Friday, 16 October 2020

Supping with a long spoon

Last Sunday I tweeted the following from one of my local Wetherspoon’s, which was met with a surprisingly vituperative response. The most frequent charge was “Why aren’t you in a proper pub?” But my explanation for that was pretty clear. I’m certainly not an unequivocal Spoons fanboy, and over the years I’ve often criticised their venues’ lack of atmosphere and deliberately unpubby layout. But it can’t be denied that they’re a very successful company who have seized opportunities that were available, but which others didn’t take. They attract people into pubs who otherwise probably wouldn’t be there at all, and Spoons often has a wider social mix of customers than anywhere else.

In many places such as smaller non-tourist towns or city suburbs, they can offer by far the best (or even the only halfway decent) selection of food and drink. In an urban area on a Sunday, there may well be nowhere else to eat in a pub apart from a family dining outlet, or a gastropub with its inevitable high prices and snobby atmosphere. The idea that there’s a whole stratum of independent places serving quality, locally-produced lunchtime pub food at reasonable prices is pie in the sky.

If I just wanted a drink, then I certainly wouldn’t be in Spoons. But there are only three proper pubs in my particular corner of Stockport, and all of those have piped music and TV football which, to their credit, Spoons don’t. We might benefit from a Sam’s pub, although there are a couple in the town centre and another just over the Manchester border.

The question was also asked “why are you using the app?” Now, I’m certainly no great fan of either apps or cashless payments, but I’m not a total technological Luddite. I’ve got it on my phone and often use it to order food in Spoons because it makes the process quicker and easier and means there’s no risk of someone else nicking my table while I’m up at the bar. Mandatory table service also seems to have made them grasp the nettle of getting their current guest ales reliably listed. Plus, from my experience of using table service and paying cash in another branch earlier in the week, it would take an age to actually place my order.

The issue with the cloudy pint exposes another drawback of app ordering – what do you do if you want to summon a member of staff but not actually order anything? Fortunately in this case the beer arrived before the food, so I was able to send it back when the food appeared, but if they had come at the same time I would have been waiting for an indefinite length of time to accost a passing server and had nothing to wash my meal down with. Perhaps I could have marched angrily up to the bar, but you’re not supposed to do that, are you?

Maybe they’re hoping that when this area gets moved into Tier 3 that a pint of soupy beer will qualify as a “substantial meal”.

13 comments:

  1. when you love spoons but don't wanna admit it eh?
    embrace the spoons life.
    get there early doors and get on the smooth.
    what else is there to look forward to when you're a seasoned mature appreciator of the bitter?

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  2. I don't agree with you about many things, Mudge (probably better not give any examples, we'd be here all day) - BUT Spoons snobs can do one. They're efficient, they're welcoming in the true sense of the word, and they're good at what they do - which usually includes good-quality cask beer, and almost always includes replacing a duff pint with no questions asked. And they're cheap, which is no bad thing.

    Their owner's politics and his stance on the pandemic, on the other hand, are... things I won't go into here.

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    1. Right with you on that. Tim Martin is an arsehole. His politics are to me, utterly wrong, but here's the thing: A 'spoons will provide serviceable food and a usually a well-kept pint at a good price, and often is a historic building that would be otherwise derelict. As to the app, well, I'm phone-app phobic: despite what I do for a living, I'm quite a luddite on this subject- I hate what i see as superfluous phone apps, the digital detritus- but I have the 'spoons app because it *works*, especially, as Mudgie says, if you're alone. No, they're no substitute for a really good proper pub, but for what they do, they're fine.

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  3. The lack of televised football is a very good point in favour of 'Spoons. Television is a distraction to a sociable drink, as is music if played above a sensible volume. There is a place for both, but not everywhere all of the time.

    I haven't had a Weatherspoons fried breakfast for quite some time - that may need to be rectified.

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  4. Professor Pie-Tin16 October 2020 at 19:35

    Some years ago when the news broke that 'Spoons would be opening in Ireland it was treated with derision.
    Along the lines of Irish pubs are the best in the world and who would want to drink in an ENGLISH chain pub anyway.
    Then information started trickling through about price levels and publicans started to get seriously worried - after all they'd been ripping off people for years with expensive lousy pints of lager and stout and not much else.
    The one that opened in my nearest city has never been anything but rammed since it first opened for exactly the same reason they're successful in the UK.Food and drink at a reaonsable price with a good selection of non-Irish beers.
    I rarely go in when I'm in the city as I don't eat out and there are a couple of really lovely old Irish pubs with fantastic pints of Murphys.
    Timbo was planning a big expansion in Ireland before the Rona and they no longer treat him with derision.
    And politics-wise the man is more in tune with his customers than any Westminster gobshite pontificating about the common man.

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    1. As somebody who lived in the Netherlands for a decade, from a commercial point of view I've never understood Tim's Brexit views. Spoons pricing policy would see an continental expansion make an utter fortune in cities in the more expensive parts of Western Europe.

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  5. "Their owner's politics..." - I think Tim Martin now owns about 27% of the company so is far from being the 'owner'. The share price has been a disaster zone just recently and it would not surprise me if there is pressure developing from institutional shareholders for him to go. The ones who stumped up £5 million to buy part of his stake in July are no doubt particularly angry and something else that wouldn't surprise me is if the odd lawyer is being consulted.

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    1. Tim Martin is now 65 and obviously not immortal. However, I reckon that, if he were to be ousted, we would rapidly see the company lose its distinctive USP and end up being broken up within a few years. It only became the success it did by bucking the conventional wisdom and following an idiosyncratic path. As I said, the opportunities were there, but nobody else took them.

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  6. IIRC, share price was doing just great before the chinese virus, same as Greggs.

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  7. The spoons share price is what happens when trade dies a death. Your guess for the following year on that tells you where the price may go. So long as the rona has no vaccine and pubs are the thing to restrict and close I’d guess the sector will struggle and much of it will die. I would put spoons as one of the more resilient companies in the sector. And most able to stay open. Others will fall before Spoons. All others, in my view.

    Timbo may very well be ready to step down and take his seat in the Lords. I suspect his ethos will live on and on a day to day basis I have no more idea how much he is involved. His interests extend beyond pubs.

    As for the long spoon, Spoons have long been sneered at and it predates Timbos brexit propaganda or politics. A certain middle class discerning CAMRA type dislikes corporate chain pubs on principle. They prefer independent run micropubs that are all strikingly similar. That Spoons go out of their way to attract ale drinkers by making an effort annoys them.

    They ignore the many chains that do nothing to attract ale drinkers and make a business of selling burger deals and 2 for 1 steaks. Greene King, John Barras, Sizzling, 2 for 1 pubs have much the same model, quality, level of cleanliness but don’t go with the ale festivals, guest beers or CAMRA vouchers. Hence they are ignored. Sell only Doombar and you stay under the radar.

    That spoons is nothing more than a system that appears popular enough to repeat on a national scale as it offers a value option to pretty much most people is lost on those looking for something to reinforce how discerning they are. Mass appeal is the opposite of niche.

    If, like most beer geeks, your beer geekery is part of your identity, then your personal validation is wrapped up in what is and isn’t discerning, special, niche. The very opposite of mainstream. Timbos mainstream palaces do nothing for you and may even annoy you as it seeks to demystify your niche with cheap cask and craft beer.

    Timbos propaganda gives an excuse to dismiss the chain without laying oneself open to an accusation of snobbery. The magazines are there but no one makes you read it. Those same people are happy to drink in micropubs whose twitter feed may be a stream of hateful bile towards anyone unconvinced of the merits of Jeremy Corbyn. It isn’t politicking per se, it’s the wrong sort of politics for the mainly left wing beer geek crowd. They are happy with a micropub landlord wishing death on tory politicians.

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  8. Nowt wrong with spoons Mudgie. Often used for food and beer as you say and in the case of Brums square peg, just a great take on pub life

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  9. Apropos of nothing in particular I was looking at sites of my other love, cinemas, or abandoned ones as was the case and this one stuck out.

    https://www.jdwetherspoon.com/pub-histories/england/london/the-capitol-forest-hill

    Of course the one I frequent in Leigh is also my old cinema (also a laser quest and Cube nightclub), I think the one in Urmston is too.

    We can bang on about micropubs making the high street a little less drab by taking up empty shop units but the grand, old building of yore, with fantastic architecture rather than brutalist crap being built these days is something Spoons have quite a good knack of saving.

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