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My latest poll was about whether pubs should be excluded from the Good Beer Guide if they at times reserved all seating for diners. Perhaps one might have expected a landslide in favour, but in fact there was a substantial minority of 26% who didn’t agree, although perhaps some might have voted for a “depends on the circumstances” option. Sunday lunchtime only is very different from ten out of fourteen sessions in a week.
A well-known Stockport restaurant
I wasn’t asking this out of the blue, but had a specific situation in mind. We are now in the season of selecting pubs for CAMRA’s national Good Beer Guide for 2017. The Arden Arms in Stockport is a pub that features on CAMRA’s National Inventory of Historic Pub Interiors, and indeed many would think it ranks near the top of that list. It has been in the Guide for many years, and serves a wide range of Robinsons beer well, at reasonable prices. The current licensees formerly ran That Café in Levenshulme, and have consistently served excellent food at the Arden. The interior, with its almost unique snug that can only be accessed by walking through the servery, must be the most characterful in Stockport.
But there is a fly in the ointment. In the past year or two, it seems the pub has adopted the practice of reserving all seating for diners. This applies every lunchtime, and early evenings Thursday to Saturday. Only a couple of weeks ago I arranged to meet a couple of friends in there early on a Friday evening, and one complained that he had been moved to accommodate diners. This is clearly outlined by Simon Everitt here – he was not at all happy, but managed to find solace in the nearby Boar’s Head.
Now, while I retain a soft spot for the wet-only pub, it has to be accepted that, in the current climate, most pubs need to offer food to a greater or lesser extent. I have nothing against pubs serving food, pubs serving excellent food, or pubs where most of the customers are there for food. I’m a bit uneasy about pubs reserving some tables, but recognise that may be a sensible business decision. But if a pub decides to allocate all tables, and all seating, to diners, it crosses a line and sends out a clear message that drinkers are unwelcome. It isn’t just advance bookings either – tables are also prioritised for walk-in diners.
I have to admit that I am torn here. The Arden Arms is a fine pub in many respects, and outside of dining hours drinkers will have no problem. We regularly hold meetings of the local CAMRA branch there. Many Good Beer Guide users will be happy to be directed there and, at lunchtimes, many will be seeking food anyway. But, if it goes in the Guide, it needs a clear qualification that “at time all seats are reserved for diners”. And should a pub taking that attitude towards the casual drinker be included at all?