Sunday 8 November 2015

A dissatisfied customer

I expect CAMRA Southport and West Lancs Branch is rather upset by the letter in our local paper, The Southport Visiter, stating that, far from being the success that a branch spokesperson had asserted, the Southport Beer Festival was in fact a disappointment: there weren't enough tables, the beer choice didn't impress him, and people had to dodge discarded food and plates. He said he spoke to 20 or 30 people who felt as he did. The gentleman concerned is entitled to his opinion, of course, but in my view, he has been rather harsh. I attended the festival twice: I was a floor walker for the Friday evening session, and was a punter on Saturday afternoon.
  • Not enough tables. The hall is small and space is limited; when the festival is busy, there simply isn't the space to provide as much seating as they'd ideally like to. There isn't another venue in or near the town centre that is suitable, available and affordable.
  • The beer choice didn't impress him. The festival had beers from many local microbreweries that you may not readily come across in Southport pubs, such as: 3 Potts (Southport); Big Clock (Accrington); Burscough (Burscough); Connoiseur (St Helens); Problem Child (Parbold); Red Star (Formby); Parker (Banks); Third Eye (Eccleston); Melwood (Knowsley); Rock The Boat (Crosby).There were also beers from more established small breweries, such as Bank Top, Southport, Prospect, Liverpool Organic and Liverpool Craft. The original point of beer festivals was to introduce people to beers they don't usually come across, and in this respect I regard the festival as a success. I also approve of supporting local microbreweries. But, whatever beers you put on, you won't please everyone.
  • Loads of dissatisfied customers. Did he really spend all the time it would have taken to conduct market research on 30 people at the beer festival? Or has he exaggerated ever so slightly? As a floor walker on the Friday evening, I spoke to a lot of people, rather more - I suspect - than the letter writer. I didn't hear a bad word about the festival; nor did I on the Saturday as a customer. 
  • On neither day did I see discarded food lying around in any great quantities.
To be fair to the writer, he did give his name and address. I am unimpressed when people write scathing letters to the papers (or, for that matter, put highly critical comments on blogs) and then hide behind anonymity. I am not, however, convinced that his views are as representative as he would like to claim.

In general, I appreciate the efforts of the volunteers on the festival committee who put in a lot of work in their own time for no reward to provide a significant local event which this year supported our local breweries, quite a few of which are very new. That work deserves a better acknowledgement than the letter in the Visiter would suggest.


  1. What's a floor walker? Sounds like some sort of legendary drifting figure of nightmares, forever cursed to meandering unseen around sports halls while men with beards sup halves of extremely similar beer while making notes about why they aren't, in fact, identical.

    We need to get over this thing about people leaving anonymous comments. Of course people prefer to remain anon - not everyone wants a google search to turn up everything they've said off hand on someone else's website. The net result of people banning anon or pseudonymous comments on their blog is they don't get any effing comments anymore.

  2. A floor walker is someone who keeps an eye on security, intervenes if there's any problems brewing, and helps anyone who needs help. I also ensured staff who were on duties other than bar work had a drink, if they wanted one.

    I wish you'd read what I wrote about anonymous comments. I don't block them, but I'm not impressed by people who are extremely critical: if you're going to come on all guns blazing, have the guts to provide some kind of identification. The stupidest situation I saw on a blog, not my own, was when two anons took opposite sides of a fierce argument, referring to each other as "anon at [say] 10:03" and "anon at 10:42".

    No less a beer blogger than Tandleman has stated that he would prefer it if Blogger permitted blocking all anonymous comments; I don't go quite that far, because most anonymous comments are inoffensive, but the most objectionable person to come on this blog was deeply abusive, stupid, incapable of coherent debate and, worst of all, persistent. He was also determinedly anonymous.

  3. When a group of volunteers put a lot of effort into an event they are likely to see the positive and declare the event a success. Such people will also experience every session and be part of the team that resolved any hiccup.

    The customer is likely to have a more limited experience of the event, amplifying any hiccup in importance to the overall experience and come from the perspective of whether it met their own expectations.

    Your event is successful, I guess, when your punter numbers are increasing. People are coming back again next year alongside new punters.

    Negative feedback is useful. It affords an insight you may not have considered.

    I have been to a fair few CAMRA festivals. Some better than others. Some wonderful, a couple awful. They are all reported by their organizers as successful.

  4. Not having attended this event I'm in no position to say whether or not the criticism was justified but, as Cookie says, you should give some consideration to negative feedback and not dismiss it out of hand. There is often an attitude of "we've always done it this way for x, y and z reasons, so why should we change?"

    At Stockport in the past couple of years we have made two significant changes - opening all day on Saturdays and putting all beers on sale as soon as they are ready. Both things that many of the committee had reservations about, but clearly wanted by the customers according to their feedback.

    Lack of seating is a perennial complaint which is only going to intensify as the customer base ages. Often the nature of the venue gives you no alternative, but it's always worth looking into whether you can do something about.

  5. For the record, I am not part of the organising team, and I think it's stating the obvious that you shouldn't dismiss criticisms out of hand, but that's not what I did: I replied to the points made.

    I am, frankly, sceptical of his claim to have gathered the views of up to 30 people. I often see letters like that in the local press: "All my friends/family/neighbours agree with me" [about some issue that has annoyed the writer]. I don't get such unanimity of views in my own life, so I always tend to assume that, if the writer concerned garnered other people's views at all, most of them were nodding in agreement just to shut him up.


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