Friday, 13 October 2017

Raising the bar

In last week’s issue of the Spectator, there was an interesting article (registration may be required) by Rory Sutherland in which he argued that the development of well-known chains of service businesses such as coffee shops and budget hotels, while we may not think much of them, had served to raise standards overall by creating what he calls a “threshold of crappiness”.

It is worth remembering that many unfashionable large businesses create value in ways that are often under-appreciated. No one will ever write gushingly about McDonald’s or Starbucks or PremierLodgeExpress. But what these large chains do is valuable, even if you never use them. They effectively raise what I call the ‘threshold of crappiness’ in the sectors in which they operate. To operate successfully as a coffee shop or a sandwich bar or hotel (or a minicab firm), you have to be at least as good as a chain or else you fail. This raises the bar for everyone. You can get better coffee in a truckstop now than at Claridge’s in 1990.
Surely much the same is true of Wetherspoon’s in the pub industry. They are often derided for their cheap and cheerful menus and customers and lack of atmosphere, but they have had a salutary effect in raising the bar of what people expect from a pub. Most notably this is true in terms of all-day opening and food service. It is largely forgotten now that, in the early years after all-day opening was introduced in 1988, it was often hard to find a pub that was actually open in the afternoon. But, if the Wetherspoon’s down the street is open all day, a competing pub may well lose customers if they’re not. Even if you scarcely ever go in the pub in mid-afternoon, it’s reassuring to know you can.

Back in the early 1980s, there were some truly terrible pubs with a slapdash, take-it-or-leave it approach to customer service, especially in London, which is where Wetherspoon’s started off. Today, while they’ve not entirely disappeared, they’re much less common. If you run a pub in a town or city centre with a Spoons, you have to do at least one thing better, or you’re not going to survive.

16 comments:

  1. Blimey. What you been up to, Mudgie?

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  2. Eek! This was supposed to be a comment on some crazy-arsed post about spells and such which has now vanished! Sorry.

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  3. I deleted it as soon as I spotted it!

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  4. I have never really understood the ire that Spoons draws from the beer literati, and admittedly I only get into one every couple of years these days. However, I don't recall ever having had a bad pint in a Spoons, I don't recall ever having had an inedible feed in a Spoons, and I don't recall ever having had surly service in a Spoons. Perhaps I have been lucky with the Spoons I have visited, but if there is one in the place I am visiting then you can almost guarantee that's I'll give it at least one visit. When I was last home, the ones in Inverness and Fort William were both well worth the visit.

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    1. Boring but I entirely agree with you. I do go to 'spoons most weeks and the standard of their beer is excellent. I once had a bad pint but they replaced it without even tasting it. Their pint and a toasted sandwich for under six quid is a bargain not to be equalled elsewhere. In a strange town 'spoons is the safe choice. It may not be the best but it is far from the worst food in town. And where else can you get a full English with a cafe complete at eight o'clock in the morning.

      But I do agree with the detractors who say they are not proper pubs.:-)

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    2. The bitterati? While I can't think of many Spoons that I'd rank as excellent pubs most are more than decent subject to the perennial understaffing that probably is the cause of instances of poor service. I confess to having visited the local Spoons today (being drawn by their twice-yearly festival, I'm ashamed to admit) and enjoying a couple of pints of Jaipur at £2.05 when the going rate nearby starts at £3.50 for anything.

      I think the original article is perceptive.

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    3. Nearly all pubs, indeed nearly all retail outlets, are understaffed and give poor service. Very few people are willing to pay extra for good service. But, as the Ryan fiasco shows, that doesn't prevent them from expecting top service for rock bottom prices.

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  5. Professor Pie-Tin13 October 2017 at 19:04

    Whenever someone tells me how crap Wetherspoons are I ask them why are there so many of them.
    Often occupying the premises of previously crap pubs that failed.
    No-one has yet given me a convincing reply.

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  6. I'm certainly not knocking Wetherspoons. The point of the post is that, like Premier Inns, they're reliably and consistently OK, and thus force their competitors to raise their game.

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  7. I use Wetherspoons as little as possible,mainly because I don't like them, I have had good and bad pints there, I have certainly had very poor service and little good, I've never spent a CAMRA voucher there so price doesn't sway me, I don't like the general pub experience they offer, from my point of view their only plus point is convenience,which at times can be handy.

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    1. It helps if you stop thinking of them as pubs and more as burger bars that also sell alcoholic beverages.

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  8. Deserves a knighthood does Timbo. For services to a decent cheap pint.

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    1. There's a Spoons in the Trafford Centre. For the provision of such a refuge, mankind should be grateful. Deeply grateful.

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    2. But if he gets one it will be for supporting Brexit

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  9. Agree on that. 9am and all day opening one of the great inventions of the last 30 years. Ability to get decent pint and food in clean pub much underrated. That said, I couldn't get our US visitors excited by the Spoons Beer fest this week, despite those vouchers and the lure of Adnams Tally Ho ! And the food quality is slipping.

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    1. Not much can pull me to a beer fest. The pub and company are as important as the beer. We proved it again this week.

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