradually we entered the world of Covid theatre. Showing you were doing the right thing but finding a way around the rules when necessary.


The advice on masks seemed to change around the time I got an email alert telling me N95 masks were back in stock at screw fix. Now they were available, they were advised. Gradually they would become mandatory. I bought packets and felt the need to explain I was buying not just for myself but elderly parents. There was no dirty look, but I felt the need to explain why I was buying up to the limit rather than 1 packet.


Thankfully the weather stayed, in the main, nice and I enjoyed the break. My gardens never looked better with the time I spent tidying it up. My gardens have always been a burden and I had given thought to selling the house and moving into an apartment. During the summer I appreciated having it not only to spend time on it but to sit with a book and a beer listening to the birds’ tweet. I have the habit of buying books and not reading them. I ploughed through a fair number this summer. I learnt about crypto currency, how Warren Buffet differs from his mentor Ben Graham and even read a book about beer.


Despite the inconveniences and I’m sure for many people, fear. I felt hopeful. The virus would burn out or we’d build the capacity to cope with this, adapt, and return slowly to some form of normal. Hope arrived when the pubs reopened. I felt an optimism. The sacrifice we had all made had been worth it. We were out the other side, Normalcy resuming. Rishi was encouraging the reticent out with a cheap burger. It wasn’t so much my day out in the pubs I enjoyed but what it represented. This was coming to an end. We were getting back to normal. Gradually, slowly but to normal. Second wave? Was it always inevitable?


Is it that people have not followed the guidance? Has the government been negligent in its advice to us? Even a conservatively minded man like myself cannot defend much of the government. It appears time has been wasted. Our world beating track and trace system is a £12 billion Excel spreadsheet. Cases are rising. Government assistance is becoming less generous as the tax base dissolves and the economics suggest our nearly 50-year experiment with weak money has reached its limit of what can be achieved with that idea.


The reduction in government assistance appears to put the regions in revolt as local city mayors point out much of their local economies will die under severe restrictions.  That has health impacts too. Meanwhile the weather is turning into winter, the ever-changing pub rules make them incrementally less welcoming with every change. Every day appears under threat of further changes tomorrow. The optimism of summer has given way to a pessimism that it might not be okay in the end. We are not getting through this unscathed. I can’t be the only one?


Is it that it’s gradually wearing me down? But good god. The daily debate as to whether Greater Manchester should be Tier 2 or 3. What will shut, what will change yet again. I feel for those running pubs in this environment. Not knowing from day to day what change is coming tomorrow. A sense that whatever change is made will not have the desired effect and further restrictions are down the line. A lack of belief that a 2-week circuit breaker would be 2 weeks. The 3 weeks to save the NHS turned into 3 months for Christ sake. Is it time to turn off, get your head down and just crack on best you can, filter out the stream of ever dire news? Stock up on bog roll and beer and sit it out? This time in winter. No xmas parties, uncertain what family members can be visited. No meeting friends. Doesn’t seem all a burden now, the Xmases of years past. Seems it’s something I’ll miss. I think what is lacking is that this time I don’t think it’ll all be fine in six months.


I thought that six months ago. I thought we’ll get to the other side of this. Yet after this short respite, we appear to be where we started. The plan appears to do it again and see where we are in six months. I think we’ll be exactly here. That’s my pessimism. I hope its not shared. Some people think businesses close when they run out of money. They close when the towel is thrown in. When people think they need to do that in order to get out with something rather than stick it out and leave with nothing. If I ran a pub my thoughts would be one of jacking it in. I hope it’s not a widely shared sentiment. I hope they are fighters.


The pub news remains bleak, bleak, bleak, bleak, and bleaker. There isn’t good news. I’ve looked.


The pubs will close again. Only this time fewer will reopen. I hope there’s more optimism with you than there is with me.

Tuesday, 29 September 2020

Get tipping

When the pubs reopened in July, I was keen to return to check them out for a number of disparate reasons. One of the more pessimistic that makes the pub lovers cry is that I suspected many of them are not long going to be with us. It is a twilight for many so get in for one last pint. Another was a desire to check out the new Covid restrictions and see what kind of pub experience it was. If you remember at the time there was much wailing by so called beer and pub enthusiasts for them to stay closed. Primarily by people scared of leaving the house, lest the Rona get them. So, I wanted to see whether they were distanced and safe and clean and all the what not. By and large what I experienced at the time surprised me in so far as it was a better experience than I expected.


Tip you tight arse, she deserves it.

The lockdown bedwetters were wrong, pubs were not centres of infection as drunks ignored the rules and infected everyone. They were well run and, to be honest, the staff deserved a bonus for there patience and the ability to remain polite and nice after repeating the same reminder for the umpteenth time. The other extreme of the bed wetter’s, let’s call them anti mask nutters were also wrong in so far as the hospitable pub environment was not to any great extent ruined. Pubs could operate more or less as they had done and remain as hospitable or not as they had previously. The reduced capacity had me wondering about the longer-term viability.


Last Thursday the rules changed again and by Friday I fancied going checking it out for myself rather than trust the 2nd, 3rd and even 4th hand reporting of journalists or bloggers most of whom have their own narrative to support and will have decided how they see things before seeing it.


A pub review is not the point of this opinion piece, so I’ll get straight to the 4 conclusions I reached and how I reached them. Number 1. Spoons after a great start are getting back to their bad old ways. After Timbo clearly spent a bob cleaning and tidying up some of his more sticky tabled gaffs, spreading the tables out and putting in the Perspex. It’s getting a bit sticky tabled again. It’s one thing to have door staff policing the numbers but when most of the free tables have detritus or beer splashes on them it’s the grot hole of old, not the new Covid secure clean spoons of new. That’s a quick in/out not stopping pal. Not all spoons. The nicer ones of old are still nice. Spoons is a system and in some that system misfires. Glad I chundered thru my tokens in the magic month they wiped the tables down.


Secondly, pub hospitality is a reflection of the proprietor. The pubs that were always welcoming appeared to be making a decent fist of the latest rules. The less welcoming pubs are well, even less welcoming and appear to resent customers as much as the ever-changing rules placed upon them. By welcoming I mean it’s an attitude that a place kind of has. A patience with customers to remind them politely rather than bark at them and to do so with good humour. A smile even if they are not feeling it that day. A desire to make it work and an understanding their business is all about making the customer feel welcome. It still exists. The great pubs are still great. I enjoyed my Friday afternoon on the pop. I lingered in the better one as they brought my grog to my table.


Thirdly, ever changing rules are terrible thing in business. Businesses work with consistency of process rather than figuring out and applying constant arbitrary change. In the better of the pubs I visited and lingered the staff were working their socks off to accommodate table service in a pub not previously set up to do that. They may learn over time from those places that they can reduce table trips by running table tabs that are settled at the end to reduce payment token transfers. Table service works poorly with pay as you go but I’m guessing that isn’t learnt on day one. One overworked lass making several trips to a table (order, delivery & change) can be reduced with further continental approaches. But the rules will change again next week so no need to bed these ones in.


Fourthly and lastly. It’s time to tip. Other countries and cultures have established rules and an etiquette of tipping. You know them and you can follow them and whatever you think of it, that’s the system. Add the 20%, 15%, 10%. Or round up to the next euro and maybe add a euro if that seems tight considering how many you’ve had. The rules are in the guidebook. Friends have confirmed thems the rules or all is clear. You just follow it. We’ve never had that here. But table service adds to the service you receive and it’s time to tip. I’d prefer a set of established rules and etiquette but in lieu of them I’m proposing the following. 20p or thereabouts if it’s pay as you go. Round up to a quid, maybe add another if it’s a table tab. That sort of Germanic table service set of rules you’ve noticed over there. It’s seems fair enough without adding to much to the cost of your sesh. The bar staff are running around, the gig is a lot more than it was, they are coping brilliantly and smiling when reminding the dopey codgers for the umpteenth time to put a mask on when going for a piss. They have more humour and patience than I would muster. Bung some coins in their tip jar. They deserve it. A nice bonus when they dish that out among themselves. It’s not patronising or elitist to tip. Back when I was a student, I did some silver service gigs. Tips were great. I loved them. Ta very much posho’s was my attitude to tips. The kids running ragged to make this new system work will love a bit extra for the extra effort they are are putting in. Tip you tight arses. Say one yourself, say round it up, say stick 20p in your tip jar treacle. Whatever. They’ve earnt a tip.