As an industry, we work incredibly hard, long hours for a very small and uncertain margin. So it's no surprise there's a howl of rage if you're thought to be kicking away at one of the underpinnings to that margin. You could perhaps mitigate the need the grow a beard and wear a baseball cap and shades for the next few months by writing an article explaining to the General Public how every £1 taken in a restaurant or pub is nibbled away – by rent, rates, power, wages, regulatory costs, maintenance, insurance, marketing & PR, IT systems, training, recruitment fees, food & drink costs (including above-market beer prices if you're a tied pub) – to less than 10p – much less than 10p in most cases – in the business's pocket. But then Gen. P is entitled to write back pointing out how their income is nibbled away too, to the point where paying 3x the value of any bottle in a restaurant also feels like a kick in the teeth!
Thing is, we go abroad and pay much lower prices for restaurant wine in France, Italy and Spain, which makes British prices look a rip-off, even if only because much lower alcohol duties set a lower base price for the GP multiplier. Or we go to a good restaurant in Australia, clutching a paper bag of wine and are welcomed. I took BYO to Tetsuya in Sydney – unwilling to entrust my Clare Valley gems to a Qantas hold – and they were served with respect at a reasonable corkage charge. The sky didn't fall.
If you're one of the top 1% of London restaurants serving the richest 1% of British diners, then you may not need to change – although if one of your guests did want to BYO it might be the hospitable thing to charge corkage and indulge them. It's unlikely to be Blossom Hill.
But if you're one of the rest, just be aware that your wine prices ARE one of the things putting people off coming out more often – especially if you continue a straight GP multiplier all the way up your list. Yes, some people (too few) want to be adventurous, but many are put off gambling on an unknown wine by the number of pounds against its name, when they know it's a 3x multiple of its value (and in London you then plonk 12.5% on top of that!!!) Out in the provinces, where exponentially fewer people than in London will pay over even £25 for a bottle of wine, I take a £15 cash margin on things like John Duval Plexus or a Massolino Nebbiolo – just because I'd rather sell it than a bog-standard New World Pinot – and I know that people will love it if they get it in their glass. That means I have to taste hard to find great engine room wines to sell at full margin, so that I still make my GP overall, but it's worth it if the guests rate us for serving quality wines they can afford to drink.
So would I go BYO? Well, no. Not every day – because a lot of my guests would bring Oxford Landing and unless they were happy to pay a tenner corkage (which they'd see as even more of a rip-off: "What did you have to do? It doesn't even have a cork!!) we'd soon go out of business. But as pubs we hold masses of special evenings to cement our place in our towns with our regulars and, do you know what, I'm going to go and ask our guys what they think about a Tuesday night BYO. In these hard times, anything that makes your guests feel you're part of the solution, not part of the problem, is worth considering.
Jo Eames – Peach
What a terrifying concept “ryanairification” is!!! Since it goes against everything I know and believe about customer service I tell myself it can only be a short-term one-off exception to the rules. Please don't undermine this belief, because if O'Leary style customer contempt spreads to the “hospitality” business life will be truly miserable!
I speak with feeling having got home at 2.30 this morning after a Ryanair flight that was an hour late, hit the tarmac with such force my son thought we'd crashed (at least three times worse than the usual sack of spuds landing) and having been charged 40 euros a head to print out boarding cards because although we'd booked and re-confirmed more than 4 hours ahead of time, they then remove the Re-print button from the website so you can't re-print your boarding cards if you mislay them at the last minute. Never, ever, ever, ever again.
Please let's all work hard to stamp out any burgeoning “Ryanairification” in catering. It'll happen at Peach over my rotting cadaver – and if it exists it must be a London phenomenon. London is another country – and in the rest of England there is certainly a recession, which we are trading through by giving ever better service, not worse.
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