The pub was probably the thing that I missed most during lockdown.
A swift half after work with colleagues, a mid-week vino with friends, a leisurely Saturday afternoon in a sunny beer garden . . . I felt lost without it.
Since lockdown lifted, many have done a brilliant job of welcoming back customers with open arms (not literally).
Since lockdown lifted, many pubs have done a brilliant job of welcoming back customers with open arms (not literally)
Others, however, have become what my cooler, younger cousin might call a ‘fun-sponge’. That is, they instantly soak up any sense of relaxed enjoyment.
Every business has its own set of new rules — which is fine.
But, with no consistency, customers cannot be expected to know these in advance, nor glared at if they unwittingly make a mistake.
Many have been dropping into the same watering hole for years and, suddenly, everything has changed.
Staff need to be trained to patiently guide customers through the new processes so they feel confident returning.
Many, for example, require you to book a table in advance — and may only allow a two-hour slot. Some welcome walk-ins, while others — or a specific one in Hampshire — will send you packing unless you’re a ‘local’.
Most ask you to jot down your telephone number so the Track and Trace service can contact you in the event of an outbreak.
Or as one rather abrupt sign in another pub said: ‘No phone number, no beer’.
Many require you to download an app so you can order and pay from the table (that you’re sternly warned not to leave unless you’re going to the toilet).
Others will let you order from the bar providing you stay behind a red line taped on the ground. Some insist you get the app despite knowing you will probably have to order the old-fashioned way because there is barely any wi-fi signal.
When the drinks arrive, some staff want you to take them off the tray as they hold it, while others will put them on the table.
If the service is great, no one will mind the extra faff or the fact that there is little room for a spontaneous tipple out any more.
But some staff have taken to acting like self-appointed prison guards, barking orders at customers as though they are virus-ridden inconveniences.
I’m sure they think they are helping to keep everyone safe. But if people are made to feel nervous and unwelcome, they’ll soon trade expensive rounds (£13.90 for a pint of Neck Oil and an Aperol Spritz in our local!) for a far cheaper glass of wine at home.
And it’s not just the pubs — shopping has also had much of the fun sapped out of it.
Some stores are only allowing in customers who have made an appointment — even if no one else is currently in the store.
Others make you queue outside. Once you’re in, browsing is out as you attempt to navigate impossibly complicated one-way systems and you can’t try anything on. Given you can take items home and then bring them back, this doesn’t really make much sense.
Why not have customers just pop unwanted clothing in a basket on their way out of the changing rooms?
And then, as we reveal on Pages 44-45, some retailers are giving up much-needed business because of a ‘computer says no’ approach to accepting cash. If staff are worried, pop on some gloves.
Shops, pubs and restaurants desperately need our support. If we abandon them now, we’ll lose them for good.
But businesses also need to help themselves. Right now, this means going the extra mile to put people at ease.
Happy customers are far more likely to spend more — and help breathe some life back into the economy.
Let them eat icing
Interest rates are not important to savers, according to one top boss at TSB.
They are ‘simply a little bit of icing on the cake’, says Andrew Davis, consumer director at the bank.
I’d hardly call TSB’s miserly 0.02 per cent easy-access rate ‘icing’, or even sprinkles.
To say interest rates don’t matter is a real slap in the face to the millions of savers who rely on returns from their nest-eggs.
Please do write to me at the email address below to let me know your thoughts on the matter — I’ll pass them on to Mr Davis.