Thursday, 13 June 2019

Watering down the proftis

A Bristol licensee has recently complained that her profits were being adversely affected by customers choosing just to drink tap water with their meals. At first sight, this just comes across as sour grapes. Free tap water is a legal right, and indeed on several occasions recently I have been given a carafe of water in restaurants without even asking. A business needs to adjust its pricing to ensure it makes a profit on what customers actually order, not what they think they should order.

However, on reading between the lines, it seems that the food in question is being provided by pop-up vendors, so the bar is probably making little or nothing from it. Maybe in this case the answer is to charge the pop-up businesses more commission for the right to sell their food on your premises. Or you could adopt the Wetherspoon’s approach of meal deals combined with drinks. You would have no problem getting a free glass of tap water in Spoons, but you wouldn’t get a discount off the “with soft drink” price because the two come together as a single offer.

My recollection is that the right to free tap water was introduced to give drinkers, especially in nightclubs, the opportunity to rehydrate without being charged for the privilege. Some publicans complained about it at the time, but I don’t really see that it represents a threat to anyone’s business, and indeed have occasionally taken advantage of it myself to wash down tablets. There is perhaps scope to abuse it, for example by groups of thirsty cyclists or hikers demanding rounds of water, but I doubt whether that’s at all common, and a decent licensee should be able to make it clear that is basically taking the piss if they’re not going to spend anything.

If you’re running a restaurant, you are able to insist that your customers do actually buy something, and once their meal has finished its course you can encourage them to leave. However, it’s not quite as simple in a pub, and I’ve written before about the potential for the abuse of hospitality by customers who put little or no money across the bar. One example given in the comments was people coming in the watch TV sports but not buying anything.

However, unless your pub is full, you’re not really losing any money from non-drinking customers, and if one member of a group spends all evening on tap water you will still be making money from their companions. If you really do feel that people are taking advantage, there are various tactics available to a competent licensee to make them unwelcome, and of course at the end of the day you are legally entitled to refuse to serve anyone, and ask them to leave, without giving a reason.

24 comments:

  1. Can you remember when the right to free tap water was introduced?
    I remember (around 1980) being rebuked by the manager of a pub where I worked for giving a customer a glass of tap water.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think it was part of the 2003 Licensing Act.

      Delete
    2. It was indeed that act. Thought not in force that year. From MSE:

      "According to the Licensing Act 2003 (Mandatory Licensing Conditions) Order 2010, which came into force in April 2010 and was updated in 2014, all restaurants in England and Wales that serve alcohol are legally required to give customers free tap water (the legislation for Scotland is the same, but it's a different act). Those that don't are under no obligation to do so."

      https://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2010/860/schedule/made

      Delete
    3. I remember a pub in Bristol charging a 50p deposit on the glass to anyone who wanted tap water. This was in the early 1980s when a pint of bitter was about 65p!

      Delete
  2. Gustave Flaubert said "You can calculate the worth of a man by the number of his enemies, and the importance of a work of art by the harm that is spoken of it."

    However the worth of man must surely be, are they putting money behind the bar?

    If not they are taking liberties. Diabolical liberties. A glass of water? A use of the toilet? For too long these been considered basic human dignities that one might afford anyone regardless of stature or economic capacity. Bollocks to all that! Buy a pint or sod off!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Perfectly happy to buy a half of Coke, but if you have a pint you end up needing to wizz again.

      Delete
  3. The Stafford Mudgie13 June 2019 at 17:15

    The older I get the more I need to rehydrate, especially in hot weather.
    In each of the five London pubs I used on the very hot first day of this month I ordered my pint and then asked for a glass of tap water, no ice, which was readily given, either a half or a pint.
    It's not that water being about a third of what I drank meant I had five rather than 7½ pints. No, without the water I could only have managed about three pints of beer rather than five.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Down this way, large dispensers of iced water and a stack of tumblers has become a fairly common sight in pubs. Sometimes with lemon segments. I even saw one with mint and cucumber once. Free fruity water is more tempting than the beer on offer at times...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. They'd be better off floating a turd in it. Then people might order the bitter and not be diabolical liberty takers.

      Delete
    2. The Stafford Mudgie13 June 2019 at 17:50

      BV,
      Yes, most Wetherspoon venues have large dispensers of water and a stack of tumblers, and so queues at the bar aren't increased by customers asking for water.

      Delete
    3. Wetherspoons is alright for beer and breakfast - plenty of choice - but I like micropubs and proper pubs. Bear in mind that your Spoons serves pongy beardy beer as well as Doom Bar.

      Delete
  5. Drum roll as I try for the nth time to post a comment.

    Tap water - a replacement for crap tasting pop.

    https://boozyprocrastinator.wordpress.com/2019/06/04/any-pump-clip-you-want-as-long-as-its-plain/

    ReplyDelete
  6. The best quote on this comes, as ever, from Kingsley Amis, in his novel The Green Man, narrated by the landlord of a pub of that name who rails against "the sort of people who use two halves of bitter and two tomato juices as a quadruple ticket to the lavatories and washbasins."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Many licensees would be glad of that level of trade nowadays...

      Delete
  7. I think it's a case of reasonable behaviour: we should recognise there's a small cost to the pub in providing the water: the water may be metered, the glass has to be washed, the staff have to serve it. None of those thinga are free, but they're not expensive. Clearly sitting in a pub all afternoon drinking just tap water is taking the piss a little, but free tap water in addition to some product purchased seems reasonable. In the case cited above, clearly the landlady needs to ask the pop-up vendors for a small cut of sales to cover her costs.

    ReplyDelete
  8. As a thirsty cyclist, I have stopped in many a pub to as for ice and water to top up my bottle and/or Camelbak. Pub staff are generally only too happy to oblige, particularly if I tell them I'm on a long cyle ("You're going all the way to Amsterdam? Really?" "I admit there will be a ferry invloved along the way...") and I would tend not to if I thought they were terribly busy. I suspect I am recognisable as the sort of chap who has put a lot of money across pub bars down the years and this is some sort of karmic payback.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Diabolical liberty taker. Wouldn't surprise me if you had a dump, kicked the cat and told the landlady to get stuffed on the way out. Diabolical liberty. Buy a pint of the bitter !

      Delete
    2. If there's just one of you, thta's unlikely to be a problem. If there's a large group it might be different.

      Delete
  9. The Stafford Mudgie16 June 2019 at 08:11

    "There is perhaps scope to abuse it, for example by groups of thirsty cyclists or hikers demanding rounds of water".
    Yes, Ramblers like a pub half way along their ramble and with free water now it's just making their sandwiches, not also a flask of tea, before setting off to the countryside.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ramblers like to chew on hen's teeth. They are easier to find than a country pub that opens during the day.

      Delete
    2. Most are open on Sunday lunchtimes, which is ramblers' most popular day of the week.

      Delete
    3. Ah. I never go out on Sunday because the pubs are full of ramblers :-)

      Delete
    4. I have a fond memory of a group of six or so ramblers turning up at a mate's pub one day and settling themselves into his beer garden. He was delighted at the modest boost in trade - until they unpacked their lunches and flasks. Pleasantly asking if any of them would like to be served at their table they said they were quite happy. They weren't so happy when he told them all to xxxx off. The odd glass of water here and there isn't going to hurt but taking the mick certainly is.

      Delete
    5. Ramblers? Worse than students & doggers for taking liberties.

      Delete

Comments, especially on older posts, may require prior approval by the blog owner. See here for details of my comment policy.

Please register an account to comment. To combat persistent trolling, unregistered comments are liable to be deleted unless I recognise the author. If you intend to make more than the occasional comment using an unregistered ID, you will need to tell me something about yourself.