Saturday, 26 November 2011

Liverpool Beer Festival – the annual ticket ritual

If you want to go to Liverpool Beer Festival (16 - 18 February), you need to have your wits about you. There are postal applications with different rules for members of Liverpool Branch, members of other Branches and non-members, and there is the allocation for those who work the festival. Finally, there’s the famous queuing for tickets on a freezing December morning.

I’ve often said that some CAMRA members are wannabe civil servants – they love to make things really bureaucratic.  Think of any CAMRA beer festival: very often, you pay your admission here, then get you glass there, and the beer tokens are on sale on the far wall in the main room.  Some festivals have you queuing three times before you sip your first pint.  For Liverpool, add in the fact that actually obtaining your tickets is a bureaucracy of Byzantine proportions.  It takes more than 800 words on the webpage just to explain how to buy tickets; click here to see.  I used to work for the DSS and, as I recall, none of its systems were as convoluted as this.

The webpage includes a Q&A bit that doesn’t always answer the question. For example:
  Q)  Why can’t we buy tickets online?
  A)  We are looking into this method. However it is complicated, due to the fact that we have to limit tickets and need to facilitate a members presale. We are however hoping to be able to offer this next year.

Nonsense, it’s not complicated.  The festival webpage says that they are holding back at least 200 tickets per session for sale at the public sale day, which this year is on 10 December at the Catholic Cathedral.  Why not scrap the public sale day and just put those 200+ tickets on line? You’re not obliged to put all the tickets for your event on-line: just the number you want to.  I’ve set up an on-line ticket system myself, and I know that it’s very easy, very quick and free to the organiser, with the additional benefit that people who live further away might have a chance of getting in.  Perhaps you're wondering how this service is funded:  the on-line ticket company charges the customer 10% extra (with a 50p minimum). A £7 ticket would cost £7.70, and that 70p is considerably less than the bus or train fares into Liverpool city centre.

I look forward to next year with interest to see how the festival copes with the technology of on-line ticketing.

The FAQ also has the surly note:  “If you have further suggestions for next year, please consider becoming part of the festival working group.”  In other words, they won’t accept suggestions or criticisms from outside the inner sanctum.  Fair enough, it’s their festival after all, but that won’t stop people having an opinion, and I know I’m definitely not alone in mine.

If you’re going to the public sale day, wrap up well and good luck!


  1. I agree 100%. Even when I was Wirral Branch Chairman I had to beg for a ticket. We sold Birkenhead Beer Festival tickets in Liverpool pubs but they refused to reciprocate.
    The organiser of the Chelmsford Beer Festival made interesting points to me on ticket sales. They sell no tickets in advance. So anyone who wants to attend has to get there very early. the result is that the festival is packed out within a few minutes of opening which means that there isn't a dead first hour with low beer sales. It also means that as one customer leaves another can be allowed in within the maximum capacity. You don't have to make allowance for ticket holders who may or not turn up.

  2. That's how the National Winter Ales Festival operates as well, and I recall the old CAMRA Bury Beer Festival used to have long queues down the road. On-line ticketing is not my preferred option, but it would be better than the confused and cumbersome system that operates now.

  3. I'm normally very much a supporter of the Liverpool Beer Festival and the pressure the organisers are under, but the method of allocating tickets looks more arcane and off putting every year.

    Not least, that this year I have applied for 2 priority tickets (me and mrs CAMRA members), but I don't know if I've actually been successful until they are posted back to me. They haven't arrived yet (if they will at all), so I still have to keep the morning of Sat 10th free, just in case I need to queue.

    And the queuing system is pretty brutal, as last year, each person in the queue could buy 4 tickets (if available), so 200 tickets on the door for each night meant that anyone outside the first 50 people in the queue was lucky to get a Friday night ticket. I got there a good bit before 8am and managed to get Friday night tickets, but it was clear that everyone who could was buying 4 Friday tickets each.

    It badly needs a complete overhaul, and I'd happily pay more for the ticket just to not have to freeze my **** off in the street for 2 and a half hours.

    rightly or wrongly, amongst my friends, the cost of the ticket is largely irrelevant, so it would be easy to absorb any 'setup' costs of a new system by adding a quid to the ticket price.

    Fingers crossed.

  4. ...a FAR more successful approach was long ago adopted by one of my mates...

    Go on the Friday night without a ticket, and just ask people in the queue if they've got a spare. Less than 5 minutes later, he's got a ticket and job done.

  5. This is all in sharp contrast to the impression we are given in Mersey Ale of jolly, bantering people queueing happily for hours in the cold, as though bad service to the public was something to be proud of. If they're cheerful, it's probably because they're putting a brave face on things; after all, no one really likes the process of queueing.

    Born Against: you mention the pressure the organisers are under, and I'm sure that's true, but the system they operate racks up that pressure tremendously. The on-line system I mentioned is a piece of cake by comparision: one person could sort it all out in half an hour, and that would be it: it would operate itself and all they'd need to do is wait until the ticket company sends them some money. But I've been told to my face by 3 Liverpool Branch members that it wouldn't work for them (even though none of them knew how the on-line ticket system actually operates), so I conclude they must enjoy the hassle. In addition, the fact that I'm not in their branch means my suggestions are going to be dismissed out of hand anyway with a "how dare you?" response.


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