It seems to me that the greatest challenge facing many pubs is persuading punters to enter the premises for the first time.
This can be a daunting experience for some, with an uncertainty about what lies ahead. Unlike many shops or restaurants it can be difficult to peer through the window in advance and price lists or menus are rarely displayed outside.
Will it be clean and bright or dank and dirty? Will the customers be businessmen, families having lunch or grizzled old veterans of the all-day drinking circuit? There is also the problem of the persistence of memory. If a customer had a bad experience, such as an unwillingness to change poor beer or repeated short measures, this seems to linger longer in the mind than it would for a shop or café.
However, some pubs are coming up with ideas to encourage that all important first visit, and purely as a service to my readers, me and the bar wife tried out a couple of local offers. The first was a ‘two meals for the price of one’ deal at the Stuart House Hotel. In truth we were going anyway to drop off the new Good Beer Guide sticker and I am not a stranger there. However, whilst the beer prices compare favourably with pubs around town, the food is a bit more expensive so we do not normally eat there. Thanks to the voucher we stayed all evening, had a nice meal, drank several pints of the excellent Wolf beer and came away well satisfied. Admittedly we were not new customers, but we increased our normal spend and will pass on our good impressions of the place.
The second one was a free pint voucher which arrived by email. On investigation it turned out that this could be redeemed at the Feathers at Dersingham. Once, this pub was truly the place for everyone – you could drink top quality beer in the wood panelled bar, eat in the dining room, relax or play with the kids in the garden or listen to loud music with the younger customers in the stable bar. However, in recent years it had lost its way. Suffering from changes of management, lack of investment, most noticeable with the run-down toilets, and the resurgence of the nearby Coach and Horses, the Feathers fell out of fashion. It had been several years since my last visit, so it seemed like a welcome opportunity to return, but when I ordered a pint, I was informed that the management had decided not to accept the vouchers. I checked the small print and they were well within their rights, but I had my beer anyway. It was fine, though the bar wife’s water was expensive. We left after drinking up. Normally, having had a good pint and seen signs of revival (refurbished toilets) at such a potentially wonderful pub, my mood would have been upbeat.
Next day I contacted the sender of the email which turned out to be Punch Taverns. They were apologetic and explained that although the tenants were within their rights, they would have a discussion with them. They also offered me a free polo shirt, branded with the beer of my choice. So what will I be wearing next time you see me? Well, 20 days later, I’m still waiting for it to arrive.