Friday, April 15, 2005


More Than Happy To Oblige . . .

MNK has thoughtfully brought up the issue of Wetherspoon's, and exactly why they're so morally repugnant. His/her suggestion is that they are the Ikea of the pub world, and that Tim Martin simply clings, limpet-like, to whatever is the latest public concern, as they most certainly did, and are doing, in the cases of alcopops and smoking.

MNK is right, to put it bluntly. They are indeed the Ikea of the pub world, representing exactly the lowest common denominator in all that is wrong in modern British chain pubs.

It's their smoking stance that annoys me most. As a smoker myself, at least when drinking, I find it more than a little annoying to have to make frequent trips to their 'patios' to indulge. Martin (the CEO, if you're wondering) attempts to clarify his position here:

"A straw poll of our head-office staff (please check this with your own friends and relations) revealed that a worrying number would not use pubs or restaurants at busy times, apart from our pubs, because they or their partners and families dislike the smell of smoke."

So they're basing a nationwide policy on a straw poll of handpicked Londoners, who, the astute reader will have noted, still fully intend to go to Wetherspoon's regardless? Cheers.

It's not just this though. I'm not terribly old - I've only been drinking for three or four years. Even at my tender age, however, I can remember that when I started drinking, most pubs were a complete lottery. Some were friendly, some hostile, some cosy, others draughty, some had great drinks on tap, others some ghastly hicksville ale and Carling, and nothing else, some served food well, others served crap, and some didn't serve food at all. All this, however, is vanishing thanks to the bland uniformity of Wetherspoon's. Most of the pubs serve food, and almost all have the same menu. They have standardised drinks on tap. You can't even get to know your landlord because they're shunted around every few months. Drinking has become, in a word, impersonal. And this is a tragedy, because, if there's only one thing that the British do well, it's drink. In thirty years time, I believe that in all major population centres, it'll be pretty much a choice of Wetherspoon's or nothing.

And half of them are called the bloody Moon Under Water, too.

This is the problem - perhaps the McDonald's of pubs would be more accurate. But I don't think it is limited to Wetherspoon's, although it is most apparent there. Most pubs are chained, and the drive to standardisation (why? I can only think it saves on the cost of furbishment) has ripped the soul of pub drinking out through its arse. Much has been said in recent years on the matter of pub names (Frog & Radiator ad nauseum), and this is symptomatic of the same problem. I suspect it is due - at least in part - to the preoccupations of senior management, rather than the punters they think they cater for, hence that tosser Martin's comment on his straw poll.
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