Thursday, 21 October 2010

Beer. Helping ugly people to pull since 9000 BC.

You have to feel sorry for late night operator Luminar. Don’t you? Just a bit?
OK, it’s never been the best loved business in the industry, but it’s only a few years ago that it was a darling of the City, operating around 400 outlets and struggling to bank the cash its bars and clubs generated fast enough.
Luminar is probably the pub and bar trade’s highest profile loser from the relaxation of opening hours initiated by the Licensing Act 2003. It’s business model was, simply, to be the only place in town to get a drink, a dance and the prospect of a snog once last orders had been called  everywhere else.
By charging for admission, the outlets were classed as nightclubs rather than pubs and so opened into the early hours.  Its core customers weren’t too bothered how sticky the carpets were, how low the bouncers’ knuckles dragged, or how warm the lager was.
Once other operators had the option to apply for later opening, Luminar no longer owned the post midnight weekend trade. Without that USP, its outlet numbers have fallen well below 100, and in today’s interim results, the company  has reported same outlet sales down 20.2% in the six months to the end of August.
None of which is much surprise. What is interesting is that Luminar’s recently appointed new management team has conducted “detailed market enable us to better understand the expectations of our customers in the late night industry.”

That must have been an interesting conversation.  Presumably, customers weren’t asked at the end of the evening, when their expectations would probably have focused mainly on a grope and/or a kebab.
What customers want, Luminar reports, is better music, which has prompted it to draft in Ministry of Sound to run dance sessions in its outlets.  We have also undertaken a thorough review of our DJ's to ensure they are providing an experience that our customers demand,” the company says.

That raises the chilling prospect of the ranks of the unemployed being swelled by dozens of mulleted, permatanned 40-something men clutching bags of 80s 12 inch singles.
Customers also want, we learn, cocktails, student nights and live music from the likes of Calvin Harris and Basshunter.
What there’s no mention of is the main ‘expectation’ of most late-night venue customers – the chance of a slow dance, snog and potential close encounter with a member of the opposite sex. The late night sector exists to remove inhibitions with alcohol and music, and bring together people who might never have the chance or inclination to pair off in the sober light of day.
The Coalition has pledged to review the Licensing Act. That may be Luminar’s best hope of a recovery – because demand for the vital social service provided by late night venues isn’t going anywhere.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Missing out the best bits

The print media, and I very much include myself in that category, still struggle with transferring longer articles - features, profiles etc - onto the web. Stuff that works very nicely across three or four pages in print just becomes a daunting slab of text on a web page.

There are, undoubtedly, clever things that can be done designwise to mitigate this. Except, of course, journalists who write are different to journalists who design pages.

Magazine publishers, in their unending quest to squeeze every last drop of value out of their employees, tend to take the view that writers can post their own stuff online. Frankly, since none of them are making any money out of the web, they don't give a rat's ballsack whether it looks pretty or not.

So all the clever, twiddly design stuff that goes into making a printed page gets ignored online. All of which means that sometimes, some of the best bits of print features get left out. Boxes, tables and charts are far too complicated for the average hack to work out how to transfer online, so they get quietly left out. And since very few editors or publishers bother to read their websites, no one notices.

As a case in point, in the current issue of Eat Out, there's a feature on bagged snacks. Written by me. You can find it here:

As with every feature I write, it's jam-packed with useful advice, in this case about the latest snacks, crisps and related salty products which pubs can employ to ensure their customers keep their thirst levels constant.

However, those fortunate enough to have a print copy - it's the August issue, and is inevitably destined to become a collectors item  - are also treated to my top five beer and snack matches. Given the years of hard work that went into training my palate to make such definitive judgements, it seems a tragedy that this information is not available to the online audience.

So, here it is:

• Cheese & onion crisps: Think of cheese & onion as a ploughman’s lunch in a bag, and the match is obvious. A cool, foaming pint of cask bitter has a maltiness that rounds off the intensity of the flavours in the crisps.

• Salted peanuts: The combination that launched a million post-match debates, salted peanuts are an ideal partner to an ice cold pint of lager. Was that ball over the line? Of course it was! Who’s round is it?

• Ready salted crisps: The sharpness of the salt in a bag of plain crisps is beautifully counteracted by a classic IPA. The citrus flavour notes of the highly-hopped ale will help to soothe the salty tingle, as well as quench the inevitable thirst that follows.

• Dry roasted peanuts: So much of the flavour and crunch of these nuts comes from the roasting process. A stout or mild has complementary deep roasted malt flavours to match, as well as chocolate notes to counter the nut’s dryness.

• Pork scratchings: The Midlands is prime territory for both pig breeding and brewing, and gave the nation both pork scratchings and mild beer. The creamy undertones of a classic mild are an ideal complement to the – and there’s no nice way to put this – lardy notes of the snack. Mmmm.

There. No no one need feel left out.