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Poker and great food are two ways to draw consumers back into the pub, says David Elliott I have been amazed during recent conversations with...

Poker and great food are two ways to draw consumers back into the pub, says

David Elliott

I have been amazed during recent conversations with friends, family and indeed business associates at how many people now play poker or know someone that does. Over the past few months a number of our pubs have been organising and holding poker events which, amazingly (considering the popularity of online gambling) they say have increased business, especially during the early part of the week. Unfortunately, as usual, there is confusion in the air, not only from differing licensing authority decisions as to whether they should be allowed, but also by professional promoters pushing the game into pubs.

I am very aware of why there are restrictions on non-skilled gambling in public places, although I don't necessarily agree with all of them. Yes, we have to protect the vulnerable who see gambling as a possible fast buck, but I think allowing small-prize poker in pubs isn't going to develop a nation of gambling addicts. The internet and digital TV is more likely to do that.

Allowing poker in pubs - now without a cash prize or post the Gambling Act with a small cash prize - will do something else, though: it will give the public another reason to visit the good old British pub. Believe me, with reality TV, cheap supermarket beer deals, super-casinos, cinema multiplexes and out-of-town shopping centres, we need all the help we can get.

Pubs and bars are central to our culture and are often the heart of their communities. The majority of community pubs still encourage game-playing, sports, dancing, singing and - dare I say it - real enjoyment. Even now, some of these activities are severely restricted, often due to imposed licensing conditions. Of course, it is important to consider our neighbours at all times, but they should also be considerate of the communities they live in.

I was amused to read Roger Protz's comments in the Morning Advertiser last week bemoaning the eating habits of the British public. In his words, "most either eat pre-cooked food at home or nip out for a curry or Chinese takeaway". What an insult to the growing quality of food pubs and the increasing demand by the public for home-cooked fresh dishes within them. How discourteous to all the landlords and chefs who are tirelessly sourcing local ingredients, developing seasonal menus and matching his passion, beer, with food. He obviously hasn't visited many pubs recently to see how they are leading a cultural revolution in terms of food. It could be, as he says, that "only a small minority of Brits eat in smart restaurants", but I can guarantee him, there's a whole heap that visit pubs regularly for a very similar eating experience.

Finally, as we now all know, the smoking ban will come into effect on 1 July. I accept that licensees up and down the country are busy getting themselves ready for Christmas and the New Year, but please, please, please do not wait to discuss with your regional manager, pub company etc, how you believe the smoking solution can be achieved. If you ignore it now then it will be at your peril and loss of income.

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a safe and hopefully prosperous and smoke-free new year.

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