We’ve now been to the pub three times since lockdown lifted, not counting various visits to the Drapers for takeaway – twice to a St Austell house and once to the Highbury Vaults, which is a Young’s tenanted pub.
In all visits, we’ve sat in the garden and used an app for ordering. The two apps are pretty similar and easy to use, and we wouldn’t be surprised to find it’s the same underlying software.
This technology has been around for ages and is pretty affordable. When I was indirectly involved in running a large pub-hotel in Cornwall, I recall being offered a similar product during an EPOS update in about 2012, but not taking it up because, well, honestly, I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to order like that.
But now, I can definitely see more places doing this in the near future, even quite small places.
This weekend, as we drank our electronically-ordered pints, we considered some of the ways apps might change pub habits.
First, it’s interesting that we caught ourselves going back to the same pub twice because, among other reasons, “We already have the app.”
Although the apps are reasonably easy to use, there is a bit of time required for setup and those of us nervous about data protection are reluctant to sign up with ten different apps.
Secondly, the availability of an app really brings the ownership of a pub to the surface.
We don’t tend to think about the Highbury Vaults as belonging to Young’s. It’s not as if they hide the fact but they have managed to preserve a distinct identity thanks to a quirky interior, home-cooked food and the fact the landlord’s been there for 25 years.
Now, all of a sudden, it immediately feels more of a corporate, homogenised space, even if the pub itself is still its lovable old self.
On a similar note, we expect that many Bristolians outside the beer bubble will be surprised to discover over the next few months that Bath Ales is owned by St Austell.
Thirdly, there’s an obvious points about transactions being potentially easier for some people (people on their own, those unable to stand at bars or place orders verbally) and more difficult for others who may not feel comfortable with the technology.
As long as app-based ordering isn’t the only option, and in both places there are waiting staff with notepads on the floor, then apps should enable rather than impede.
Finally, as social distancing continues – remember that as we write this, in England, you are only supposed to socialise with other households at a distance – remote ordering might provide a nice way to buy your mates a pint, whether you’re in the same pub or not.
There’s precedent for this: when the Wetherspoon app launched, there was a spate of stories about people soliciting drinks by sharing their table number on social media, only to get sent plates of peas.
If there’s one obvious improvement to be made, it’s the addition to apps of real-time information on how busy a given pub is. This might help reassure more nervous customers and match punters to pubs that need them.