Dragons Done?

By Publican Sam

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Pint, Pint glass

Theo Paphitis has invested in a "hands-free" beer pump
Theo Paphitis has invested in a "hands-free" beer pump
It’s not often that the TV makes me want to write about it, but the latest episode of BBC TV’s Dragon’s Den (series 9, episode 7) caught my attention to such an extent that I want to share a few thoughts.

Messrs Cross, Haddon & Stoddart’s invention, the “ barmatetm ”, a device that purports to be a “new hands-free beer delivery system that pours a controlled pint of beer, without the need for the glass to be held by the bar staff” – their words from their website, not mine.

In the show the trio (product designer, bio-tech manager and architect) talk of an “efficiency gap” in our industry because at times as customers they have to wait to be served when they have been in busy bars where “they are 4 deep at the bar”.
They claim on their website that the device will - save time, money, human resources, be adjustable for different glasses and taps reduce staff stress and improve service. (I’ll look at those claims later).

But back to the show, I just loved the “poised and confident presentation” that spoke of the £90 (per tap) investment by bar operators being recouped in 2 months. Who knew that Wetherspoons (or any other operator) had to buy their dispense taps from their suppliers? In 30+ years trading I’ve never been charged the £30-£70 per tap they spoke of (the dispense kit always remained the property of the brewer) – although with talk of the rental that certain brewers want to charge for their taps maybe this will come to pass.

For me the star of the show is Hilary Devey who said “If I’d got barstaff that couldn’t add up the order in their head, open a bottle, put it on the counter, pour a spirit or a glass of wine & then deliver the pint, then frankly, I’d think this was badly trained barstaff” and finally “I’ve gotta say, I’m out”. Even Peter Jones couldn’t see the benefit of the device, as having worked in bars, he realised that good staff “multi-tasked” anyway.

So back to the claims – save time and money? How exactly, if you are confronted with a round of several pints of the same product and no other requirement (which we often are) then where’s the time saved? Unless the argument is that having taken the money, the barstaff then start serving the next customer before completing the original order? I for one would be mightily aggrieved if barstaff didn’t complete my transaction before commencing another. Besides which, where is the customer service improvement?

The beer still has to be poured and cannot physically be dispensed faster than the dispense time already achieved. I would argue that there would be a diminution of service – the lost opportunity to banter with the customer or upsell other products and give our customers what they also want – a feeling of being valued as people and not just as walking wallets to be processed as quickly as possible at all costs.

The real nub of the claims, as far as business might be concerned, is the reduction in human resource and I think it’s a non-starter. A well-trained, motivated and inter-cooperative bar team will cope with the “4 deep at the bar” quicker through their collaborative approach than any gizmo attached to a beer tap. We’ve all been there, finishing/starting pints for colleagues, helping complete large orders whilst a colleague is tied to the pumps and if our managers have allocated sufficient staff numbers to peak trading times then a good bar team will overcome even the worst of rushes.

Let’s not even talk of having to adjust it for different sized glasses or fiddle with yet another valve to make sure dispense pressure is just right or another bit of kit that has to be kept scrupulously clean behind our bars. Oh, and don’t even get me started on the issues of beer-line cleaning with these contraptions in place, can you imagine the nightmare of having to remove 10 to 20 “barmatetm ” devices every week to enable you to clean the lines?

Can you imagine how insulted and demotivated an otherwise happy bar crew would feel if, despite their best efforts, management (with time and motion clip-board in hand) announced that one of them was being laid off to make room for these devices? How exactly would that help reduce staff stress?

For me the real disappointment of the show is that Dragon’s for whom I have a modicum of respect, in my opinion, made a really bad investment call, as I believe this is the wrong solution to the problem of customer waiting times during peak demand. The solution is easy – train your staff well and commit sufficient human resource to ones peak demand time and manage ones customers’ expectations to a reasonable level by interacting with them. I would rather see the Dragon’s put their £50k into funding some apprenticeships in the industry and talk up the value of good staff training than see them put their time and money into developing this device.

What next? The taps are turned round, fitted with these devices and a card reader/coin slot and customers simply serve themselves? Nice try guys but just don’t see it flying off the shelves.

(By the way, I have transcribed this rant to rice paper with edible food dye so I can eat my words at a later date, if necessary!)

Related topics: Professional Services & Utilities

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