Cash or Cashless, the Problem is ‘Only’

Both cash-only and cashless-only are barriers, and both tend to be driven by the needs of the business rather than what works for customers.

We got talking about this in the pub last night because of a poll from the Beer O’Clock Show:

The arguments against card-only have been piling up for some time:

  • it excludes the poorest in society
  • it discriminates against older consumers
  • it plays into the machinations of global tech giants
  • it contributes to the tracking and influencing of our behaviour.

But on the ground, in daily life, we very much understand the appeal of paying by card in pubs, bars and bottle-shops.

It saves us having to wander round suburbs or industrial estates looking for cash machines, and makes it easier for us to manage our various bank accounts and budgets, with every transaction recorded and reported.

And not taking cards can be excluding in its own way. One publican in a cash-only business recently told us they’d been thinking about getting a card machine purely because they were aware of constantly turning away young people who expected to be able to use cards. About half of them were willing to find a cash machine and come back, but the rest just moved on down the road.

A lot is made of the cost of processing card payments but depending on the size of the business, cash can be just as expensive to handle, and certainly less convenient.  It can require extra staff-hours for counting and banking, and needs transporting, either at considerable cost (secure pickup) or risk, with a member of staff walking to the bank with a sack of readies. (I’ve managed cash-heavy concerns and write from experience. – Jess.)

The presence of cash can also make premises more vulnerable to crime or, rather, advertising total cashlessness can be a good way to deter it.

And some of the objections cash-only businesses have to cards seem to use to be a hangover from a decade ago when banks charged a lot more for the service, and when people who paid by card in the pub were amateurs and freaks.

It used to mean five minutes of faffing around with signatures and pin numbers, holding up the line. Sometimes, there’d also be another minute or two of trying to get up to the limit for paying by card without an additional charge – “What are your most expensive crisps?” Nowadays, it’s a quick one-handed tap and done, and its people fiddling with coins and waiting for change who seem to cause a delay.

Fundamentally, though, we bridle at the idea of businesses doing only one, or only the other, because it’s convenient for them, rather than offering both with the convenience of their customers in mind.

PUB LIFE: Generally by the Half

Keg taps.

A sad-eyed veteran of perhaps 28 shows a newbie, baby-faced and keen to please, around behind the bar.

The Vet points to the keg taps.

“Now, these stronger ones we generally only serve by the half.”

“So I should never serve them by the pint?”

“Well, not never. Generally.”

The Vet leans on the bar and gives a Han Solo smirk.

“As long as they’re not rat-arsed, and not acting the arsehole, you can serve them pints. Obviously, if they’re absolutely arseholed, don’t serve them anything.”

“Cool, cool, yeah, yeah, yeah.”

“But if they do insist on a pint, warn them about the price before you pull it, because if they weren’t acting like arseholes before, the might start when you tell ’em it’s eight quid a pint.”

FNG’s eyes pop.

“Eight quid?”

“Well, like I say, we do generally serve it by the half.”

News, Nuggets & Longreads 29 September 2018: Runcorn, Rochefort, Rules of the Tavern

Here’s all the reading about beer and pubs that grabbed us in the past week, from PR disasters to art installations.

Last year Kirst Walker wrote up a pub crawl of Runcorn’s Victorian pubs with her trademark spark; this year, she notes plenty of changes, giving the exercise a certain academic interest as well as pure entertainment value:

Time for the Lion, where everybody knows your name! Last year’s winner was where we we would end the night once more. I didn’t double up last time but as we’d already had time bonuses, sambucca, and sandwiches I threw caution to the wind. Alan bought a round of pies like a freaking billionaire and we had a group de-brief with plans to repeat the operation next year on the same weekend… The Lion has lost much of its original room layout since it was refurbished and part of it converted into houses, but it’s still the type of traditional corner pub which is a hub for the community, and in my opinion it as better to try and save the pub than keep the entire sprawling space.


Price list in a pub.

We tend to ignore clickbaity brouhahas over individual expensive pints these days but Martin Steward at Pursuit of Abbeyness has waited for the dust to settle before reflecting on one such recent incident, producing a slow-cooked opinion rather than a flash-fried ‘hot take’:

The most remarkable thing about the price of Alesmith Speedway Stout Hawaiian is not that it is five-times higher than the price of Rochefort 10, but that it is three-times higher than Alesmith’s ordinary Speedway Stout… That premium buys you some toasted coconut flakes, some vanilla and some rare Hawaiian Ka’u coffee beans, which are indeed three-times more expensive than your bog-standard joe… If you can taste the difference after those beans have had beer fermenting on them, I complement you on your sensitive palate. If you think it justifies a 200% premium, I have a bridge to sell you.

Continue reading “News, Nuggets & Longreads 29 September 2018: Runcorn, Rochefort, Rules of the Tavern”

News, Nuggets & Longreads for 11 August 2018: Price, Parenting, Popstars

Here’s all the beer and pub related news, opinion and history that’s grabbed us in the past week, from kids in pubs to Never Gonna Give You Up.

First, money. As part of the publicity around its Great British Beer Festival (last day today) the Campaign for Real Ale published the results of a survey suggesting that the majority of British drinkers who expressed an opinion find the price of a pint of beer unaffordable.

Cash Money Pound Signs.

There were various bits of interesting commentary around this, from musings on the question of value from Katie Taylor

Affordability is quite an abstract concept, isn’t it? In my experience as someone who’s lived in extreme poverty and in relative comfort and all the incremental stages of debt, exhaustion and erratic spending in-between, things like pints come down to how much you value them. They’re not essential – unless you have an addiction – and yet as part of our culture they’re a central point of our social lives.

…to Richard Coldwell’s reflections on the difference between affordability and priorities:

I think there are many who are making the choice between going out for a pint and other things… Simple choices like; Sunday afternoon at the local pub with the family or a full day out at the beach with sandwiches and maybe an ice cream and a few bob on the amusements. I reckon it’s about 50 miles from our house to Scarbro’, so the biggest cost of the day is fuel… Round here, the price of the first round of say, a pint, glass of prosecco, three soft drinks and a few snacks would just about cover the fuel costs of a return journey to the seaside. The second round would more than pay for the picnic and sundries and we’ve only been in the pub for about an hour, max.

Jonny Garrett, meanwhile, is unimpressed with this focus on price which he regards as ultimately damaging to the image of cask ale:

Perhaps the greatest step CAMRA could take toward restoring growth in cask beer would be to invest in training and equipment for pubs that show loyalty to cask and price it fairly. For some reason, this call for quality brewing falls on deaf ears at CAMRA, who this week lamented how expensive pints have become. The party line of championing cask above all else appears to include the millions of cheap, dull, vinegary pints poured across the UK each year. Some of them even at their own festivals.

Continue reading “News, Nuggets & Longreads for 11 August 2018: Price, Parenting, Popstars”

Perceptions of Value in the Port of Amsterdam

Macro shot of 1p pieces with The Queen's profile.

How much? Seriously — how much?

We don’t often find ourselves saying this kind of thing because, without making a big whoop-de-doo about it, we tend to go to the kind of pubs that suit our budget, with the occasional managed blow-out when we get the urge to drink something exotic.

But Amsterdam really challenged us.

On paper, it might not seem that big a deal: beer from smaller breweries in fairly imprecise measures of 250-300ml seemed to cost between €4-€6, which puts it in the £5-£6 a pint territory that’s increasingly common in higher end UK bars. But it often felt like poor value for money because even the Special Beers didn’t always seem that special. A session of not-bad beers that barely left us abuzz could easily cost €40.

And even if the point, as we’ve sometimes said, is that you’re renting space in a nice pub or bar, then the fact that we didn’t quite warm to most of the establishments we found ourselves in, following guidebooks and advice, rather nullifies it.

Then, just to reinforce that feeling, we spent two nights in Brussels drinking the world’s best (don’t @ us, as the kids say) and, let’s be honest, pokiest beers at €3-€4 per 330ml bottle, in characterful bars and cafes, where beer is treated with reverence but not pretension.

Just to be clear, we’re not pretending to have got the measure of Amsterdam based on a week’s stay; we loved the city as a whole; and will certainly go back.

We just found it interesting to have that reality check: £4.50 for a full pint of truly great cask suddenly doesn’t seem so scary after all.