Two questions that I am regularly asked are “do you do food” and “do you do coffee”. The answer to the first is easy I don’t provide any food, the answer to the latter is somewhat more complicated but boils down to ‘maybe’.
I have no issue with the questions themselves but why do people then proceed to tell me why I am wrong? Let me start with food, I don’t sell any and don’t have any catering facilities or aspirations and my business plan is based on that. The response ‘well you used to’ is pointless and really doesn’t take the conversation any further does it? I could point out that I never have provided food in the Plough but since you are not bright enough to realise that there have been some changes you will probably still try to argue.
Then the greatest challenge of all “are you sure?” well now that you mention it I am not certain, its been at least an hour since I walked around the building so perhaps a pop up kitchen has arrived, fully stocked and with a full ensemble of staff, let me go and check for you. Honestly do you think I am that tired that I would miss this detail? Of course I am bloody sure that is why I said it.
Following up the rear is the old classic ‘you need food that is where the profit is’. Obviously this statement is always proffered by leading figures in the industry rather than random drunks off the street…. There is money to be made on dry sales, there is also significant increases in costs and waste and, in the Plough, massive capex costs. The thing is that as much as it may seem that I am simply winging it I do have a business plan, have done the maths and I do know what I am doing. When you tell me that this person or that person had the pub packed when they did food please forgive me if I point out that they are no longer here, in short they failed.
Next up is coffee or the joy of hot drinks in general. I should point out that I have no automatic coffee machine, I have a kettle and a tin of coffee. I am a traditionalist and believe that a hot drink in a pub, if you are not staff, is a favour. My rule is that if the first question you ask upon entering the property is “do you serve coffee” the answer will be a resounding no. If, however, you manage to purchase a range of beverages and then one of your party asks about the possibility of a hot drink you will more than likely be met by a positive response with the caveat that there may be a delay (cold drinks take priority).
I am not a small village pub I am, in fact, surrounded by venues that serve the various complicated sounding coffees that you may desire. I am a pub and a wet led one at that so my prime purpose is to serve cold drinks, mostly alcoholic ones. This is another subject where I am criticised and people will tell me how much margin there is on coffee nowadays. Whilst it is true that the margin on coffee is better than that on beer the margin on retailing carpets is also better but you don’t see me rushing into that sideline do you? The truth is that the coffee shop brigade would be more than welcomed if I were a seafront establishment providing some form of scenery while the hot beverage is consumed but I am not.
The other genius suggestion often proffered is that the hot drinks brigade could fill the place during the quiet periods and, in my experience, there is some truth to this. The problem is that when I have accepted the hot drinks brigade I have discovered that their drink to time on the premises ratio is seriously out of calibration. Worse than that there seems to be no embarrassment to sitting with an empty coffee cup like there is if you do something similar with a beer glass, in short they pretty much move in.
So remember what a pub is because in its essence it is neither a coffee-house or a restaurant.