Thursday, 7 March 2013

What makes a great pub? Fuller's Tenants Extra, March 2013

What makes a great pub? These days, a warm welcome, a well-kept pint, good food and generally high service standards are more or less the price of entry – any pub not getting the basics right is unlikely to still be in business.

So what is that makes a business stand out?  The short answer is, of course, that it’s mainly down to personal taste, and one man’s Pub of Perfection is another’s Hostelry from Hell. All of which is fine, and what a dull old world it would be if we were all the same, as my cross-dressing Uncle Matt used to say as he donned his ginger wig.  
However, with everyone from trade magazines to tourist authorities queuing up to hand out awards to pubs, there also need to be criteria for picking one pub over another. I have to hold my hand up here, having been involved in judging, and even organising, my share of industry awards.

When shortlisting for the now-defunct Pub Food Awards, I always had a ‘restaurant’ pile. Any business which, based entirely on my own personal assessment of its entry form, had crossed the line from pub to restaurant, was consigned to this reject category. It was arbitrary and probably unfair, but when you’ve got to reduce several hundred entries to a shortlist of four you need a system.
I’ve been pondering the problem again recently while visiting the businesses shortlisted for Pub of the Year by the Croydon and Sutton branch of CAMRA. The guidelines, understandably, reflect the real ale lobbying group’s policies, so while there’s a focus on atmosphere and encouraging a wider use of pubs, there’s no mention anywhere of food – which is one of the best ways of drumming up a more varied customer base.

Fair enough, I’m just a foot solider in the CAMRA ranks and I’m more than happy to reach a view based on the criteria I’m given. However, as I sat in one of the shortlisted pubs carefully assessing my half of bitter, Mrs P looked up from her bowl of chips, glanced around at the well-used fixtures and fittings, and offered the view that the pub in question could do with a bit of a facelift. She went on to add that she wouldn’t be in any hurry to come back, because it didn’t feel ‘clean’.
The pub in question is highly acclaimed by beer aficionados and has, I have no doubt, impeccable hygiene standards. However, given that one of CAMRA’s criteria is that a pub should be ‘female friendly’, should I mark it down on the basis of Ms P’s observations?

Another good question, but one which professional discretion means that I can’t answer here, any more that I could possibly comment on the merits  of the two Fuller’s pubs on the Croydon and Sutton shortlist. Other than to say I’ve enjoyed a couple of excellent pints of Pride. Cheers.
This 'Kitchen Porter' column appears in the March 2013 issue of Fuller's Tenants Extra.

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