Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Castle Pub, Newark.

It's very rare these days that I need to actually use my long standing blog as a forum for remonstrance purposes, though on this occasion I feel no reluctance at all in airing my views, which will be objective and not personal in nature.

Some 18 months ago (roughly) the Castle pub in Newark was taken over by new management, after a succession of poor laissez faire managers. It quickly became evident that the new management had plenty of enthusiasm and wanted to take the pub in a new direction, they soon found a niche in Newark's pub scene and a bar that was music orientated emerged and was quickly embraced by the locals. I guess the pub appealed to the young and old but the client base I would state were generally more the 30+ age bracket with a vested interest in music and seemingly unfettered glee at the new reinvigorated venue. The pub certainly did subsume their needs at the beginning.

Months fell off the calendar and the Castle pub's following rose, my father, a music lover spent much of his time down there either socialising or playing on the two weekly jam sessions, he extolled the virtues of the place, built fixtures and fitting for it and welcomed the new management into his home, where he cooked a meal for them. As for myself, I was never enamoured with the layout of the pub, I remained reserved yet positively friendly towards the management and generally advised people it was a good little watering hole with something happening almost on a nightly basis.

As the Castle pub's popularity grew the management were heralded in the local press, after all it was good news for the town, and the country was in a recession after all. Success though, strokes the ego, it can often falsely lead us to become complacent but let's take a moment to examine the real management structure of the Castle pub. Firstly I must confess I have no pub management experience as regards finances, some practices and structure, though I did work at Mansfield brewery for many years before its closure and during my time there I ran and maintained the Brewery bar which was used for regular events for local businessmen, dignitaries and the workforce on occasion. In other jobs I've had management positions and experience but I wouldn't really say I am a natural leader, or want to be. Anyway, I digress, and back to my theme - the fundamentals of pub management are as we all know customer focused, as indirectly the customer is paying the wages and keeping the pub alive, so keeping the customer happy, entertained and feeling they have got value for money is paramount. In the Castle's case, as I recall there were three prices hikes in the first six or seven months, when most pubs were using price initiatives the Castle management eager to capitalise on their success and 'seemingly' established client base were happy to rise prices. I suppose in their eyes they were providing entertainment but the reality was the success of the pub had largely been built on the enthusiasm of the musically orientated regulars, after all, word spreads and people flock in to listen to music or support likeminded friends.

At this point, and resting very much on premature laurels and acclamation the management began to exercise power, a power that would soon manifest itself to alienate the workforce and regulars alike.

My friend, a very adept and time served barman was the first to go without rhyme or reason, there were other personnel changes too. The management style seemed to be one of utter delegation. I know in my friends case, any advice he gave was quickly rebuked and I suspect that the management felt uncomfortable at his knowledge, his ready charisma with the customers and general bar savvy, indeed he did entice many a customer from a local in town for a good while, thus bolstering the takings. The management in an increasing self confident, belligerent style refused to give him any reason for his severance from the pub. He duly took them to a tribunal I gather and a settlement was reached out of court.

By this time however derision at the pubs management was on the increase and so was a growing awareness at the managements social skills, bluntness and selective speaking to customers. People were questioning how the real ale was kept, members of the local 'Camra' branch expressed concern at the quality and value of the beer. As the Roman historian Tacitus once said;

'All enterprises that are entered into with indiscreet zeal may be pursued with great vigour at first, but are sure to collapse in the end.'

And that was certainly the case with the management, as they regularly told punters how good they were doing and the fact they were getting bonus's because of it. On reading this the management could retort on past profits and the fact they have appeared in the local press and the good pub guide but my retort to that is simple, the people that often write such guides often don't really know what's going on. Any manager can put as much spin on their bar as they want, pull as many complimentary pints as they want, they can easily conceal the true feel of the pub. But let's not get too acidic here, the pub has done well in a somewhat harsh economic environment but I think, as do others that the pub has reached the pinnacle of its capabilities and has now turned the corner. Jam sessions at the pub are no longer as busy as once were, the client base is changing and more unsavoury types are creeping in, the once regular old loyal clientele are looking elsewhere as they feel more disenchanted with rising prices, abrupt/selective front of house service and a bar that is both confining and that has long since reached its potential.

On to more recent events, and an event in particular that demonstrates management ineptness in dealing with what was we Brit's call 'a storm in a tea cup'. First let's touch upon the managers attitude which has been described by people as blunt, aloof and generally one that isn't as accepting and friendly as it could be. There is an element of selectiveness, on who is spoken to, that's been relayed a good while among the fast leaving regulars for sure. We all know any pub manager, landlord or bar staff have to have an air of positive total regard, even if they aren't keen on the person in front of them, personal preconceptions have to be put aside, a friendly smile needs to be in place and a cheery disposition exercised, after all that's what keeps punters coming back. Yet the pubs manager is often described as dour, taciturn and plainly unsociable, especially to those outside of his immediate small clique of friends and regular hard core drinkers. The management seem unable to take money in a friendly business like fashion, if you don't drink copious amounts in the pub regularly then you won't be made as welcome as the people that do, and if you don't like the managements attitude then a 'put up or shut up' atmosphere prevails.

So, back to the thread. My dad that has contributed much to the making of the place, as many regulars have had for a good while before becoming disillusioned with the place. Past input and ideas haven't been regarded favourably and the free couple of drinks for the people that used to give their time and energy to play there on jam nights and days have stopped. It seems that success having been reached that people can be disregarded a little, in this respect I think this has been a serious miscalculation on the management's part.

The incident I've long been coming to (sorry!) involved the price of a pint. My dad and his friend decided to have two halves before leaving, yet the pubs pricing policy dictates that halves for some absurd reason are charged more for. So two halves of Guinness cost £3.30 instead of the usual cost of a price of a pint of Guinness which is £3.15 even though the actual volume is the same, blatantly this is customer exploitation and greed, plain and simple. It is also discriminative towards female drinkers who drink half measures on a regular basis, or even drivers trying to stay in the limit yet wanting to spend money and have a drink within limitations.

On questioning this pricing policy my dad was asked to leave, even though the matter could have been resolved easily, after all my dad had contributed to the pub, after all the good things he'd said and done, his friendship and patronage were so readily dismissed! This demonstrates management arrogance and poor management, isn't the idea to get people to spend money? But it's the manner it was dealt with that is important, the manager could have said 'you know the pricing policy but I'll let it go this once' with a cheeky defusing grin. There's a hundred different ways the manager could have resolved it using interpersonal skills but evidently high on recent success's he perhaps didn't feel he needed to, after all his place is established and his surety should never have been questioned.

So basically for 15 English pence, a customer and a friend was lost, surely a bad management decision in anyone's book as Newark is a small town and it really isn't taking long for the Castles management to alienate themselves to the local populace. And why does the pub next door to the Castle, the Mayze implement the same pricing policy as the Castle on half measures? I would say it is very much down to the individual managers discretion, another reason why it could have, and should have been diffused in a tactful more professional manner.

I could tell other factual stories, mention discontentment aplenty, describe other incidents of rudeness but I don't really think I need to, because the castle pub's management are beginning to reap what they sow, beginning to let their masks drop a little as they reveal demeanours that are not winning hearts and minds.

I did ask the managers wife in another pub if my dad was barred, this was after I had been told by bar staff that they'd been told not to serve him. I was told by the manager wife that my dad had to go in and talk to the manager, basically to be scalded like a naughty boy regarding his behaviour on questioning their absurd policy in the first place. Any good manager would say it had been a pointless clash, both sides to blame a little, as sometimes we all know the male ego can get ahead of itself.

In closing, I must stress, no names have been used in this blog, no personal remarks have been made, apart from the obvious arrogance of the manager involved, arrogance being a personality trait and not meant as an insult.

I can only urge friends, drinkers of Newark and anyone with common sense not to drink in the Castle pub, because it is overpriced and ran by an ego centred manager that hasn't so much built the pub up by himself but by the people that drink in there, people he is now, in my view exploiting by a discriminative drinks policy (exploited on a financial and not personal scale for any would be legal eagles out there). We spend the money in these pubs, we can make discerning choices and we certainly don't have to drink in a pub and listen to a jaded manager on jam sessions play the four same Neil Young songs every week whilst he grins sardonically as the till draw rattles with undeserved profit.

*** Amendment ***

Ex staff and other people involved with the pub and YardGlass pub group have informed me that the head office is in charge of pricing policy across the group. That said, my comments still stand, the pricing policy is absurd, I feel it is exploitation and though a friend with business acumen pointing out to me the logistics and costs in serving half measures I am still 110% committed to raising awarness about said pub and its handling of people. I'm sure there'll be more amendments and updates in the coming days! And sincere thanks to people that have come forward with information, advice and support.

*** Update ***

The management mentioned in this blog are no longer at The Castle pub and havent' been for some time. It is under new management, and very good management too!

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Charlie Chuck and Gary Delany Part Deux

I went to the Lincoln comedy festival this Saturday just gone (3rd) to see one of my comedy icons Charlie Chuck and had a fantastic day. Myself, my friends Ryan and Gary (who is over visiting from Hong Kong) caught the train into Lincoln at lunch time not really sure if we'd get tickets but thankfully it wasn't a problem. The venue was Lincoln Uni, in what is known as the 'engine shed' and what a good venue it is too, cheap bar, good seating in the auditorium and a nice modern feel to it.

So, tickets bought we grabbed some beers and settled to watch Charlie Chuck at 2pm. Charlie pretty much has the same tried and trusted act but that's never a problem for me as I find him hysterical every time I see him. The hour Charlie was on quickly passed, though nearing the end Charlie was content to chat with the audience and tell anecdotes of past experience in the business etc. For me, it was money well spent, Charlie, ever the surrealist is very visual as well as vocal, and why deviate from that when you have a cracking act? After the show I managed to snatch a quick joke with the legend himself and get my photo taken with him, plus he signed a poster for me, cheers Charlie!

Next up was Gary Delany, ironically I saw him support Charlie back in February at Just the Tonic in Nottingham. I enjoyed Gary back then and was looking forward to seeing him again. Gary is obviously working towards a tried and trusted comedy routine with jokes written by himself, though I'm sure odd elements are borrowed now and again. In a frank and open performance he told the audience just what was going to happen and used a few props such as a kitchen timer, cue cards and a horn. As the jokes flowed it became apparent Gary is trying to perfect his act (for the next Edinburgh festival and more mainstream perhaps?) so the audience were very much guinea pigs in what was largely a laughs experiment. I like Gary, his delivery is excellent but then many of his jokes are one liners, so he doesn't have to be too articulate. His jokes range from the noir to the absurd, he's comfortable bantering with the audience without taking the piss every time and all in all his 'there will be jokes' routine worked very well. I suspect as I saw him arrive late he didn't have too much time to prep or get settled, his routine lasted just over 50 minutes, it did seem a little rushed and uncoordinated in places but in fairness he did say it was experimental at the beginning. There's something I can't put my finger on about Gary, there were new jokes and some material from when I saw him last time but I'm left wondering is he going to do the comedy circuit forever or make a bid for tv or radio success?

Charlie, Me, Ryan !