Saturday, 3 January 2009

New Year's Eve

Drinking on New Year's Eve hasn't been what it used to be for some time now. At the risk of showing my age, I can remember when it was fun to walk from pub to pub, having a few drinks in each before deciding which had the best atmosphere that evening and therefore the pub to remain in for the rest of the night.

All that seem to change, probably around ten or so years ago; pubs started to charge admission for New Year's Eve and became ticket only venues. This was when I stopped going to the pub in order to see the New Year in, as I strongly object having to pay to enter what is supposed to be a "public house". Even when there is some form of entertainment laid on as part of the admission charge it inevitably is something like an 80 decibell disco or, worse still, the dreaded kareoke!

During the six years that my wife and I had our off-licence, we would shut the shop at 10pm and wander down with our son to a local restaurant where we had booked a table. The meal was always good and there was decent entertainment laid on, but so far as I was concerned it still wasn't the same as seeing the New Year in in some nice hostelry.

This year looked as though it was going to turn out somewhat different. My sister and her family were over from the United States and were spending a few days with us before flying back. Ernie, my American brother-in-law, is particularly fond of English beer - having spent 13 years stationed over here during his time in the United States Air Force. He told me beforehand that he was determined to spend at least part of New Year's Eve inside a traditional English pub, so it fell to me to try and organise something. A bit of detective work revealed that, sure to form, most local pubs were operating a ticket only policy. However, this was not the case at one nearby pub operated by a national chain, although they did inform me that they would only be opening until 11pm.

This seemed like a reasonable bet, so just before 8 o'clock we all wandered down to the said establishment to be greeted at the door by the manager with the words "Can I help you?" "Well, we would like a few drinks" was our reply, so imagine our horror when mine host informed us that he was only opening for people who had pre-booked a meal, as he hadn't got the staff to look after hoards of drinkers as well. Now had the place been bursting at the seams I could perhaps have understood this attitude, but even then the answer would surely have been to take on extra staff. As it happened though the pub seemed remarkably quiet, so I informed the individual concerned that I had been in the pub the previous day and had been told by the bar-staff that they would be staying open for drinks until 11pm. My wife and sister were just about ready to tell this latter day Basil Fawlty what he could do with his pub when he relented and said that we could stay until 10pm, but no later. In the absence of an alternative game plan we decided to accept this offer and found ourselves a table, where we spent a very pleasant couple of hours catching up on family news whilst enjoying a few drinks.

The beer choice wasn't particularly inspiring, consisting of Directors, London Pride and Wells Bombardier, but the pub itself is pleasant enough and in the normal course of events is a nice place to visit where one can have a quiet drink without getting one's eardrums blasted out. What I don't understand though is the attitude of the person running the place. The pub remained quiet throughout the two hour period we were there, and I doubt if it got any busier after we left. At no time were any of the staff run off their feet; on the contrary things looked very low-key and relaxed. Mine host though seemed determined to turn trade away; a strange thing to do at any time, let alone on New Year's Eve during a recession!

As for us, we wandered off home before 10 o'clock, as we certainly weren't going to give the manager the pleasure of refusing us a last round of drinks! For myself and my brother-in-law there were some decent bottles of Belgian beer waiting in the fridge, whilst for the ladies plenty of wine to keep them happy. My American nephew though was left with a pretty poor impression of English hospitality and just coudn't understand the attitude of the pub's management.
For me this particular incident, together with the whole idea of pubs charging an entrance on New Year's Eve, just about sums up all that is wrong with this country when it comes to service, giving people what they want and value for money. Businesses that adopt this "we don't need your trade" approach deserve to fail; after all why go into the licensed trade if you don't want customers? Such attitudes are hard enough to understand even when times are good, but when things are tough, and likely to get tougher still, they really do beggar belief.


Ale Fan said...

I went to bed about 11.00pm on New Year's eve and promptly fell asleep - I was not even woken by the din that no doubt happened a few hundred yards away in Norwich's night club alley.

I too find it strange that in this current economic climate some people running pubs still don't seem to 'get it'. I suspect they won't be running them for much longer!

Dubbel said...

Dear oh dear. It's sorry people like Fawlty that give chain pubs such a bad name.