I was idly flicking through some social media postings from friends working abroad this morning and reminiscing about travelling when the first customer came in. I served the pint and was handed a rather wet ten pound note extricated from an equally wet wallet. As I walked to the till the words I least wanted, or expected, to hear came over my shoulder “sorry that’s piss”. As I washed my hands, thoroughly, I couldn’t help but think how different life has become in such a short space of time.
This is just one of the day-to-day challenges of a publican. Last night I acted as mediator between a customer and the local kebab shop. In trying to correct an order error made by his girlfriend my customer became frustrated and annoyed on the phone but it was ok because “they know me”. After pointing out that he had used his girlfriend’s cell and not mentioned his name at any point I could just see realisation dawning before the spark was extinguished with “Ah but they will recognise me when I collect it”. It took a further debate to confirm that it was better that they recognised you before they had cooked and wrapped your food and the tone of the resultant call was, I hope, far more conducive to a healthy meal.
I had a strange conversation with a customer this week initiated, as many are, by the long hours I work. Firstly I had to point out that ‘it’s great because you are a workaholic’ is not a line that any partner has ever used as far as I recall but then we got onto the ‘what ifs’. Most of you will be familiar with the what ifs, they are a series of internal challenges whose purpose is to prevent you ever doing anything. If you ask the question ‘what if’ enough times about any given challenge you will convince yourself that the risk is too high and the task should not be commenced.
This guy’s particular ‘what ifs’ were about my personal availability since the business is inextricably linked to me. As an inveterate single person there is no partner or family to step in if I am unwell and this challenge seemed to perplex this guy. What would happen if I were to break my leg or become incapacitated in some other way? The answer, which he just couldn’t grasp, was “I don’t know”. I don’t have a contingency manual planning for every eventuality, I pretty much just wing it.
The other ‘what if’ that our man had can be condensed into return on investment (ROI) and more specifically the ROI on the various tasks planned. Would opening up the main bar pay for itself in the long run? was the second bar viable? would a very limited food offer recoup the costs of the kitchen? Again the answer of “I have no idea” perplexed him. In this trade, as with so many, there is no simple ROI calculation or business case, the business is like an all-consuming boulder hurtling along. The business cannot stand still, investment is essential both to turnaround past neglect and to build capability and develop the offer. In a lot of cases you cannot simply look at a task and calculate the pay back period for that investment, it doesn’t work like that the value is in the whole rather than the part.
So next time you ask yourself ‘what if’ just remember that it isn’t having the answer that gets things moving its simply not asking the question.
Last Thursday I was privileged to have a glass of beer with many of the great and good of the railway industry. This was a further reminder of the unique world that is railway engineering, the great people in that world and the significance of the change. I won’t name everybody here but special thanks has to go to Martin Bright for an appearance in his new-found role as poster boy for retirement. Ignore those adverts for potions that take “years off you” Martin has somehow lost ten years in two weeks, well deserved and reassuring as I too take to the exit.
At home I am continuing the ‘pack one, throw one’ technique that I have always used when moving home. I have not yet left living out of a bag behind as I return to the apartment next weekend before final move on Monday so I have to ensure that whatever I leave here fits in the bag (or the bin). Negotiations for beer supply are still confounding both me and Andrew as we compare notes on the relative performances of our brewery reps. For some reason my paperwork is taking longer than it does up here in Essex but I am sure that is just a reflection on the slower pace of life further South……..
Plumber is now engaged for the Tuesday which is great news as it limits the time that I will be without hot water. This is a significant achievement for me since I have passed a job that I could do myself, at least in part, to a professional trade and also cut a neat, but fair, discount on the job. With the mantra of ‘Return On Investment’ ringing in my ears I have opted to replace the boiler rather than repair. As good as all this progress is it also reminds me that with the stonemason, roofer and plumber engaged the rest of the tasks reside on the list that has my name at the top and time is not my friend. Keep an eye on the blog and you can watch my progress I may even find a tracker to link progress with my slow decline into insanity!
I went for a meal at the old place on Friday and it was a good example of what not to do. She is without doubt a stunning little pub and continues to look great and trade well but the food offer is confused and misplaced. Coupling a very good bar menu with a weak restaurant offer in an environment which cannot offer a restaurant is indicative of somebody in the business pushing too hard for something that isn’t right. This type of prescriptive offer is exactly what I won’t do, and didn’t do when I was there, the pub knows what it wants to be and as landlords our job is to facilitate that. The old girl is doing well but its a shame to see some basics missed that would step her up a level; I know that it is of no impact to me but this is how we view pubs that is just how it is. Imagine going past the house that you used to own and finding that they had painted it pink and made it an eyesore* well we feel the same when we enter old pubs and see inverted 70cc bottles of spirits or cluttered fridges.
For those who are still seeking out the excitement in my posts I can assure you that you are still too early. There is no excitement just a creeping dread as I look at invoices and CapEx plans. Don’t be mislead this is very much what I want to do and I am convinced that I will make it work, but looking beyond the works is an effort in itself. I guess it is similar whichever side of the bar you are on, my days of looking for excitement are long gone and I now drink where I am comfortable and around friends. This is the pub that I want to create and the environment where I want to live, it isn’t excitement that I want it’s the comfort of wandering downstairs to work.
*Any similarities to ex marital homes that are still being paid for are entirely coincidental