Friday, 17 August 2012

I had rather strange experience in the gents - Fuller's Tenants Extra, August 2012

I had rather strange experience in the gents’ of a central London pub recently. Before you turn the page in shock, I should stress that story this story is entirely suitable for a family audience. Anyway, I was fully focused on the task at hand, when a voice piped up from the stall next to me: “Are you Pieandapint on Twitter?”

Once I’d recovered my composure, I was able to confirm that I do, indeed, Tweet as @pieandapint. My new friend was a beer blogger who was at the pub to attend the same press event as me. In the circumstances, shaking hands didn’t seem appropriate, but having previously only ‘met’ online, at least we’d progressed to talking in the real world.

On the face of it, the social media boom isn’t entirely good news for pubs. Students who would once have put the world to rights over pints of cider in the pub now rant on Facebook instead. However, new research for the regular Deloitte Taste of the Nation survey shows just how important social media sites have become to the eating out market:
  • 37% of consumers use social media when deciding on where to eat and drink out;
  • 61% of 18-34 year olds consult social media on their ‘going out’ decisions;
  • 24% of consumers use social media to search for discount vouchers.
Clearly, independent pubs can’t compete with the managed players in terms of discount vouchers. Indeed, you may take the view that the kind of punter who downloads and prints a “two carvery meals for a fiver” voucher, and cites his legal right to a glass of tap water to accompany it, really isn’t the type of business that’s worth chasing.

On the other hand, I’ve come across a number of quality food pubs that have worked out how to use social media cannily. In this most typically British of summers, one licensee who has a great barbecue menu has been using Twitter to issue daily updates based on the weather forecast to let customers know if the al fresco menu will be on offer.

Another pub has been using Facebook to run a customer vote on the forthcoming weekend’s Sunday roast, taking the view that anyone who had voted for the beef then had a vested interest in turning up to sample it.

Try letting the online world know what your pie of the day or curry of the week is. You may be surprised at the trade it generates. And if you bump into me on Twitter – or in the gents – don’t forget to say hello.

This 'Kitchen Porter' column appears in the August issue of Fuller's Tenants Extra

Monday, 6 August 2012

Two pieces of research crossed my inbox - Inapub August 2012

Two pieces of research crossed my inbox within hours of each other recently. One was a medical study suggesting that a cup of coffee a day can help combat skin cancer. The other was a survey by Livebookings showing that most customers tip less than 10 per cent of the bill.

I should, of course be grateful enough to someone helping me combat cancer to slip them a decent tip. However, I’ve been reminded twice recently of the old industry cliché that “coffee is the final part of the meal, it’s what customers will go away remembering.” 

In a busy central London pub at lunchtime, we were served two cups of coffee which, while retaining just enough residual warmth to technically avoid being labelled ‘cold’, in no way justified their inclusion in the ‘hot drinks’ section of the menu.

When challenged, our server confirmed that we’d had the last two cups from a pot. She bought us replacements, but her mood suggested she thought we would swill down our cold coffee and clear off . 

A few days later, test-marketing venues for a family birthday meal, we had lunch in a Surrey village pub. Despite the promise of table service, each stage of the meal required a walk to the bar. When I ordered coffees, the barman told me they were very busy and coffee would be bought to our table as soon as possible. 

Ten minutes later, I wandered back and the barman pointed to a tray with two coffees sitting on the bar. Once I’d ferried them back to our table, we decided that they were – just – the right side of drinkable temperature-wise. Of course, our quality threshold may have been quite low by that stage. 

These pubs were run by Geronimo Inns and Mitchells & Butlers, both of whom make strong claims for their customer service. I know things don’t always go to plan but in neither instance, whatever the health benefits of the coffee, was I tempted to leave a tip.

On the Menu this month: My family enjoys a carvery, and whenever we visit I think I’m the only one who looks at the alternatives available. The summer menu at M&B’s Toby Carvery has a ‘fancy something different?’ section that features interesting sounding choices, including chicken tikka salad and wensleydale crusted hake fillet. Of course, I had the carvery. Doesn’t everyone?

This Pub Food with Porter column orginally appeared in the August 2012 issue of Inapub.