Friday, 6 May 2016

Some kind of superman

Recent years have seen a substantial rise in the number of pubs offering discounts to CAMRA members, and making a virtue of this in their advertising. The most prominent example, of course, is Wetherspoon’s, but there are plenty of other pubs following suit, both independently-run and belonging to chains. My local CAMRA magazine from time to time has a page giving a list of them.

Obviously it’s entirely up to individual businesses to whom they choose to give discounts. But this does raise the issue of some CAMRA members starting to believe that they have a reasonable expectation of getting a discount, and even using the availability of discounts as a factor in selection for the Good Beer Guide and local pub awards. This kind of attitude is exemplified by the letter from May’s What’s Brewing shown at the right.

If you get a discount, fine, but don’t use it as a factor by which to judge pubs. I’ve mentioned before the occasion where I was offered a discount purely on the basis of my appearance and beer choice, without asking or showing a card. But I don’t think I’d ever make a point of asking for one. To be honest, it’s a rare week in which I drink more than about 15 pints in pubs ¶, except when on holiday, and getting 50p off each one isn’t going to make a huge difference to my finances. Plus at least two of those pints are typically in a Sam Smith’s pub where the undiscounted price is well below most others even after the discount.

Pete Brown has written in the past about CAMRA’s noxious culture of entitlement, and perhaps this is a point of which many members should take heed. It’s certainly not general, but on the other hand neither is it rare. Don’t forget that you are, and represent, ordinary drinkers, not some kind of privileged class. Ideally, I’d like to see CAMRA phase out the Wetherspoon vouchers and cease to provide any other free publicity for member discounts.

Incidentally, I struggle to use many of my Wetherspoon tokens. In Stockport, and most other places I visit, there are far better options amongst family brewer pubs and free houses. I sometimes take advantage of Spoons’ meal deals, but you can’t use the vouchers against those. I’d be entirely happy to surrender my vouchers in return for CAMRA or Spoons themselves giving a £5 donation to an appropriate charity.

The post title comes from the lyrics of “Part of the Union” by Strawbs.

I'm not too hard, but the sight of my card
Makes my some kind of superman

The jury’s still out as to whether or not that song is genuine or tongue-in-cheek. Perhaps it was meant to be taken both ways.

¶ And that’s a lot more than the official guidelines!


  1. Places that offer CAMRA discounts usually seem to offer them off their own back and not because some CAMRA bod has gone round encouraging them to do so as part of an effort to make membership more attractive. Indeed the pub I most frequently go into has a CAMRA discount of 10% on cask ales but I never take advantage of it because I drink the keg wheat beer. However I still get 10% off because they also give a discount to people who work for my employer -and that discount is on everything including food.

    I too also wish CAMRA would discontinue the Wetherspoon vouchers- I feel that this voucher scheme unduly influences the inclusion of so many Wetherspoon pubs in the GBG and i’m not keen on the GBG having so many of these chain pubs in it. If I'm in an unfamiliar place and (if ever for some bizarre reason) I want to know the nearest Wetherspoon pub I can always google it!

    1. Im not so sure that its always on the pubs part, reading lots of different branches newsletters, you do get the feeling some areas positively encourage pubs to sign up for a discount scheme, but these maybe the more active branch areas I dont know.

      But because the only pub in all of Suffolk that offers a specific CAMRA discount is already a Wetherspoons, its something that completely passes me by when travelling round the country, even in Liverpool with the CAMRA AGM list of pubs offering CAMRA discounts in hand, I still completely forgot to make any use of it.

      but so I can quite appreciate the inverse case if you do live in an area with umpteen pubs offering discounts, youd be more tempted to ask wouldnt you in unfamiliar areas where such schemes arent in place.

      the only time Ive been prompted by bar staff is at the Bree Louise, but they seem to ask everyone.

      as for the 'Spoons vouchers, I think Ive used 3 in the last year, because they only apply to pints, and you invariably go to 'Spoons to eat food (which already comes with a "free" pint) or for the beer festival where youd drink halves instead. and even if you are tempted to go for a pint there, youve always left your vouchers at home (though I know some in more northern parts do just accept membership cards as proof instead) or actually you feel a bit embarrased about getting 50p off a £2.40 pint, when youll probably end up in the next pub paying £3.50-£4 instead, and not complaining about not getting a discount.

  2. How strange for drinkers to wish they weren't given discounts on beer: "What do we want? Higher prices! When do we want them? Now!"

    If a pub offers a CAMRA discount, I'll take it but, like you, I wouldn't actually ask whether there was one: I'd look for a sign, or in a few cases bar staff have asked me whether I'm a CAMRA member. I also like the Spoons vouchers, so let's make a deal: you return yours and I'll use mine.

    As for Part of the Union, you don't need a jury when you have a confession. The song was written by Richard Hudson and John Ford, who have stated that the song was not anti-union. I've always regarded it as a mickey-take and, although I'm a trade unionist, I'm quite happy to sing it for fun. The song does, however, bear some similarities to Woody Guthrie's Union Maid, so the real discussion is whether plagiarism was at work.

    1. With the benefit of hindsight, we can recognise that the song was composed in a spirit of "taking the mickey out of ourselves". Rather like CAMRA members referring to the "beard club" and "evil keg".

      But, in the political atmosphere of 1973, there was an understandable debate about "do they really mean it?"

      I have a CD of "Bursting at the Seams" which is an excellent album.

  3. My vouchers tend to go to non-member colleagues on occasional work events. It's gained us one new member. My use of discounts tends to be based on what I think of the venue and it's prices. In my beloved Lass O'Gowrie of old I never used the discount, because the prices were already cheap and I wanted the landlord to make money. I think members who ask for discount are exaggerating the importance of CAMRA approval to a pub's success.

  4. I too was somewhat bemused by both the expectant attitude of the correspondent to “What’s Brewing” and by his assumption that the whole world should have heard of CAMRA. I’m really surprised that this gentleman even thought of penning the letter in the first place. What was going through his mind?

    I’ve been a member of CAMRA for over 40 years, and never once have I even dreamt of asking for a discount on the strength of my membership. Like several of the correspondents here, I also rarely use all my Spoons’ vouchers; in fact this year I didn’t use any during the first quarter.

  5. On what possible basis should a pub offer a discount to one customer rather than another drinking the same product ? How is that not discrimination ?Despite references to "CAMRA pubs", pubs aren't part of CAMRA and a discount for members is almost a penalty on the very people who should be encouraged to try cask. Anything which damages the integrity of the Beer Guide, which should be encouraging beer quality alone, ought to be discouraged.

  6. You know, I'm not sure that the letter in What's Brewing really is about not getting a CAMRA discount. I think the main thrust (albeit perhaps badly phrased) is that the staff had never heard of CAMRA, and it is that he suggests they be educated about and not about giving discounts.

    1. You're probably right, but it does come across as a bit "don't you know who I am?" Would you really expect an Aussie or Pole who's been in the UK for a few months to have heard of CAMRA?

      And it can't be denied that there is a widespread problem of (some) members thinking less of pubs because they don't offer a discount.

    2. Not sure - I think more is being read into this than it warrants to be honest. I think it's one of those intstances where you need to have been there to properly judge the context and tenor of the exchange.

      Is there a widespread problem? Must say it's not something I've encountered at all to be honest. I'm pretty sure it's out there, but widespread? Again, not sure at all.

  7. I saw that letter. It crossed my mind that the bar staff may have been taking the piss.

  8. Next time your at a beard festival take a look at the member stall where they con pissed up people into signing up. let them do the speel on you for a bit.

    Then ask yourself what they are selling. A campaign or simply a good offer of money saving, discounts & a magazine?

    Then consider that those that signed up joined a discount club and have every right to expect to get just that. What they paid for and what they were sold.

  9. Us CAMRA drinkers ought to get discounts as we save pubs and real ale and without us it would all go to pot.

  10. My local pub (non-Wetherspoons) accepts CAMRA Wetherspoons vouchers.

  11. I saw a guy ask for a CAMRA discount in a pub today (they didn't do one, btw). Typical beer ticker type - fifties, beard, rucksack, little red notebook. Only ordered a half, and paid for it with a contactless card, which they did do. I wouldn't have the cheek.

    But proves that it does happen, and that some people at least have an expectation that a discount may well be available.

    Barman probably told his colleagues later on "And I had this right real ale twat come in today" ;-)

  12. That's interesting. I seem to recall that it was two tickers doing this some years ago that sent Peter Brown off on one about this misplaced sense of entitlement. Perhaps it's the ticker community where this sort of thing is prevalent.

  13. Don't like CAMRA discounts at all in the trade. Canal boats et al are fine. That's not why I'm a member and on one hand trying to say we're serious about saving pubs and then taking discounts with the other comes across as highly hypocritical. And of course, 50% of CAMRA membership would disappear is we stopped the JDW voucher scheme which shows half our membership is in it for the freebies...


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