Homogenised: Maybe okay for milk but not pubs.
We are mainly talking about pubs but to some extent it might also be applicable to other leisure outlets and certain retail stores – depending on the category.
It is fair to say the effort in branded pubs is all skewed towards creating the identikit look for the building, the food and the drinks offer, whereas there is comparatively little spent on the day-to-day running of the operation.
This is in sharp contrast to what I’d call true pubs where modest expenditure goes on retaining the character of a building but the bulk of the focus is on the day-to-day softer elements including caring, managing and loving the business – in effect the bits that impact directly on the customer.
These thoughts were formulated following a recent conversation with Toby Smith, chief executive of Town & City Pubs – that operates the Yates’s and Slug and Lettuce chains, who has been mulling over what exactly makes a pub?
This coincided with my experiencing what might well be my ideal pub - The Thomas Lord at West Meon in Hampshire. What was a tired old leasehold boozer has been transformed. But not by any radical change to the building, but instead by the input of some rickety old furniture, odd chairs, and sofas that are the embodiment of shabby chic with the stuffing falling out.
On my visit a fire crackled in the inglenook and the garden was dotted with tables, not formally lined up as you’d find in many unappealing beer gardens. They were strategically placed to take advantage of the different aspects of the garden.
And the food was faultless. It was not traditional pub food and neither was it trying to be Michelin star cuisine. It was local, seasonal, flavourful food that had been cooked to perfection, in my view and I eat out a lot in my job.
The Thomas Lord: A faultless experience.
There were no mainstream beers – except Guinness – just two ales from a local brewery and a single lager. No over-complicated ludicrously large choice. And to ensure the right atmosphere an original wooden screen helps to halve the size of the pub at quieter times.
Simplistically, what they’ve done is match the food and drink offer to the building and included the customers within this. It would have been complete madness to create a high street offer in this location.
The reality is the world is changing. We’re moving away from spending time in excessively branded pubs. We all harbour a desire to spend time in what we each define as a real pub. We’re saying that the chains are not the true pub.
Yes, the high street branded outlets have their place – on the drinking circuit – but even the people who visit these places at weekends will search out homely local pubs at other times of the week. Increasingly people of all ages are seeking out authentic places. Even in fast-paced London they are searching out what we could call proper pubs.
Having lost around 5,000 pubs over recent years there is the opportunity for true pubs to stake their place in the community by being a lot more than simply the local pub. They need to offer much more than just being the nearest pub to the customers.
But what they don’t need is great amounts of money spent on the fabric of the building or the employment of an agency to concoct a costly brand. Love and care for both the pub and the customers will ultimately reap much greater rewards.
Nigel Sapsed is director of executive search specialist Sapsed Stevens