Monday 20 June 2011

Social cleansing

Chef Marco Pierre White is not someone known for his customer care skills. He has recently bought the historic Angel Inn in Lavenham, Suffolk and alienated regulars by getting rid of Strongbow and Foster’s. He says “I don’t like Foster’s and Strongbow. I like traditional ales and ciders. If they don’t like that, I’m sorry.” Fair enough, but surely if you want to change the product mix you take your customers with you by offering a choice rather than doing your best to antagonise them. While he may be conjuring up an image of a traditional rustic ale and cider house, in reality what’s the betting it will be a poncy, pricey gastropub, and he quite simply doesn’t want working-class people riff-raff in there? They probably drop fag-ends on the floor outside as well.


  1. I fear you may have been taken for a ride on this one. My years in journalism have taught me never to trust Daily Mail copy - the story is usually warped through a snide prism. All papers take a line in their comment - perfectly vaid - but the Mail's reporting on a great many matters leaves much to be desired.

    In response to the quote attributed to Marco Pierre White, I can't say I want dogs sitting on chairs, loud swearing or the suchlike. He stretches his point too far with tattoos, of course. But surely as a landlord/owner, he's free to set his own rules. And indeed, I know plenty of pubs with such rules - seldom enforced, as it's essentially common decency - with mixed clientele and a friendly, banterful atmosphere.

    The article does not go far to find punters with opposing views, of whom there may be many.

    So long as he doesn't do away entirely with punters just wanting a drink, it's still a pub and there's nothing in this copy that would make me worried, beyond the way it's been framed by the 'journalist'.

  2. Oh, I know very well that anything printed in the Daily Mail needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. But it is symptomatic of a widespread attitude in the pub trade where the pensioners' cribbage school is kicked out to squeeze more diners in. And what kind of pub do you think it will become?

  3. I did read that pub had failed under the previous owners so wish MPW all the best in his new chav-free pub.

  4. He said: "Had I not taken it over, the reality is it would have closed." I'm not keen on gastropubs, but at least he's kept it open.

    I too don't like loud swearing in pubs or dogs on chairs; they should be on the floor. Tattoos are usually innocuous, but if a big, shaven-headed fellow is covered with them, he can be intimidating to some customers.

  5. Your negativity is really quite a thing the behold sometimes mudgie!

    Here's a guy taking the shit beer and fake cider out of a pub and replacing it with traditional ales and ciders, and you're still not bloody happy!

  6. It would seem he's taken all the shit customers out as well...

  7. MPW bought the only pub in my village, the Chequers in Maresfield, saying how important it is for a village to have a local. So important that he increased the price of a pint to four quid, covered all the floor space with tables, set for dinner with with crisp white linen and left just four stools at the tiny remaining bar area where you can sit/stand and have an informal drink.
    OK, there are three ales on tap but how fresh and tasty do you think they are if 99% of punters are there for the gastro grub and Chablis?
    I miss my Harveys Best and I miss my local. Having a celebrity chef restaurant on my door step is poor consolation.
    Beware gravy-making sheep in wolf's clothing.

  8. An open restaurant is better than a closed pub.

  9. There are numerous cases of new landlords ripping out the hadpumps and replacing them with keg. A nice change to see the tables turned.

  10. @TL - yes, you sum up the likely situation perfectly. I recall him even getting a puff-piece in CAMRA's Beer magazine about the Chequers.

    @Simon - well, an open nail parlour or used car lot is better than a closed pub too, but an open pub is better than any of them.

  11. "An open restaurant is better than a closed pub."

    Why not a drop-in NHS health centre instead? It's all employment, after all. ;)

  12. The more I think about this, the less I'm convinced by the MPW apologists.

    For a start, Lavenham is not exactly chav central in the first place. It's a quiet, pretty, rather twee village. I have been there, although I haven't been in the Angel. The customers being excluded are not going to be shaven-headed, pitbull-wielding, effing and jeffing thugs, they're going to be ordinary village people. They're probably just slightly shabby pensioners with elderly mongrels.

    The vast majority of Good Beer Guide listed pubs will serve Strongbow and Fosters, or their equivalents, alongside cask beer. If you want to improve the product mix, the way to do it is to offer better brews alongside these rather than just getting rid of them and antagonising the folk who drink them. Axing them sends out a clear message of "riff-raff not wanted here". It's like "we don't serve chips".

    And the experience of the Chequers at Maresfield strongly suggests that the end result will not be a characterful old-fashioned alehouse, but a pretentious, high-priced establishment with an overwhelming emphasis on food. It would probably be far more use to the ordinary folk of Lavenham as a Tesco Express than as an exclusive gastro non-pub.

    Interesting question: is a Tesco Express preferable to a restaurant that is out of the price range of local people?

  13. MPW's also the guy that opened a 'Steak and Alehouse' in London with the dullest selection of beers I've seen anywhere that calls itself an 'alehouse' (including none at all from local micros):

  14. MPW owns the Swan in Aughton, which isn't far from where I live. The website has 13 pages, including 3 menus and a wine list. In all of that website, this is the only reference to beer: "For beer lovers, The Swan Inn remains true to its North West origins and offers a great selection of real ales." So it's clear where the priorities lie.

    However, if it's true the Angel Inn would be otherwise closed, there's little to complain about, as the locals still would have lost their Foster's and Strongbow. On the other hand, if a thriving local had been converted, then the complaints would be completely justified.

  15. Realistically I suspect the Angel Inn would have been taken over by someone else, so poncy gastropub vs closed pub is a false dilemma.

  16. It's not rocket science when it comes to pubs. If they are inviting and attractive to be in, and offer genuinely good value relative to the context, then people will come and enjoy them.

    All manner of pubs can be revitialised by investing in them wisely and paying attention to what their local communities actually WANT to see on the bar and coming out of the kitchen.


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