Sunday, 18 April 2021

Gold-plating the lock

On Monday, I wrote about how some local councils were doing their best to put a spanner in the works of pubs reopening their outside areas. Given that this was the first opportunity that pubs had had to trade for at least three and a half months, and that most were doing their best to give customers a warm welcome, I didn’t want to strike a sour note. However, inevitably there were some that did themselves no favours by adding new restrictions of their own.

The Angel in at Corbridge in Northumberland made the national news when they turned away a pensioner because he didn’t have a smartphone onto which he could download their ordering app. To the pub’s credit, they apologised and offered him drinks on the house, and hopefully it has also resulted in them changing their policy, but they certainly weren’t the only establishment to do this. It isn’t illegal as such, although given that, as the article reports, half of those aged 65 to 74 and 70% of the over-75s do not have a smartphone, a case could be made that it represents indirect discrimination against a group protected by equalities legislation.

However, surely it is rank bad business, as it excludes a large swathe of your potential clientele, especially considering that the over-65s are amongst the most enthusiastic patrons of rural dining pubs. Even if you have a suitable phone, you may not want to download an app for a one-off visit. I have the Wetherspoon’s app on my phone because I regularly use them, but I wouldn’t see the point of having any others unless I was going to be a frequent visitor. On my previous phone, which I replaced less than two years ago, I had run out of space for downloading any new apps anyway. And who is going to want to download an app and work out how to use it if they’re just popping in for a swift pint and are unlikely to return?

Then there have been reports of pubs, and other hospitality venues such as Costa Coffee, refusing admission to people without smartphones carrying the NHS track and trace app. This seems even more self-defeating, given that surveys have shown that a majority of people who even have a suitable phone haven’t downloaded it. It also won’t work on older smartphones.

Not only is this bad business, it is also illegal. The government guidelines on the use of the app specifically say: “Venues must not make the specific use of the NHS QR code a precondition of entry (as the individual has the right to choose to provide their contact details if they prefer).” “Must” in such documents, as in the Highway Code, signifies a legal requirement. However, you can’t imagine council staff being quite so assiduous about enforcing this piece of law as they are about applying tape measures to outside shelters.

This is nothing new, either. Last September, during that brief window of reasonably unfettered opening that pubs enjoyed last summer, I wrote about the tendency for some pubs to gold-plate the government requirements and add some extra on top, suggesting it had given free rein to licensees’ inner jobsworth.

Some of the policies pubs have introduced arise simply out a lack of thought, but others clearly come across as deliberate. If you’ve decided to do away with beermats and ditch the charity boxes on the bar, if you’ve stopped taking cash payments and make everyone download an app to order, if you’re insisting on people making an advance booking just to have a drink, if you’ve festooned your pub with yellow tape and half-baked one-way systems, it’s not because the guidelines expect it, because they don’t. It’s because, deep down, you want to. And customers will remember where they were welcomed, and where they were treated like something the cat dragged in.
One obvious example that has reared its head again is refusing to accept cash, which is encouraged by compulsory table service. I have written about this trend in the past. Hopefully when bar service is resumed, then pubs will be more inclined to take cash again, and may at the same time cease to mandate app ordering. Another one that didn’t apply last September is making the wearing of masks compulsory in outside areas, where they are certainly not required by law. This is an officious, unreasonable rule that is likely to alienate customers and creates a potential flashpoint.

Most pubs aren’t doing this sort of thing, but reports suggest that a significant minority are. And, if you are visiting unfamiliar pubs, it means you can never be quite sure whether you are going to walk into somewhere with a friendly, relaxed and welcoming atmosphere, or a privately-run version of Stalag Luft XIV.

Of course all pubs and other hospitality venues should abide by the law. But they have a choice whether to implement the requirements with a light touch, or a heavy hand, and that is something that customers will remember when (or if) we finally once again reach the sunlit uplands of full reopening.


  1. Over this past weekend I've been to a few different local venues.

    The ones that want you to book in advance will happily see if something is free (it obviously helps depending on what time of day/evening you go) if you haven't.

    No questions on household membership.

    All asked "do you have the app?" and then produced scraps of paper/a clipboard, for name and number, not that these were ever scrutinised.

    Table service was hit and miss as clearly some had got in new staff who didn't know what draught drinks were available but that is a very minor quibble.

    None bother about all transactions being made in cash.

    Eating a good, solid, hearty, stodgy pie and chips beside a busy main road is perfectly in keeping with how I'd want any al fresco dining done round my way.

    Towns are the way forward; city centres, which were rapidly jumping the shark anyway, can wait.

    Though closing times were around 8-9pm, only one went till 11 so crawls still have to be planned with irregular opening and closing times in mind. Pubs seemed to be copying the micropub way for now.

  2. Spent the afternoon in my local where you had to not only sign in via the app but also had to order drinks & food that way. Not sure if alternatives were offered as we were all quite savvy although friend had trouble scanning the code. We glossed over this and said "Yes, we've all signed in".

    We did wonder whether the online ordering (with credit card/gpay) was a self-limiting "Don't get too drunk" as you'd become unable to operate your phone after a certain number of beers :-)

    But I did bump into another friend who gave me a real earful concerning the welcome (not) she'd just received in another local pub.

    Interesting times!

    1. Oh, people still manage to tweet utter crap even when they've had a skinful!

    2. Professor Pie-Tin19 April 2021 at 16:59

      I've never been on social media but certainly with regard to beer and pub blogs I'd fall into that categroy.
      Which is one of the reasons why I never went on social media ...

  3. I too Mudge, had the same problem of “app overload,” and like you I had to replace my phone because the memory was clogged up with rarely used apps.

    In the handful of pubs, I’ve visited so far this year, I’ve given my details using old fashioned paper and pen and shall continue to do so until this draconian requirement – “papers please” is removed altogether.

  4. I've just had a splendid if chilly evening with friends at Anarchy Brew Co where staff take orders at the tables and return with your drinks a few minutes later, accepting cards and cash happily. No apps, no phones required. Very relaxed.

  5. I hadn't considered rushing back to the pub when the restrictions were lifted, as like you I think the remaining restrictions are still too cumbersome. However I was with a mate yesterday and after meeting up with another friend decided to pop into a spoons nearby.

    The large terrace is adjacent to the pavement at the front of the building, we were immediately told to put masks on if not seated outside. They struggled to serve people without the app, and after waiting 10 minutes of watching staff with the blinkers on ignoring us, we left empty handed, as did another couple who arrived just after us.

    While you could put this down to one bad experience in a poorly run pub, it is symptomatic of the attitude of many large businesses in their handling of restrictions. It alienates customers, They didn't just lose a sale yesterday, they lost any chance of us returning again.

  6. I had a splendid evening at The Church Inn in Mobberley on Friday. They asked for the app but when I didn't have it they just wrote down my name and phone number. Then escorted us to a table in the garden. Pretty young ladies kept us supplied with beer without us having to break off our conversation to join a scrum at the bar. Not a mask in sight. Payed at the bar when we were done.
    Very civilised

    1. Professor Pie-Tin19 April 2021 at 17:05

      That's very good news.
      I don't see the point in criticising pubs in difficult circumstances such as this.I'm sure they're not deliberately trying to alienate customers.
      Certainly my pals in England report similar experiences to you although not all with the pretty young ladies.

    2. Most pubs are doing their best under difficult circumstances, but some are being deliberately and knowingly arsey, and deserve to be called out for it.

      Meanwhile, Sir Keith Hindsight has been given an earful by a Bath licensee :-)

    3. Professor Pie-Tin19 April 2021 at 18:41

      I'm no fan of Sir Kneel-a-lot but I applaud his excellent rickrolling after the event.

    4. About as funny as a closed and boarded pub.

      The first three responses on my Twitter to that were:

      "Alexa! Show me an example of someone "punching down"..."

      "My statement on the incident today.

      “You should be ashamed to blatantly patronise & vilify a member of the public for voicing his opinion and sharing his emotions.

      Further, he has the right to refuse entry to anyone including self obsessed individuals like you”.

      I applaud him."

      "You’ve fought for sooner, harder, longer lockdowns since the start. They’ve decimated hospitality & the high streets. Your response to a pub landlord who confronts you with reality is “register to vote?”

      I suspect they will - to further kick out @UKLabour #JeSuisRod"

    5. But to be fair to the Labour non leader he had been invited to the pub by the other co-owner. But the blessed Jeremy would have handled it better :-) :-)

    6. I suspect the days of that particular business partnership may be numbered.

  7. Halifax on Saturday afternoon was buzzing. There's one particular shopping street which is covered with a glass canopy but open at each end and so still actually a thoroughfare. Several bars and restaurants line this street and all were open; the entire street was full of tables making one long linear beer garden! What a happy scene it was, everyone chatting and laughing, and tipsy girls tottering about with glasses of wine, dolled up like they haven't been able to for months.

    1. Would you be normally be allowed to smoke outside pubs there, though?

    2. Interesting! I can't remember if there was smoking or not, sorry. It's probably not allowed as the street in question looked like it would be classed as a shopping mall.

    3. We smoked our cigars outside The Church on Friday without anyone commenting

    4. No, the point is that this is a quasi-enclosed shopping arcade, and it seems inconsistent to allow outside drinking, but not smoking, when the rules on suitable areas for the two are supposed to be aligned.

  8. Professor Pie-Tin20 April 2021 at 08:18

    Ireland passed a milestone yesterday.
    It's 400 days since most pubs closed their doors.
    The vaccination programme is still to complete doing all over 70s.
    It will be months before Irish drinkers will enjoy the same pub experience that you can have now.
    Whinge away if you must about how some pub staff don't instantly perform to your liking but remember the UK is in a far better place than most of Europe.
    It's why I'm hunting for the world's smallest violin when I read some of the gripes in here.

    1. Professor Pie-Tin20 April 2021 at 13:51

      Still, someone sees the funny side.

  9. Professor Pie-Tin20 April 2021 at 08:28

    Mudgie - I'm the first man to applaud politicians getting a shellacking but let's be honest even this bloke's own pub thought he was a bit if a tosser.


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