Have you ever noticed how hard it is to get a customer to praise you? It's the same in all walks of life and all industries. Customers are quick to criticise, slow to praise.
You can serve up the world's greatest Sunday Roast, accompanied by a perfectly poured pint of bitter or a bottle of 1982 Chateau Petrus and, when you go and check, the customer will say "yes, okay, thank you."
But an unhappy customer will be quick to criticise - and they'll tell everybody they can. Before you know it, everyone within a one hundred mile radius of your pub will know that you only put two sausages on John Smythe's plate of Sausage, Egg, Chips and Beans when the menu clearly stated three, you thieving, profiteering publican you.
I can't help but think a similar thing is happening with the Beer Tie at the moment.
This week the OFT have, shockingly, announced that they don't think there's anything wrong with the beer tie. And anybody who is familiar with my blog will be aware that I have written in the past that I don't think that there is anything fundamentally wrong with the beer tie, either.
In the forums we see continuous references to the tie, how the pubcos are the scourge of the Earth, how the tie should be abolished, how all beers will be a pound cheaper if the tie was scrapped, and how rents would come down...
Wait, rents would come down? Beer would be cheaper?
I've always supported Fair Pint's efforts to raise the attention of the blighted Publican to the Government, as I support most people who are trying to make a difference to help their industry, but I don't agree that the removal of the tie will do either of these things. In fact, I think it would simply damage many tied landlords further.
I'm currently in the last year of my tied contract and my BDM and I have already discussed what might happen next year. They've offered me the opportunity to be free-of-tie on wines, spirits and soft drinks. Sounds exciting, doesn't it, but - quelle horreur - they wish to increase (yes, increase) my rent by a percentage of the amount of business they will technically be losing if I take this particular part of the trade away from them. I'm going to go free of tie, and they're going to put my rent UP.
Is that unfair? Not really; it is, much as many hate to hear this, just business. If you gave up selling food from your kitchen and instead let somebody set up a restaurant in your premises, you'd want to take a percentage - or at least some rent - to compensate you for the business you no longer have, wouldn't you?
Before anybody thinks I'm pandering to my landlords, let's just clarify that I'm not happy with the figure on the table. In order to simply stand still financially, I will have to lift my trade by 30% - a steep increase to achieve in the current climate. That's before you take in to account the fact that the VOA have increased my business rates by 30% next year...
This increase means that a) there's no way I'd be able to pass on the savings of buying my spirits etc. cheaper and b) I'd actually be better off remaining 100% tied.
Amazing - I've done the calculation and I could end up being better off staying tied!
Does this irk me? A little bit, yes, but I've worked very well with Greene King this year and consider myself to have a good working relationship with them. They've supported me on several projects and have, actually, assisted many of their tenants through 2009 by supplying products at a lower price that allows us to sell IPA and Carlsberg at £1.99 a pint and retain a fair GP.
The customers think this is great but, once again, to simply stand still on my bottom line has meant having to increase business by more than that omnipresent thirty percent. Easy on a sunny summer's day, tough pretty much any other time.
Abolishing the tie will simply hike up rents, and dropping prices will simply mean even harder work to keep the bottom line balanced.
There are many publicans who are quick to cricitise the tie and their pubcos - and in some cases I don't doubt this is justified - but there are many more tenanted publicans out there who are keeping their mouths shut in the good old fashioned tradition of not wanting to bring attention to themselves.
Most of us didn't have a problem with our ties before 1st July 2007; many of us wouldn't have been able to afford to buy in to our pubs if we'd had to shell out for the freehold.
I don't think the tie should be abolished, and I may be the only tied tenant stupid enough to make such a public statement, but I am also a tied tenant who is intimately familiar with the boundaries of my overdraft. I know how tough it is, yet I don't think that's entirely the fault of my tie.
I do, however, think that some of the pubcos and breweries would do well to actually listen to the problems their licensees are suffering from and see what they can do to help. Whether that's helping support the price of Sky Sports or lowering the price of one or two products to allow a cheaper offering to attract customers back through the door, or even just offering to pay some advertising to promote an out-of-the-way establishment looking to increase trade.
Because, at the end of the day, it's more trade through the door that we need rather than plotting the demise of our landlords and taking cheap shots at each other. More trade through the door means more business for the publican, more turnover for the pubcos and a better return for the shareholders.
And that way, we all win.
* please note, this figure will vary wildly from pub to pub and is based on my own business, not yours...