Friday, 28 July 2017

Join the queue

Martin Taylor has recently reported on encountering a Post Office-style queuing system in operation in Wetherspoon’s in Cheltenham, something I have never actually seen myself, but have heard about in other locations. At first sight, this seems like an unwelcome development that subverts the usual interaction between customers and staff across the bar, and certainly my Twitter followers weren’t very keen on the idea. However, if you think about it, it does start to make sense in an establishment like Spoons. A bar counter is fine for getting your drinks handed to you immediately, and allows the customers to chat both to the staff and each other. However, in Spoons I’d guess that well over half of all orders include food, especially when you consider that many drinks will come as part of meal deals. As you don’t collect your food at the same time as ordering, the benefit of a service counter is much less, and it’s hardly surprising that cafés and restaurants in general take orders at tables. In the past, although it’s less common now, many pubs had a separate dedicated counter to order food so it didn’t get in drinkers’ way.

The typical Spoons has a very long bar counter and never quite seems to have enough staff, so with the best will in the world you can easily end up being served out of turn, and when it’s busy you may be in for a long wait. A queuing system makes sure everyone is served in order, and while it might not necessarily shorten the waiting time, it will make it more bearable, as you will be able to see clearly how long it’s likely to be before your turn comes. It will mean you won’t get stuck behind someone ordering coffees, as you’ll go to the first available member of staff, and it eliminates the problem of barflies hanging about and blocking the view of the pumps.

No, it’s not how a traditional pub works, and you do lose the contribution to pub atmosphere of interaction between staff and customers. But Wetherspoon’s aren’t really traditional pubs anyway, and in terms of how their business operates, queuing is likely to make things more efficient when it’s busy. If it takes off, you could even see the interiors of their pubs being redesigned with shorter bar counters divided into identifiable serving points, and display boards alongside the queue showing the food and drink menus. Maybe you could even separate ordering and collecting drinks, as in a McDonald’s drive-thru, so your drinks are ready when you actually reach the bar.

If anything, the Spoons smartphone app, which Boak and Bailey have written about here, undermines the traditional working of pubs considerably more than expecting customers to queue at the bar.

26 comments:

  1. There is a problem with Spoons in that people walk up to the bar and respond to the cry of 'Who's next?" even when they know it's definitely not their turn. If you say something, they exclaim, 'Oh sorry, I thought you were already being served" - leaving me wondering 'Why did you assume that?' I did consider writing to Spoons jokingly to suggest they have ticket machines so that you're served in turn when your number is called. I might still do it.

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    1. Actually I was just thinking that the supermarket deli counter-style ticket system could be an option for Spoons ;-)

      I don't think it's just a matter of staff training, as the sheer length of the bar counters in many Spoons, and the press of customers at busy times, makes it simply impossible for the staff to clock whose turn it is.

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    2. And also incentives people waiting at the bar to grab their chance when they hear a "Who's next" or make eye contact in a dog eat dog fight to the death for service?

      Unless that's just one of my local Spoons? ;)

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    3. thats not unique problem to Spoons at all IME, its just most other pubs the staff, the good ones at least, already know who they are serving next and never need to ask, the staff at Spoons for the most part, its just a retail job to them,so they never pick up that skill of assessing the bar & who needs serving next at a bar. Its tricky I know from beer festival serving there are times where you are completely overwhelmed with people thrusting money or glasses towards you and you havent a clue the order in which they arrived.

      I have seen the "velvet rope" line before, but it was always for food ordering, not for general bar serving

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  2. I've only seen this system once before and it was at a caravan site in Grimsby, maybe 20 years ago.
    Our local Spoons is just as you describe: A long bar with not enough staff. Even so, professional bar staff will always know who is next, even on a long bar at busy periods. The staff in our local Spoons are clueless
    We avoid our Spoons like the plague at busy periods as you can stand there forever waiting to be served. A queuing system would definately make things better.
    The trouble is though, the queuing system would only be sorting out a problem of their own making. If they hired enough staff and trained them properly, a long and busy bar would not be a problem

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  3. Clubs in the North East have had queuing for many years, usually with wooden or metal railings fixed to the floor. Saves endless hassle for both customers and staff. I don't see a problem in Spoons as customers are actively discouraged from propping up a busy bar and staff are discouraged from chatting to customers.

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  4. I've never had a problem being served in a Spoons actually - in my experience they always to have loads of bar staff on.
    I went into the best Spoons ever at weekend: The North Western in Liverpool, adjoining Lime Street Station. Very, very busy, great atmosphere, and fabulous views of St. George's Hall out of the grand windows. There were (at least) two bars and so no trouble getting served. Highly recommended.

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    1. That is a superb location, much improved since 'spoons took it over from (ISTR) Head of Steam.

      I never have a long wait in 'spoons. If I can't get served within five minutes in any pub I go to another one.

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    2. I'm surprised to hear you say that, as it's very commonplace to regard inadequate staff numbers and long waits as typical of Spoons, and this is certainly borne out by my experience. Even when it's pretty quiet, there's normally one less member of staff than there should be to ensure efficient service.

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    3. One less member of staff than there should be is typical of all retail outlets in England. That is why the Rochdale Pioneers are now referred to as the Queue Up; and a leading DIY store is Queue & Queue.

      High Street stores should stop trying to compete with Bezoz on prize - which can only be achieved by cutting staff - rather they should compete on service.

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    4. I've never got the impression that the Co-op makes any attempt to compete on price :-(

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  5. Welcome to the future of pubs.

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    1. The future of pubs is Tesco Express or flats.

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    2. if CAMRA get there way it's boarded up rotting buildings about to collapse on any kids that manage to break in.

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    3. Ah yes, better to leave hopelessly unviable pubs to rot rather than converting them into something else.

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  6. I haven't yet risked the 'spoons app because I am convinced that my order will be lost. And I like to start drinking while my meal is being micro-waved.

    But from the point of view of social interaction it is a fantastic idea. One of my bugbears with pubs is that you go in with friends and are having some grand craik when it is your round. You have to leave the table for five or ten minutes to get the drinks from the bar and when you return you have lost track of the conversation. Of course in that dreadful place across the English Channel you generally have waitress service.

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    1. They tend to bring the drink separately before the food.

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  7. Given the 'Spoons app this kind of development makes sense I guess.

    I'm sure I've got a drink quicker with the app than going to the bar on occasion.

    A godsend for people ordering food on their own - especially miles away from the bar, people with luggage, the less able.

    Though must admit I've also used it just out of laziness or wanting to stay with my friends rather than missing the conversion at a busy bar.

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  8. Spoons is a system. Any customer service operation is a system. Most cheap end dining works on the short order cook system. This works best in an American Diner with waitresses taking orders for meals that are part pre-prepared & part quick to prepare. McDonalds developed their own system which revolutionized fast food but has now been abandoned. If you look at their current operation most food is prepared on order & the counters are people waiting for food to be prepared. They are short order without waited service. An awful system of queues and waits.

    Spoons generate more faff & wait for those orders requiring preparation & counter pick up. Coffees or cocktails. Meals are a now different to a person buying a round. Counter queueing whether an ordered line or rammed bar puts people off. They can't put tablet computers on the tables as they would be stolen & damaged therefore outsource the cost to punters. Like ryanair asking punters to print their own boarding cards.

    Most dining pubs have reached the point where bar service is a faff that spoils much of the experience and they would be better off with waited service. Bar service works for pubs & bars where most of the orders are poured drinks. Even cocktail bars work better with waited service.

    As piss poor as the Spoons system is, a question to ask is why is it popular? Spoons is an okay burger, chips & pint. Nothing wrong with it. I think it basically boils down to the fact that most people like spoons prices & think for a pint of lager & glass of wine Spoons aren't ripping them off like the "proper" pubs are so they put up with the queue.

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    1. Dining pubs like to benefit from the "image" of pubs even if they are to all intents and purposes restaurants.

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    2. All dining establishments require an image, a style if you will or some sort of theatre beyond the utilitarian. A pub theme is at least a British theme.

      It basically boils down to covers. If you have one cover per opening period you need to be charging £50 a head. You do this by expensive drinks bumping up the meal price.

      If you have 3 covers per hour you can knock out £5 meals. You can do this with standardization & pre-preparation.

      Pubs are basically uneconomic. People only drink in the evening and most want to occupy a table & only drink & think £3 drinks are expensive. No one in their right mind would open one. The people going in for a meal & one drink and leaving after an hour are the business. The drinkers are the decoration.

      Think of football grounds. The money is the TV contract. The gate receipts earn peanuts.

      You drinkers are not the business.

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    3. Plenty of wet-only pubs do OK, though...

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    4. nah, dying on their arse, the lot of 'em.

      A few vanity projects like micro-pubs may last the decade. The rest bulldozed.

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    5. It is the lack of waited service that puts me off most so called gastro pubs.

      Wetherspoons are popular because the drinks are cheap and the food is reliable. In a strange town you know that 'spoons will serve you cheap second rate food. Going elsewhere you will pay more and take a gamble on whether you get first rate or fifth rate food

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  9. Spoons can't operate in the traditional way because the premises are just too big. For the sake of economies of scale they have sacrificed a lot of what makes pubs worthwhile places go to.

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  10. @ Cooking Lager,
    "nah dying on their arse,the lot of 'em
    a few vanity projects like micro pubs may last the decade,The rest bulldozed.

    There are so many negative comments on this blog,the whole pub stock of Great Britain bulldozed within the next decade,the bulldozers will have to be very busy and we may have to get help from China to build us a job lot to get rid of the thousands of proper drinkers pubs that are still left in this country.
    I am so pleased that i have never been a Camra member and do not have such negative views on the pub stock in the British Isles.

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