View Full Version : The Pub Curmudgeon - Looking a gift horse in the mouth?

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09-03-2014, 14:01
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The J. D. Wetherspoon vouchers distributed by CAMRA to its members have proved to be a considerable source of controversy. To some they are a valuable membership benefit, while to others they involve a consumer organisation compromising its independence.
The point needs to be made that these vouchers are entirely funded by Spoons, and don’t cost CAMRA a penny. And to some extent they represent an offer that appears to be generous, but where in fact, by design, the take-up will be limited. They’re not perforated, so have to be cut up with scissors, they’re just that bit too big to comfortably fit in the average wallet, and they’re limited to three-month time slots. Given this, it’s my view that less than 10% of those issued are ever redeemed.
This was recently discussed on the CAMRA forum, so I decided to create a poll to test that proposition. Apologies to general blog readers who feel this subject is a bit parochial. The results show a clear U-curve, with the biggest vote for those who use none, closely followed by those who use all 10 each quarter. Overall, the responses suggest that about 45% of the vouchers end up being used but, given that the blog is far more likely to be read by enthusiasts I would say that figure is likely to greatly over-estimate the real-world take-up. The original poll results are here (http://poll.pollcode.com/35322488_result?v) – there are also some interesting comments, including “I've never seen anyone under 50 using a Wetherspoon voucher in my local branch”.
In reality I would say that whether you use them or not mainly depends on whether Wetherspoon’s is part of your regular round. If you go there anyway, you’ll probably use them; if you don’t, you won’t. People aren’t really going to go out of their way just to save 50p on a pint. And, even if you do go to Spoons, if your usual habit is to drink halves, or if you’re taking advantage of the inclusive meal deals, for which they’re not valid, you might not use them either. I currently have six left for the January-March quarter, and am unlikely to use more than one more – and that’s not because I’ve been steering clear of pubs in general, or even deliberately avoiding Spoons.
It may not be the case in other towns, but in Stockport town centre there are plenty of other pubs that offer one or more of a wider choice, better-kept beer, better (if dearer) food, a more cosy and pub-like atmosphere and even keener prices (in the two Sam Smith’s pubs) than the local branch of Spoons.
If the vouchers weren’t time-limited, then they would effectively become like ten-bob drinking vouchers circulating amongst CAMRA members and their mates, but the fact is that they are limited, and so surplus ones end up getting binned at the end of each quarter. Probably many of the less engaged members just put the annual envelope to one side and forget about it.
While it’s not something I feel particularly strongly about, in my view the voucher scheme does to some extent compromise CAMRA’s integrity and may inhibit criticism of Spoons. Some non-Spoons pubs also accept the vouchers at face value and, to provide a bit of balance, it would be nice to see the Independent Family Brewers of Britain (http://www.familybrewers.co.uk/) offer a similar scheme (although in practice that would be much more administratively complex). Now I’d certainly use all of those!
On a related note, Wetherspoon’s have recently introduced a policy that every branch will stock at least one of London Pride, Doom Bar and Adnams Broadside. Is that perhaps an acknowledgement that, for many of their customers, their cask ale range, apart from the staple Ruddles and Abbot, was often a bit obscure and offputting?

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