Sunday, February 07, 2010

Licensees urged to be Keg Aware

Sam, of course I expect, I mean respect that, you will defer, and I'm referring to the whole.

Before I came to the dark, sorry I mean tied, side I was a manager of high volume outlets - restaurants and a night club and restaurant in Mayfair - who had no links with the sordid underworld of the tied regime. In the background of that experience I occasionally came across people who were becoming involved with tied pubs, people who were leaving working for others as I was and were setting up their own catering businesses for the first time. Pubcos were just fledglings then, settling their little feet into means of manipulating the gift they had been given by the Beer Orders; i.e. total unsupervised control over the letting of freeholds that had a binding supply agreement stitched alongside the contract on the building.

My pub was marketed as coming free of tie three years after the inception of the lease. I would not have taken it on had it not been marketed so. In 1997 I made one colossal mistake - under enormous duress from my freeholder - and signed a deed of variation to my lease which, and I did not foresee it at the time, led to my being screwed royally down the line and never getting free of tie. This error of judgment cost me dearly and helped me understand, while reflecting on my 'free' life prior to setting up my own 'low cost entry' business, just how pernicious and all encompassing the systematic abuse of the tie was having on the whole industry. As early as 1996 a senior exec at Courage admitted to me that the increased profits gained through the tie essentially were used as a subsidy for the free trade, allowing support and discounts there which would not otherwise be so attractive to retailer customers.

Essentially if licensed premises are dealing with beer which is not imported directly by the retailer - whether pubs, restaurants, bars or clubs - and even if they are dealing with small local wholesalers rather than mainstream suppliers, the business they are doing is inevitably vicariously tainted with the influence of what's happening in the whole beer market - the market which is dominated by the big pubcos who operate the scam that is the tie.

Since the introduction of pubcos into the market severed the traditional visceral link there was between brewer and retailer, where to some large extent sustainability of the tie at least meant that both brewer and retailer must either prosper or die together, the distribution networks, the logistics of this industry, while retaining the original workforce employed by the breweries, have been farmed out to pale imitations of their former selves and, instead of being respected as an essential part, a lifeblood element, of the process of delivering beer to our nation of binge drinkers, have been forced to become the oppressed delivery van drivers of the pub trade.

Kegs? Who cares about kegs anymore?

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