Chris Maclean: Why the customer isn't always right

By Chris Maclean

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Customer, Chris maclean

Do you give the customers what they want? I freely admit that isn't my main concern. Its sounds arrogant that I should be dismissive of customer's...

Do you give the customers what they want?

I freely admit that isn't my main concern. Its sounds arrogant that I should be dismissive of customer's wants but I'd like to make a case that a pub isn't simply a retailer. We do something more.

In my first pub I'd barely been in a few hours before customers started visiting to see the new landlord's face. Hesitantly taking their first pint they'd introduce themselves, tell me how long they had been drinking here, tell me the problems with the previous tenant and then, without exception, give me their wisdom on how the pub should be run. Mostly it would be based on the shortcomings of the previous landlord. Inevitably the same shortcomings that precipitated his downfall.

"You should put in a juke-box, you should".

"You want to put in Sky. That'll bring them in"

Karaoke. Chips in a basket. Cheesey chips. Pool table. Televisions. Garlic bread; its the future. I've heard it all.

On one occasion I was bullied into stocking an obscure drink. Perhaps it was Galliano. "You should stock that, you should. My wife is always drinking that" I was told. I sold one shot. Fourteen years later I still had the same bottle.

The problem is that for many people the perfect pub is an amalgam of opinions and ideas all set to attract and satisfy customers. It often seems very reasonable and, particularly in isolated pubs serving local communities, they walk a very tight path to meet the needs of visitors, diners, youngsters, the elderly and all the many facets of local community.

Often it doesn't work.

Too often I've been driven from pubs playing loud music ("it attracts the youngsters"), large screen televisions ("they like the sport") or the smell of food ("eaters are good business"). Yes, I agree, these facilities can attract business but, and this is a very important BUT, many of these attractions can also be repellant to others.

These facilities can drive away, rather than attract, customers. Sadly I find myself less able to visit one of my favourite pubs in town because the televisions they have now installed distract from, what I considered to be one of that pubs greatest features, good conversation.

I don't like pubs that smell; food or anything. I don't like pubs with loud music. I don't like pubs that discourage drinking (where eating or other priorities prevail). I don't like pubs where customers are allowed to shout, swear or behave offensively. I don't like pubs that are dirty. I don't like pubs without real ale. I don't like pubs with an abundance of electronic machinery.

I suspect there will be people who will rise to this. Their pub has music and it is busy and orderly etc. That is not what I am saying. I am putting a case for the diversity of pubs; that different pubs can cater for different tastes. It is simply my taste that chooses something different.

Which brings me back to my original point. We do not simply sell what people want. That would be anarchy. What (I hope) we do is sell what we choose to sell to meet a demand.

You can run a theme bar if it is a theme bar you wish to run.

You can run a theme bar if there is demand for a theme bar.

What you cannot do is run a theme bar because a customer has told you a theme bar is what you ought to run and you can simply add "theme" to the list of other things you are providing.

There needs to be a point where, taking into account customer needs, local needs and so forth, you set out your wares. You open your pub and say "Here is what I am offering." If it is a good model and you believe in it, there is every possibility of success. But it shouldn't be based on "what you want to do is...".

Somone once asked me for a pint of bitter with lime cordial in it. I refused. I am proud of the bitter I serve. I've won awards. I deliver what I think is a perfect pint of beer. I wouldn't allow someone to compromise it by sticking lime cordial in it. For some people the customer might be "always right" but I'd like to think I'd still got some integrity. The customer left but I felt proud.

Related topics: Legislation

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