Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Passionate about pouring cold liquid into a glass

I was reading an article in which beer journalist Sophie Atherton was advocating training for bar staff about cask ale. Apparently they should be able to speak 'passionately' about it to customers to help boost sales. She was interviewed at the launch of the Cask Report 2017 which has stats that seem to suggest that staff who initiated conversations about real ale with customers were more likely to steer them towards buying it.

I sometimes get fed up with the overblown speech that we are so often subjected to nowadays, and I find 'passionate' particularly irritating. I hear it in so many varying contexts that I suspect people who use it have forgotten what the word 'passion' actually means. What it definitely doesn't mean is knowledgeable sales talk about beer in a pub, and I really do feel sorry for Sophie if that's the only passion she's ever experienced.

But how could her suggestion work? How do you train someone to be passionate? I'm especially uncertain how you induce passion for cask beer in staff who may have absolutely no interest in the product. It's not as though wage levels in the industry are enough to engender an enthusiasm for it.

I can't help thinking that bar staff already have quite a range of duties to perform in a pub: serving all kinds of drinks, including spirits with or without mixers, wines, real ales, keg beers, tea, coffee and soft drinks, while perhaps taking orders for food, delivering meals and clearing tables. There is quite a lot to be aware of there.

I'd agree that some awareness of the product would be helpful, but that falls far short of the definition of 'passionate'. If staff are interested in real ale, that's great, but ultimately they are paid to sell what the customer asks for; it wouldn't surprise me if most do not see it as their job to try to steer drinkers towards real ale. When the pub is busy, there isn't much opportunity for interaction with customers anyway.

What about drinkers who choose wine or malt whiskies? Should bar staff be passionate about those too? After all, quality wines and malt whiskies are also crafted products. We even have craft gins nowadays. Training staff on all of these would be a rather extensive - and expensive - commitment for licensees.

Unless Ms Atherton believes 'passionate' means nothing more than 'knows a bit about', I think her suggestion is unrealistic.


  1. How often do you really see customers having conversations with staff about beer anyway? Outside of specialist beer pubs, virtually never.

    It's on a par with the oft-heard suggestion that offering tasters is the magic bullet for increasing cask sales.

  2. I prefer apathetic bar staff. That's why I drink in Spoons.

    1. I agree that passion and Spoons aren't generally associated concepts.

  3. Excellent job bringing us down to earth. "How's the Pride drinking today then?" is about all the interaction I need.

  4. I’d agree passion is an overused word and slightly naff. Maybe enthusiasm is a better word. As a self-employed chap I know that being enthusiastic about what I do is one the reasons I am successful at it. That if I was apathetic about the service I provide, I would not get far.
    As it happens, I don’t need to fake it, I actually do enjoy pissing around with computers more than the silly money they give me to do it and in no small part that enthusiasm makes what I do not feel like work so I crack on and get the job done.
    Now then, let’s assume I sack off IT services and run a pub. I’d guess enthusiasm would be a factor in my success or failure. There would be little point if I wasn’t enthusiastic about creating a great boozer for you lot to piss you’re hard earned away in.
    In this pub I hire a barmaid. She is just trading her time for money. She is a nice person, gets on with the punters and doesn’t steal. I kind of know that if I can get her to be even a little bit more enthusiastic about what she is doing, that will reflect in my till receipts. You lot might buy crisps to go with your bitter or even occasionally give her 20p to put in the tip jar.
    Is it worth considering how I can make my barmaid enthusiastic about serving miserable old scrotes pints of bitter?

    1. Speaking as a miserable old scrote, in that case the major factor in appealing to the customers, and potentially getting a tip, is likely to be smiling at them :-)

  5. CL: I agree that staff should appear enthusiastic about the job (bored staff who make no effort to connect with customers at all are a liability, and not just in pubs), but being 'passionate' and knowledgeable about real ale with the aim of steering customers towards it, as Sophie Atherton was suggesting, goes quite a long way beyond that. Curmudgeon is right that a friendly approach is usually enough, because if the customer (old scrote or otherwise) has entered the pub, then it's highly likely that he or she has already decided to buy a drink.


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