Sunday 31 January 2016

What do you think this is, a pub?

My latest poll was about whether pubs should be excluded from the Good Beer Guide if they at times reserved all seating for diners. Perhaps one might have expected a landslide in favour, but in fact there was a substantial minority of 26% who didn’t agree, although perhaps some might have voted for a “depends on the circumstances” option. Sunday lunchtime only is very different from ten out of fourteen sessions in a week.

A well-known Stockport restaurant
I wasn’t asking this out of the blue, but had a specific situation in mind. We are now in the season of selecting pubs for CAMRA’s national Good Beer Guide for 2017. The Arden Arms in Stockport is a pub that features on CAMRA’s National Inventory of Historic Pub Interiors, and indeed many would think it ranks near the top of that list. It has been in the Guide for many years, and serves a wide range of Robinsons beer well, at reasonable prices. The current licensees formerly ran That CafĂ© in Levenshulme, and have consistently served excellent food at the Arden. The interior, with its almost unique snug that can only be accessed by walking through the servery, must be the most characterful in Stockport.

But there is a fly in the ointment. In the past year or two, it seems the pub has adopted the practice of reserving all seating for diners. This applies every lunchtime, and early evenings Thursday to Saturday. Only a couple of weeks ago I arranged to meet a couple of friends in there early on a Friday evening, and one complained that he had been moved to accommodate diners. This is clearly outlined by Simon Everitt here – he was not at all happy, but managed to find solace in the nearby Boar’s Head.

Now, while I retain a soft spot for the wet-only pub, it has to be accepted that, in the current climate, most pubs need to offer food to a greater or lesser extent. I have nothing against pubs serving food, pubs serving excellent food, or pubs where most of the customers are there for food. I’m a bit uneasy about pubs reserving some tables, but recognise that may be a sensible business decision. But if a pub decides to allocate all tables, and all seating, to diners, it crosses a line and sends out a clear message that drinkers are unwelcome. It isn’t just advance bookings either – tables are also prioritised for walk-in diners.

I have to admit that I am torn here. The Arden Arms is a fine pub in many respects, and outside of dining hours drinkers will have no problem. We regularly hold meetings of the local CAMRA branch there. Many Good Beer Guide users will be happy to be directed there and, at lunchtimes, many will be seeking food anyway. But, if it goes in the Guide, it needs a clear qualification that “at time all seats are reserved for diners”. And should a pub taking that attitude towards the casual drinker be included at all?


  1. Coincidentally Martin Newell, an old rocker, has posted today about growing old and getting a bus pass, and amongst other things the pubs around his way (Colchester I think) that favour diners over drinkers.

    (Go to "Martin's Blog", as I couldn't post the direct link for some unknown reason)

  2. It's a restaurant, not as pub. What's the problem in accepting a truthful description of the gaff?

    if you wanna put restaurants in your beardie book, knock yourself out, but punters buying it are mugged off unless you say its a resturant.

  3. If the Arden is selected for the GBG (and let me say here the results if this poll will be playing no part in that process) then I agree there should be a warning in the description.

  4. Good stuff. Co-incidentally, I had an even more demoralising "pub" experience in Bury's Clarence yesterday which I'll be writing about today.

    I agree most pubs (rural ones especially) can't survive on wet sales alone but there's an additional difference for me here - between sausage, egg n chips and pomegranate smoked salmon cous cous!

    I might have to rename my challenge the 'British Real Ale Restaurant Adventure' but BRARA doesn't sound as good as BRAPA.

  5. It has enough residual affection on past glories to stay in the beardie book for years. I suggest a warning logo be designed of a plate, knife and fork, diners head etc made to look like a skull and crossbones.

    Of interest though is the line people draw of when it became a restaurant.

    Clearly not when it did food? When food dominated? The first reserved tables? When 2/3 of the space became diners only? The greeter asking you if your dining? Does it scrape through as a pub if you still order at a bar & pay in advance? Is full table service when it stops being a pub? Will it always be a pub so long as enough affection and sentimentality is afforded it, thus giving it a more comfortable criteria than applied to pubs lacking that affection?

  6. @John - the poll made no mention of the Arden anyway, it was just a general question.

    As I said, I'm torn about it. The Arden is a very special pub and we are quite happy to include pubs like the Olde Vic which don't open at lunchtimes at all.

    Maybe if it does go in with a caveat it will make them think about their policy, as it doesn't really help the pub's reputation.

  7. If I went into a GBG pub and found that I couldn't sit down at any table because of diners, I'd be rather annoyed with the CAMRA Branch which had put it in. Personally, I wouldn't vote for such a pub, no matter how special, but if it does go in, there must a simple and clear caveat, not a mealy-mouthed CAMRA one. I'd suggest, "Diners have priority use of all tables and chairs during the following times ..."

  8. I often agree with Nev except on matters of politics ;-)

  9. I'll soon have you singing The Red Flag, Cookie! No chance with Mudgie, though.

  10. I visited the Arden on Saturday at lunchtime and felt I was out of place as someone just wanting a pint. Perched awkwardly at the bar. To be fair though the staff were very friendly.

  11. I assume then that if/when this pub is chosen for the GBG Mudgie will be volunteering to write the description so that it meets the necessary criteria - I'll certainly be inviting him to do so.

  12. There are many GBG entries that aren't pubs - off licences, station bars, airport Spoons, the buffet car of the Keighley & Worth Railway. I don't see why a restaurant should be excluded, as long as it's made clear in the description.

  13. Quite right, Anonymous. It is a good BEER guide not a good PUB guide.

  14. @Anon - IMV off-licences and any venue where a member of the public can't walk in off the street and just order a drink shouldn't be in the GBG.

    That doesn't rule out the Arden Arms, but if somewhere just had a restaurant licence and you could only order drinks if having a meal, then it should not be included.

  15. "It is a good BEER guide not a good PUB guide."

    Why does it list pubs and not beers then?

    its quite clearly a pub guide. Its just a peculiarly useless one, compiled entirely by old blokes with strange tastes and nothing better to do.

    An actually good beer guide might be useful.

  16. because the guide tells you which PUBS sell GOOD BEER, and no-ones stopping you writing your own guide Py...

    but to the original question, if the Arden Arms sells beer that meets the grade and gets enough votes or however the local branch picks its GBG pubs, then it should go in, albeit just with a note in the writeup/review notes that visitors should be aware it gets busy with diners and seating might not be available

    note it would probably ruin its chances as branch pub of the year though, especially with chucking people off tables for non pre-booked diners

  17. I would agree that this policy makes it unlikely that the Arden would manage to win a Pub of the Month award, let alone a Pub of the Year.

  18. The role of the Good Beer Guide is to direct you to places where you can get good real ale, irrespective of atmosphere, odd opening hours or range of beers served. I've been in Hungry Horses in the Guide that warranted it more than neighbouring multi-beer free houses.

    The only exception is free access to all, which is why Clubs and similar should only be in if they allow that free access (I got charged a fiver to get in Chester-Le-Street Greyhound Stadium when that was in the Guide). Pubs are free to restrict/limit access at busy times as long as they comply with the law; the Blue Bell shouldn't have been excluded on that basis.

    You shouldn't have to buy food to buy a drink; that was the case with Molly's Yard a while ago, though Belfast branch were clear. It's not the case with the Arden, so agree with Stono on best approach.

  19. The Arden Arms is first and foremost a pub. You don't have to buy a meal to buy a drink; you can go in and just have a drink at any time it is open although, as has been pointed out, there are times when you might well not get a seat. There are also plenty of times when you can go in, get a drink and sit down.

    I do not consider any of this a reason to exclude it from the Good Beer Guide (although I agree caveats along the lines of those suggested by Stono are a good idea). Indeed I for one doubt this would be a deal killer if it was put forward for a Pub of the Month Award.

    In any event all of this will be decided by the local branch and not the commenters on this blog.

  20. It's not a pub no more Clarkster. Whether you change it in one go or implement a thousand minor changes, when the drinkes is shuffled from the tables for diners what you've got is a restaurant.


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