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The price of greed
Published:  28 April, 2016

I know this sounds like the start of a joke, but I walked into a London pub the other day and asked for a pint of lime and soda.

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“That’ll be £3.50,” said the woman behind the bar. “£3.50!” I exclaimed. “For lime and soda?” “Sorry I got the price wrong,” she said. “It’s £3.25.”

Contrast this with the Nelson in Norwich, where they don’t charge anything for a pint of lime and soda, even when you’re not buying anything else. Not even 60p to cover the double dash of lime cordial used, as some other places do. And as the Nelson is part of the Table Table pub chain, presumably none of the group does.

How can this be? How can such vast discrepancies exist? And, more importantly, what impact do such extremes have on the mindset of the customer, positively or negatively, and his or her willingness to return to that outlet?

Sometimes the effect is quantifiable. Our grim local pub stopped providing its Sunday sports teams with free roast potatoes as the previous owners had, so they all upped and left.

But in most such cases we’re in that amorphous area of marketing and public relations where the feel-good or feel-bad factor can’t be measured directly, but almost certainly affects consumer decision making when it comes to future outings.

I would not just query the greed of some outlets, but also the sloppiness of the staff. What’s the point of a brand owner investing a small fortune on a marketing promotion if the people behind the bar aren’t trained properly to showcase it?

What’s the point in focusing on a new, stylish, premium gin if the outlet serves it with a gun tonic, dodgy ice, an ageing slice, and a barely transparent glass? And why on earth would a customer not be suspicious of a premium-priced single malt whisky if the designated driver’s flavoured water costs almost the same as a pint?

I once went for a job as a whisky consultant and sommelier at a top London hotel, and because I was early I went to drink – yes, you guessed it – lime and soda at a nearby pub. The pub in question had a whisky menu with 200 different malts on it. I got talking to the woman behind the bar, and in minutes I realised I had unearthed a whisky treasure trove.

I didn’t get the job, but I was asked why I thought they should employ me when I had no hotel experience. That’s WHY you should employ me, I said. I can bring a wealth of experience from outside the world of hotels. Did the interviewer know of the pub I had been to, I asked? She did not.

And there’s the problem that so may outlets have – and, by association with them, brand owners have, too. Too many in our trade go to work, do some form of job, and go home. They don’t look around, smell the high-quality coffee, notice the drinks choice and tap into how much good service makes a difference or how goodwill and customer satisfaction will pay off in the medium to long term.

£3.25 for a lime and soda! They’re having a laugh. Unfortunately, though, the rest of us aren’t.