Holding Screwdrivers and Conversations: the art of being a Compleat Taverner. Part 11: For Sale.

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Many of you have sold a house, right? The estate agent comes along, tells you that the house is worth twice what you thought and that they can sell it in three weeks. The ego and dopamine receptors kick in. Six months later, you reluctantly accept an offer 20% below your original idea of what it was worth. You then wait with baited breath while solicitors sit on piles of paper until the deal falls through two days before exchange of contracts with your whole life packed in boxes. Then the procedure starts again while you play hunt the breadknife.

Imagine if every house in the UK was on the market. Many of the owners are desperate to sell before they have to shut the doors and leave, forced out by falling income and rising bills. The buying market knows this. Now you are picturing the UK pub market.

When we decided to sell, the first agent we chose was so excited by the prospect, that only their founder would deal with us. We sat in the garden on a sunny day as he presented his gloriously upbeat appraisal of our sales prospects. After he’d left, we decided that he must be right (he’s the expert after all) and planned the Bentley purchase.

We had a viewing almost immediately. Followed by nothing for over three months. So we changed agents and dropped the price. Pretty much straight away we found a buyer. We shall call this buyer ‘Experienced publican supported by wealthy wife’. She was a major league film producer. We’ll call him that to distinguish him from ‘Would be publican supported by wealthy wife’ who comes along a little later. James visited the pub about eight times in all and met many of the regulars. Eventually, he took me out to lunch and agreed terms. Then we waited. Neither I nor the agent ever heard from him again until a few months later when he turned up as the landlord of a pub about 10 miles away. These days it’s a disaster.

A gap of a few weeks. One exceptionally busy Wednesday evening, a crowd of eight turned up to dine – two gay couples and various others. When they paid their bill, the group leader casually mentioned that he had a restaurant and had just had an offer of £3m cash turned down for the lease on a neighbouring property. Would I be interested in selling…….?

The next morning he viewed with an entourage of chefs and maitre’d types and we agreed terms for a rapid sale. There was only one snag – the money wasn’t his. He was the front man for a multi-millionaire publisher, porn film producer, struck off solicitor and convicted fraudster who lived in mansion surrounded by ‘hunny bunnies’. Recently, he’d been buying up large chunks of the nearest town. He arrived in his chauffeur driven Rolls, accompanied by a hunny bunny on Saturday. He nodded his approval. The following week, he featured prominently in the press as the losing party in a long-running case with HMRC which cost him millions. We never heard from him again.

These two potential buyers were at least feasible but pubs attract dreamers. Next on the list were the Cannon family. Old Man Cannon was exactly that – a man in his late 60s who had once run the bar at Charlton Athletic. He had the mobility of Sgt Dixon in the latter episodes of Dixon of Dock Green. He would have been perfect just standing behind the bar but he wasn’t very good on stairs, so the idea of him rushing into the cellar to change barrels during a busy service was comical. Their business plan was also slightly askew and involved changing the lucrative accommodation rooms into a house for their pregnant and not-quite-right-in–the-head daughter and her totally-not-right-in-the-head boyfriend. Then they could all run the pub together – someone who couldn’t walk far, his wife, two people you wouldn’t trust to use an abacus and their new born baby. They had the money though because Mrs Cannon’s mother had died and left them her house. Well, not quite. The house still had to be sold. And her mother hadn’t exactly left her the house; it had to be shared with her brother. Well, not exactly. Mother died intestate. So, there was no will, everything was in probate and could be for some years. Could they buy the pub but defer £300,000 of the sale price to some future date to be disclosed? Er, maybe not. Cue tearful and distraught begging phone calls. Sorry, just No.

Enter Mr Pedant. After about 14 meetings with Mr Pedant, we still hadn’t got an offer. Along came another couple, who we shall call Donald (‘Would be publican supported by wealthy wife’) and Diana. I hope you’re keeping up with this. They seemed very pleasant and capable and were so keen to push on quickly, that we agreed to lease them the pub at first. They lasted one month before Donald emailed me to say that he had put the keys back through the letter box, listing various reasons why they could not make the pub work. In one month they had gone from serving an average of 85 Sunday lunches to 4 on their final day. Their ‘chef’ was not a chef but a friend of a friend who could cook and did tequila shots throughout service. Donald insisted on having a three-course lunch every day and doing as little as possible. Here’s an edited version of my reply:

Dear Donald

 Let’s start with your email.

 Regarding ‘essential’ kitchen equipment and service contracts, the Rationale is covered by one (you only had to ask). When we walked around the premises, I told you that we no longer used the dishwasher (it’s marked on the inventory as NOT IN USE) because it was too costly to run, you still have to pay someone to stand at the sink and a new, energy efficient one can be bought for £800. Listening isn’t your strong point is it Donald? And why not get quotes before work is carried out?

 There are hundreds of reasons the till does not reflect turnover – beer festivals, outside events or simply times when the place is so busy that all you can do is use it as a cash drawer You wouldn’t have experienced that (last Sunday, £5.7k). As for the £240k profit, you wouldn’t get anywhere near it due to your profligacy with energy alone – the electricity bill for your month here was £1200 up on normal owing to your insistence on keeping everything switched on.

 On our first week back, we only took £11k but since then we have been at a steady £17k per week (412 covers last week, just Jenny, Liz and Malcolm, extra plates not required). What were you doing Donald?

How did your “high level of energy and professionalism” relate to reality, let alone (doing) “everything possible to maintain the trade”. I only glimpsed the chaos on three brief occasions but the alienated customers, staff, suppliers and neighbours have given a clearer picture. So much energy did you put in that the suppliers called you ‘the phantom” because you were never here. The politer customers preferred ‘the sloth’ and ‘Mr Charisma’. Most of your nicknames however consisted of the word cunt, preceded by various adjectives: ‘clueless’, ‘incompetent’, ‘miserable’ or, in the case of the staff, simply ‘that fucking’. I could forward the many emails I have received about atrocious food and service but I’m saving them for my scrapbook. It seems that your mantra was ‘customers don’t notice’ which makes me wonder which century you worked in retail because you’re certainly not capable of working in the 21st. If customers don’t notice, what makes them choose one venue over another? In the times you visited when we ran it, did you ever see it as quiet as under your stewardship? Yet we always arranged our meetings at the quietest times. Here are a few things customers did notice – car park strewn with litter, light bulbs out, short measures, incorrect glassware (and if you put 250ml of beer in a 330ml J2O glass, you’ll never make money), unpredictable opening and closing times, cheap napkins, unwiped tables, badly kept ale (two months on from our CAMRA award win), 1980’s café table numbers, scruffy back bar, dirty glasses (a result of not draining or cleaning the glasswasher which made the pub smell like a drain)………………I could go on but it would be a waste of the rainforest. A landlord has to be able to hold two things – a screwdriver and a conversation and you weren’t very competent with either (incidentally, fixing the Courage pump and the Coke machine combined was less than 30 seconds work but none of the staff would tell you that because you are ‘that fucking cunt’). This is not the corporate world – your failings are on display and if you try to blame them on everyone else, the whole house collapses. Our team were award winning, largely with the same people – you were grossly incompetent and you know it.

 While I accept that you were dong ‘everything possible to maintain the trade’ within the confines of your uncreative brain, why didn’t you do some sums? In turning away the ‘brie and bacon’ men and the ‘cheesy chip golfers’, you knocked a simple £5k pa off the turnover. 10 groups like that = £50k. Your commercial nouse is unfathomable and probably accounts for your record in having companies struck off before accounts are filed.

 Now let’s come to stock. The idea that what was left was ‘a similar level’ is laughable. In the kitchen, there was not a piece of fish, an ounce of flour or a drop of washing up liquid. The freezers were bare and our first week’s £11k was largely due to the goodwill we have built up with our suppliers over the years (you know, the ones who are endlessly debt chasing). The wet stock consisted of Sainsbury’s wine, enough sparkling water to last until Christmas and 7 kegs of unusable Carlsberg because you bought the wrong type of keg, even though you know everything about running a pub. Even if you had bought the right type, that would be enough to last until October, yet there was no elderflower, Hollows, Cox’s Apple, Fusion or other fast-selling lines. An ILTSA stock-take on 14 June values the stock at £2988.12. This report will be used as evidence in any legal proceedings.

 It is clearly a nonsense to suggest that you can receive the benefit of goods and services and the revenue earned from their delivery without paying for them, as expressed by our QC at a creditor’s meeting yesterday. He is a regular customer working on a ‘no win, no fee’ basis because on his only visit under your management, he described you as ‘rude and totally lacking in bonhomie’, so he is more than willing to take up the case in return for some well-kept ale and good food. His view is that you have also acted fraudulently in terms of VAT. Attached is a spreadsheet showing monies owed for the length of your tenure. I have specifically excluded PRS, PPL and TV licensing, fuel oil, the stock difference and water rates but these will be added should legal action follow. Each debtor will now pursue the debts both collectively and individually through legal channels (some will use less formal channels ie the chaps who sorted out my arson problem and keep the pub traveller-free), unless you pay the sum on the attached spreadsheet by noon on Wednesday 20th July.

Donald didn’t take kindly to this and went to see a solicitor who told me that my letter was insulting and untruthful and that she had advised him to take out an injunction preventing me from contacting him again. I simply wrote back to say that I was sure that all the creditors would be overjoyed to know that Donald was spending the money owed to them on solicitors and injunctions and that the milkman had also now presented an unpaid bill. ‘Donald will no doubt deny responsibility’ I wrote, ‘because he takes his coffee black’. I signed it with ‘love and kisses xx’.

Everyone was paid the next day.

So, back in the saddle – behind the bar, in the kitchen, winning back the old customers and staff.

Next up was Accountant Lady. Accountant Lady was married to Accountant Man. Accountant Man worked for one of the Big Accounting firms. We had many meetings with Accountant Lady, who had had a charisma by-pass operation at an early age and was very fond of spreadsheets. After each meeting, she would go home and make a presentation to her husband (maybe she should write a book on how to keep your relationship sparkling). Eventually, he decided that her plan was not viable (or perhaps, like us, he realised that she would have had as much chance as a publican as Mary Whitehouse running a knocking shop).

Well, we’re getting a little tired of this now. At least a year has gone by and we are going backwards. We’ve left the pub once and had to come back but Mr Pedant is till knocking at the door and eventually we agreed to sell the lease to him. The deal was meant to complete in October but every day Mr Pedant wanted another piece of paper. He got on everyone’s nerves so much that our solicitor refused to speak to him anymore. By early December, we were getting worried – Christmas doesn’t happen overnight and he was planning to run it on agency staff. When, the day before exchange of contracts was due, he delayed because he needed a copy of the TV Licence (!), we reluctantly pulled the plug and took the pub off the market.

We were feeling pretty low by this point. Having really enjoyed some years at the pub, we had reached the point where we wanted to move on. That was 18 months ago and we had suffered financially as a result of seven sales falling through. We sat down for lunch on a dull January Wednesday after a suitably flat service when a stretch limo pulled up outside. A little round Yorkshireman with an entourage of Arabs stood on the doorstep. “We heard thee might be interested in selling”, he said. My soup could wait.

Yorkshireman (a mobile phone multi-millionaire) explained the scenario. Arab investors, building two blocks of apartments nearby and buying seven local pubs with him as CEO. My due diligence confirmed all of this and four days later we shook hands on the deal. At the four-week marker, with lawyers all working hard on getting it done quickly, Yorkshireman went on a three-week safari. In his absence, the Arabs appointed a COO because they were concerned that all projects were falling behind and the one pub they had completed on was an unmitigated disaster (which it remains to this day). They have never actually withdrawn from this deal – my letter from them simply says they are delaying the purchase until everything else is back on schedule.

Days later, an experienced publican, former neighbour and customer, convicted fraudster, ex-con and man-with-a-different-surname-every-time-I-met-him came to see me about a consortium that he was putting together featuring himself, various others and a man known locally as “Dodgy Den”, a local builder and also a convicted fraudster (there are a lot of them about in pub sales). They sold me some wine off the back of a lorry for cash and put in an offer. Mr Pedant was also knocking on the door again.

I’m a glass half full sort of person and I’ve now got three offers on the table – some Arabs who still want to complete one day; a consortium that would make the people sitting round Dr Evil’s table look like upstanding citizens and a man who wants to count the teaspoons. I can make that glass look half full but I have to accept there is a crack in it.

By now, we needed a serious holiday and the negotiations continued by email as we lay on a Sri Lankan beach. Until an email arrived from a well-known entrepreneur. “Excuse the direct approach” it read, “but my wife enjoys lunch in your pub and I’d like to buy it.”

The rest is history and we’ve now been out of the trade for a year. And the Bentley? We ended up a little short.

#pubsforsale #pubs #hospitalitylife #publandlord #beerlovers #village pub

@inapub @matteley @morningadvertiser @edbedington @imbibemagazine @pubandbar #holdingscrewdriversandconversations

Holding Screwdrivers and Conversations: the art of being the Compleat Landlord. Pasartea hamar (10): Gnome Egg

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It’s always a point of interest when you get a new member of staff who simply doesn’t fit in. That applies to any business but when you’re a small, stable team in hospitality, working long hours and often living in, it really feels like a cuckoo has laid in an egg in your nest. Worse in a way – it’s not like you nipped out to peck at some worms and some dull-looking bird who can only sing two notes put a foetus in your house. In human cases, with an ‘interview process’, you have invited them in. ‘Hey, come and grow up in my house, even though you’re three times my size. Make a lot of noise and eat all the food, why don’t you?’.

In my defence, the interview process (which could often be renamed ‘20 minutes on Skype with a world-class liar’) in hospitality can be quite restrictive. Firstly, your original candidate list will often consist of the sort of numbers of people you would usually find at Glasto. You can start filtering these by eliminating those who have attached photos – me in a funny hat by Nelson’s Column; me shirtless at a bar in Malaga with a fag on and a chunky gold chain; me posing in a state of undress suggesting I’m applying for a position as an escort. Or more likely, multiple positions as an escort. Next, we start on appropriate skills. “I am good mechanic on Skoda and Volvo but I too do like bake cake so would make good chef for you” wrote one prime candidate. Now we’re down to who can string two cohesive sentences together. These simple tests will weed out so much human plankton that we can leave matters like basic English and eligibility to work in the UK till last. References provide little comfort either when candidates list their last role as cleaner in the public toilets of a provincial town in Afghanistan. It’s a wonder anyone finds anyone good at all but in housekeeping and front of house, we had relatively few failures.

The alternative scenario is when just one person applies. This only happens when you are desperate because you’ve let your best people go back to Macedonia in early December, so they will be back in time for Christmas but they catch the Black Death or get a job back home as an astronaut or Foreign Minister or their brother signs for Fleetwood Town reserves, bringing their family hitherto undreamed-of wealth. It’s unusual in this situation that the applicant lives in the UK, is compos mentis, speaks English, has done the job before and can start tomorrow but that’s what happened with Vera. So, she started (and moved in) the next day.

Or someone moved in the next day because one of her first requests was that we didn’t call her Vera but called her Meg. I agree that not many people would want to be called Vera but Meg appeared to have been picked from random and was going to cause confusion as we already had a Meg (but we could cope with two Megs as we once had a Kathy, Kat, Kitty, Kate, Katy, Katey and Katherine (all blonde). We went along with it, although when her parents turned up unexpectedly after a few weeks and asked to see Vera, they were as confused as we were. Pre-existing Meg took it badly: “It’s not even her real name – she’s stolen my name!” she exclaimed. I consoled tall, slim, pre-existing Meg (now renamed Nutmeg) with one simple phrase, “Don’t worry Meg, she will never steal your clothes”. That was guaranteed, because Vera already had a nickname – Gnome Egg, not only because she was ‘no Meg’ but also because she had the physical characteristics of a cross between a Warcraft character and Humpty Dumpty. Her other nicknames came later.

Wherever Vera/Meg had worked before (winter at the hotel in ‘The Shining’ perhaps?) it involved some interesting skills. Not skills I really wanted in my staff but interesting ones anyway – doing everything really slowly and not very well; power napping during room changes; not smiling; not attempting to get along with colleagues; getting into confrontational arguments with customers about politics and religion and, worst of all, not liking our cat. The only person who liked her at all was the single customer who loved confrontational arguments (every pub has one) to the point that this one had previously insisted that Tolstoy had written ‘Lord of the Rings’ and that the sun rises in the north-east just to wind others into a frenzy. Vera/Meg/Gnome Egg wasn’t working (in more ways than one) and I made up my mind that she had to go. It just so happened that Nutmeg had asked for more hours, so I told her what was afoot. The new order was agreed and I prepared to finish Vera/Meg/Gnome Egg on Sunday. Perhaps I could use the words of the legendary Soho landlord Norman Balon: “I am not obliged to give a reason, I just don’t want you in my pub”. It’s kinder than his other one, “You’re so ugly you’re upsetting the customers” but he used to save that one for unwanted irregulars (ie everyone who wasn’t in the Coach & Horses twice a day. The regulars got far worse). As I cashed up at midnight on Saturday, she asked to speak to me. The tone and timing suggested it was something important. I wondered how I was going to hide my joy that she was about to quit, sparing me the conversation I’d had with at least fifty other hapless idiots over the past decade. I leaned back in my chair and waited for the words that would make my day.

“I’m pregnant”, she said. Plot Twist. The only barmaid I had ever employed that wasn’t the subject of a single regular’s fantasy. Even the other girls reacted with horror. We never established when Vera/Meg/Gnome Meg/Megnant/PregMeg found this out but we suspected that she knew before her interview. She had also told one of the other girls the previous day – it was only their second conversation and she hadn’t even told her mum at that time.

It’s almost impossible to terminate a person’s employment once they’ve said those two words to you whatever they’re ineptitude. You can’t ask them to speed up either. Or turn a mattress. Or carry a crate. Or stop taking power naps. Quite rightly too but it makes life hard when you’ve been so close to an alternative answer. We got where we wanted to be a few months later though. Which is probably the same for Vera/Meg/Gnome Meg/Megnant/PregMeg. Or whatever she’s called now. Mummy, I guess.

#pubs #publife #barstaffproblems #hospitalitylife #beerlovers #barmaids

 

 

 

Holding Screwdrivers and Conversations: the art of being the Compleat Taverner. Kilences Szam (9) – Geordie Bill

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He came from Newcastle thirty-five years ago, waving his wife and small children farewell, for a three-week stint as a painter. Work was scarce in the north-east and it seemed like a good deal when, at the end of the three weeks, he was offered the job of painting another nearby house. He took up residence in an abandoned caravan opposite the pub and stayed until the floor fell out, moving from one house-paint to the next. By then, there was another abandoned caravan awaiting an occupant; local legend has it that it is “like a palace, with a cooker and everything”. All he does is sand and paint. He doesn’t paper or hang curtain rods. Just paints. Toshes on. While he paints he plays Radio 1 but the songs aren’t the same as they were thirty-five years ago, so he sings the songs that are in his head. So as they blast out some drum ‘n’ bass, he sings ‘Don’t you want me baby’ over it. It’s a highly developed skill, one that could grace Britain’s Got Talent if it were not for the fact that his years of self-imposed caravan hermitage have increased his Geordie accent not lessened it. People who have known him that whole time – not known him well, for he only speaks when spoken to – still celebrate when they have understood a whole sentence.

He is sixty-two now; his children have flown the nest and his house is paid for. He still returns to his wife every year for six weeks to ‘dae the ood job round the house like and haway to Torremolinos furra week’. When he is in Newcastle, he doesn’t drink: ‘I ate the poobs oop there mon’. When he is in the caravan, he drinks five pints of Snakebite every night and ten at week-ends.

There have been few characters like him in fiction; he is a modern-day Stig of the Dump. 5’8” with a magnificent belly, he stands a foot and a half back from the bar, scratching his spine with one hand and clutching his toxic cider-lager mix with the other, his wild black and grey hair giving the appearance of some Geordie Yogi, enhanced by his regular shaking of the head. When he is on his six-week sojourn, we soak his own personal glass in toilet bleach to make it vaguely translucent again. He has only been known not to wear shorts on one occasion, when there was a foot of snow on the ground and the mercury hit -12C. That was also the night he closed the skylight for the first time. Often he drops his key on the short journey home and returns to borrow a screwdriver to unscrew the door and sleep even more open to the night air. Sometimes, when he returns from his annual pilgrimage to his homeland, visitors have moved into his 1950’s version of luxury holiday accommodation.

  • I couldna sleep last night mon
  • Why was that Bill?
  • Squirrels mon. Runnin aboot under the bed. They’d left loadsa nuts in the bed anall.

Bill loves animals much more than he loves people.

  • What’s the matter with your shirt Bill? Have you got moths?

His paint splattered T-shirt is full of tiny holes. He looks down nonchalantly, still clutching his toxin clouded glass.

  • Oh no, it’s just the mice mon.
  • I’m away now, got a nice bit o spatchcock chicken in the oven.

It’s his closing line most nights. A living legend.

 

Holding Screwdrivers and Conversations: the art of being the Compleat Taverner. Christmas Special: Bar Humbug

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What is the etymology of Boxing Day? Before I had a pub, I believed the view that it was the day you gave your servants their Christmas Box and let them have the day off, although it should be noted that my servants appear to have had the last sixty years off. Perhaps I should have been more generous on my first Christmas but hey, times were hard – rationing hadn’t long ended and we still had a tin bath. Anyway, after I had a pub, I realised that Boxing Day is so-called because it inflames pugilistic tendencies in landlords.

Comedy icon, practising Catholic and recovering alcoholic Frank Skinner was once asked how he felt about all those once a year churchgoers. Far worse, he said, were the once a year pub goers who crowd round the bar leaving the alcoholics feeling desperate at the back.

For most pubs, Boxing Day is the busiest day of the year. So, if you love your local, or even if you say you love your local but only go there once a year on this very day, please try and avoid the following if you want to rid your landlord of the demons in his head, wherein a phantom bell rings, he puts his gloves on, leaps over the counter and knocks you to the canvas.

  1. Yesterday was Christmas Day

And little Noah got a new bike. He is understandably pleased with his bright yellow Bridgford Tornado 24” Alloy and it is pouring with rain outside. No doubt he doesn’t want to get it wet but could you please not let him ride it in ever decreasing circles in the bar area, which is as busy as it is likely to be at any time in the next twelve months ie people are queuing at the door, looking through the window at a ten year old pretending he’s on a silent Wall of Death. Please don’t let me have to tell him to stop and then look at me like I am a bad person. You are a parent and even though your nanny has gone home to Poland for Christmas, she must have left you some instructions on what children are like. No? Some people are just inconsiderate. Why not buy a My Little Pony abattoir and glue making set next year. Goodwill to all men is SO yesterday.

  1. Plan ahead

If you are taking your extended family on a lovely country walk along paths that would remind your great-grandad of Ypres without the shellfire, not only would I request that your remove your boots before entering, it would also be useful for you to have changed your socks this week. Surely you got some new ones for Christmas? Or do you just want to get the most out of the old ones. More importantly, as there are fifteen of you and a twin buggy, don’t ring me up at five to one and ask if I have a table for fifteen in about ten minutes (preferably, don’t ring me at all today). I haven’t got a table. I haven’t even got a chair. Even more importantly, don’t then say, “Well, what are we going to do? We’re nearly there now.” You are the sort of person who thought the Charge of the Light Brigade or the invasion of Iraq were well planned. I am all for spontaneity (I bought a pub on the spur of the moment for God’s sake) but sometimes “we’ll decide when we get there” doesn’t work for the best.

  1. You are not alone 1

You are not only part of a large party of people, you are part of a large party of people in a pub full of large parties of people. Many of them are crammed at the bar frantically waving crisp Hawaii five-oh notes. When you have advanced to the bar, it would so help if you know what you want, rather than bellowing across the pub to Rob, who is deep in conversation with Liz and cannot hear you the first three times until Virginia taps his knee to attract his attention.

– Rob, what are you having?

– Some beer. What bitters have they got?

– Snot’s Old Bollocks, Farty Faggots, Aunte Lil’s Bloomers and Dead Tramp’s Ashes.

– I don’t know any of those. Have they got Doombar?

 (shake of my head)

– I’ll just have a Heineken then.

– Pint or half?

– Half. No, no I’ll have a pint. No, make it a half.

– Pint of Heineken please. Erica. Erica. Erica, what would you like? Erica? Charles, find  out what Erica wants, will you?

It is bad enough that you asked for the generic, corporately brewed Doombar, because it reminds you of holidays in Cornwall, although it’s now brewed by a faceless Canadian conglomerate. Frankly,  it could have been worse; once someone asked for a pint of Friary Meux and that hasn’t been brewed since 1991 (it tasted like piss then, so god only knows what the discerning palates of ale loving hipsters would make of it today). I know you only come to the pub once a year and now you will bask in the glow of your f & f telling you how lucky you are to have such a great local but next Boxing Day, could you just try to remember that everyone is going to have a drink? That’s the idea. And I would even forgive you if two of them were Earl Grey or hot chocolate, if you could have found that out before you got to the front of the baying mob. Why haven’t they lynched you yet? Maybe they are waiting until I am serving the next person and you came back and ask what crisps we have and then order plain.

  1. How long will our food take?

How long is a piece of string, mate? As you can see, we are very busy, there are already sixty people waiting, there are another sixty booked who haven’t arrived yet. ‘Will it be quicker if we just have a sandwich?’ Why do people think that? There are three humans in the kitchen; each human has two arms with a hand on each end (one of them has six fingers on one hand because his family have never left the village but the extra digit doesn’t speed things up). Your check will go in the queue with everyone else’s; we will not bump you up the queue because you are spending less money than the ten people who are having roast pheasant. Please don’t complain if you wait for an hour – just try to enjoy the company of your family. Pretend they’re someone else and you actually like them. I guarantee that if you came in the pub more than once a year –  any weekday night from now until the clocks go forward, for example – you would get served much, much quicker. How long will your food be? How long does it take to dig half a hole? Don’t forget to leave a terrible review now – emphasizing that you ‘live in the village’-although none of us have ever seen you before in our lives.

  1. You are not alone 2

Just to add to the fun, I sometimes put a bit of music on – Mike tinkling the piano or Jim singing a bit of RnB (proper RnB that is, not something that sounds like the Stylistics doing hip-hop with a drum machine). Most of the customers seem to like it, something you might notice if you weren’t obsessed with yourself. If you don’t like it, just shut up. Do not say:

– I don’t like that. How much longer is it going on?

– It’s a bit Butlins, isn’t it?

– Does he have to use a microphone?

– Could you get him to stop now? Our friends are German and they are having trouble understanding what we are saying.

Have a great day everyone. I’ve got my first Christmas off in a decade, so I will be merry in many ways. Big shout out to every landlord, bar person, waiter, chef and kitchen porter who are working any day between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day.

#pubs #Christmas Day #BoxingDay #villagepub #hospitalitylife #barstaffproblems # customerserviceproblems # beerlover

Holding screwdrivers and conversations: the art of being a Compleat Taverner. Numero 7: the Brie and Bacon Men

They come on Wednesdays at 1.05pm. They have two rounds of three pints of Hop Head and three Brie and bacon sandwiches on brown bread. Once, one of them had a Brie and tomato sandwich for a radical change. He called it the vegetarian option. Their bill is always exactly the same but it takes them an extraordinary amount of time to divide it up. (4+4+5.95) x 3=13.95 each.

  • I’ll put in fifteen
  • Well, I’ll put in twenty and take that five
  • I’ve got ten and three £2 coins, so I’m owed two
  • Well I can change one of the two pounds for two one pounds
  • I think I’m still out of pocket
  • Have we got enough there?
  • We should have but you still owe me a pound
  • Hang on chaps, I’m two quid light here.
  • Well, I put fifteen in…….

Seasons come and go. Years come and go. Nobody knows the names – first or last – of two of these weekly visitors – although we have nicknamed one Norman Hesitant-Dullard – but we know intimate detail of their lives. They all go to church. They speak about their lawns, hedges and holidays a great deal, especially the one who always stays in the finest hotels in the world and whose golf card is frequently ‘accidentally’ left behind on the bar, with scores that make Kim Jong-il look like a past winner of some PGA Fair Play Award. One of them always replies to invitations using his mother’s grey Parker 41 with its octanium nib and black clip, although you wonder who would invite him to anything. Sometimes another man joins them. He is someone’s brother-in–law who has had a knee operation and is off sick. He eats ham and tomato on white bread and drinks lager. You smell a scent of disapproval, as if they sense that he once watched ITV. His revolutionary tastes will disrupt their calculation ritual.

Mr A is a surveyor. Silver hair, approaching sixty. He is the leader of the pack and thinks he is a renowned wit. His wit consists of repeating the same one-liners, none of which were remotely original the first time. The first of these each week revolves around the volume of custom in the pub.

  • You’re busy today.

When we’re quiet.

  • You’re quiet today.

When we’re busy.

  • I’ll just push my way to the table.

When we’re quiet.

  • The food must have improved or something.

When we’re busy.

It’s a very poor stand-up routine.

Mr B worked for an insurance company for 34 years. Middle management, straight from uni. No, that’s not true; he worked for some other insurance company for one year until the other insurance company took them over. Mr B makes Mr A look like the stand-up comedian he is not, although he could actually have had a successful comedy show just by playing his favourite tunes which include ‘Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep’ and, even more bizarrely, ‘A Glass of Champagne’ by Sailor. He has their Greatest Hits album in his car. Mr B cannot choose anything, which is why he has the same sandwich every week. Every two years, Mr B changes his car. He discusses at great length what he might buy for weeks on end. He always ends up buying the latest model of the car that he already has. In the same colour. It is a very fast car but Mr B never drives it over 55. He thinks it makes young girls fancy him. The potential that is, not the driving under 55.

Mr B has a daughter aged about 14. She has a lot of trouble making friends so he is delighted when she meets another girl who also “really likes the Bronze Age and has seen every episode of Boon”.

Once Mr B wanted to buy a new telly. He spoke about it every week for 18 months. HD or 3D? Plasma or not plasma? Samsung or Sony? 48” or 52”? Or maybe I should wait to see if prices come down?

A flamboyant designer type came into the pub, greying locks flowing over the collar of his flowery shirt.

  • I bought a new TV today.

Mr B is fascinated.

  • I’m really interested in that because I’m thinking about buying a new TV. How did you decide which one?
  • Well, I was in Kingston and I passed John Lewis and they had one in the window and I thought ‘That looks nice’, so I bought it.

Mr B now feels like he is in some strange dream. Who could behave in this reckless way? Going to Kingston for a start? His comfort radius is 3 miles of the village. And the price? The designer can’t remember.

  • Six hundred and something I think.

Mr B once didn’t pick up a voicemail when he was abroad because the roaming charges would be over £1. It said so on his holiday spread sheet.

Mr B decides to live a little. The very next week, he has a cheese and pickle sandwich on white bread AND a bag of Mini-Cheddars. He buys a TV. After one week, he reaches another decision; he has bought the wrong one.

Mr C is called Martin Ian Gay. His registration plate is M1 GAY. It has no question mark. He never mentions it and neither does anybody else. He has probably never noticed its connotations and nobody he knows has either. He has never parked it in Brighton. Mr C worked for a chemical giant for 34 years and wears pink corduroy trousers. We think it’s always the same pair; they are quite stained. He too is a surveyor. He will tell you the square footage of any of his company’s depots in the country and how many vehicles are based there, although he has long since retired and his information is probably out of date. He speaks in a flowery, almost camp manner, over-embellishing the simplest incident. When a log tumbles from the stack, he states loudly that ‘The whole pile is inherently unstable due to lack of foresight in the positioning of the second row’. Mr A and Mr B are just a bloody nuisance but I hate Mr C. His very arrival makes everyone’s heart sink. Customers drink up and leave, staff ask if they can unblock sick from the gent’s toilet. He once trapped two German tourists for 40 minutes with tales of the German takeover of his employers and how he was afraid that he would have to drive a BMW instead of a Jaguar. They were stuck listening to his monologue for so long that people thought they were with him. Yet they had just come to the bar to pay their bill.

Mr C once had a Vietnamese wife. She became an alcoholic and nobody blamed her. Then she died mysteriously one night (perhaps of boredom) and Mr C never let anyone in the house again. Some people believe she is still in there.

Messrs A, B and C are planning a walking holiday. It is 4 days in the Yorkshire Dales. Mr C can only go for two days because he is having a new washing machine delivered and can’t let anyone else in the house in case they discover his decomposing wife on the sofa. Day Two has to be carefully planned around his train connections because he has to be at Leeds for 5:33pm or he will miss his onward connection. This means there is a longer walk to do on Day Three – 18.3 miles. They must start earlier but they will still have their nightly de-brief and planning meeting at 7:30pm the night before. Or should they make it 7pm? They won’t have breakfast in the hotel because it is too expensive but if they start early, they will miss the first café and have to use the second, where breakfast is 50p more expensive and you don’t get a tomato. For one of them, breakfast isn’t an issue because he always has muesli and seven blueberries and he recounts how his wife once got this wrong:

Text: You have bought the wrong muesli.

Wife text: You know where the shop is.

Text: But I don’t have a food budget.

These debates dominate four weeks of lunch, after which they call this their ‘intermediate plan’. They will confirm the details by email later, so they can discuss ‘any queries or loose ends.’ The Wehrmacht never planned anything in this much detail. Maybe that’s why they lost.

Image result for 3 men in a pub 1930s images
Absolutely not the Brie and Bacon Men. Great photo of three men in a pub though.

Holding Screwdrivers and Conversations: the art of being a Compleat Landlord. #6: Some interesting ‘characters’.

Image result for images pub charactersAll pubs have their share of characters. Did I have more than most? Yes, I really think I did. You can judge; here are a few of the minor ones:

Gerard

We never become accustomed to meaning less to people than they do to us but the circumstances of that most normal of human behavioural traits were unclear when it came to Gerard. Gerard Algernon Mannheim de Kriek was as big a character as his name suggests. From a South African mining family, he had been a fashion designer in the swinging London of his youth and knew many famous names from that era, notching up an impressive list of funeral attendances. An obituary of his own later life would begin like this:

Gerard Algernon Mannheim de Kriek married his fourth wife in 1981 by which time his cocaine and alcohol addictions were well advanced. Insatiably bisexual and with an almost limitless capability for spending more than he earned (imminent bankruptcy being constantly delayed by his myriad excuses for postponing payment), Gerard first came to my attention when he arrived at the pub with his 101-year-old mother in a Rolls-Royce with French diplomatic plates that he claimed to have won in a poker game. Having ordered the most expensive wine and copious amounts of food, Gerard suddenly remembered that he had to be somewhere else, left a £40 tip for the staff and told them to eat his food. He took the wine with him and was swigging it from the bottle as he drove up the road. He didn’t actually pay for the food or wine and always ran an unagreed credit tab which worked on this premise (which I understand is pretty much the way he paid his children’s school fees, too):

  • Dear boy, I haven’t been in for so long. I’ve been at the house in Provence. You must come as my guest. Now, can I have two bottles of Chablis and one of Chateauneuf du Pape.

His daughter interjects that he doesn’t need any more wine. I respond.

  • Gerard, you haven’t been in Provence. You’ve been in prison again for drink-driving while disqualified and supplying Class A drugs.
  • That’s an outrageous lie.
  • No, it isn’t. It’s in the paper – look there, on the notice board. With your tab.

He doesn’t bother looking.

  • So can I have a little drinky-wink now?

His son interjects that he doesn’t need any more wine (part two).

  • Only when you settle your tab from six months ago, Gerard.
  • Have I got a tab? I totally forgot. How much is it?
  • £93.20.
  • You didn’t even look it up.
  • Not many people get away with owing me a hundred quid for half a year, so I know.
  • I haven’t got any money on me.
  • Well, you can’t have a drink until you have.

His other son interjects that he doesn’t need any more wine (part three).

  • That’s most unfair. I’m not like normal people. I don’t have a salary, I just buy and sell property. And I can’t go home because the gypsies are waiting for me because they tricked me into relaying my drive and they want £2400 and they’ll kill me. They even told the police they’d burn the house down and the police just laughed.
  • They were probably pleased with the thought of getting rid of you and amused at the effect your pot plantations would have on the local spinster populace as they went up in smoke, so hard luck.
  • I can pay you in coke.
  • What?
  • I’ve got two big bags of coke in the car, you can have those.
  • I don’t want your filthy coke; I don’t use it. I want cash.

Someone relents and buys Gerard a glass of wine. It’s just a top-up to a day of drinking that began when he burst into one of his tenant’s flats at 9am with a bottle of Champagne and suggestions of swinging, or at least free tickets for the sex parties he runs at another dilapidated mansion. He sees a young man enter the toilet and follows. The next thing, the lad is at the bar complaining about the “pervy old posh bloke” who has been propositioning him in the toilet.

  • Gerard, you have to leave now.
  • Well, I’m taking my glass of wine with me.
  • If you take your glass with you, I will consider it theft and you will be barred.
  • That would be a great pity …

He slides down the wall and leaves but not before taking a bite from a half-eaten burger that a waitress is carrying past on a pile of plates. He is hoping for a lift home, but “my son’s fucking useless, I bought him a Lambo for his 18th and he’s 25 now but he’s still not had a driving lesson.” Note to self – look out for very low mileage Lambo.

Gerard’ fourth wife is often in the pub with her first husband and his coke-addled third wife and Italian prostitute mistress; her second husband and his fifth wife (who is younger than his grand-daughter and was actually at the same university the year below her) and some children that no-one can remember which wife gave birth to. Some nights the Italian mistress storms off in her white leather mini-skirt and thigh high boots into the muddy night, complaining that Gerard has been trying to simulate sex with her at the dinner table or followed her into the ladies and exposed himself.

Other nights, it’s much more entertaining.

 

Tamsin Pilkington-Glass

Is your coffee ice cream de-caff? It’s the sort of question that belongs in a sitcom. Or, what vegan desserts do you have today and are they gluten-free? You say none in the hope that these people won’t come but some of them do…again and again and again. Sometimes they bring their hairdresser, who they pay to come down from Chelsea, but usually it’s mums from their middle son’s prep school with their Hermes handbags, five holidays a year (three in Mauritius) and terrible tales of quinoa shortages in Waitrose.  There are more 4x4s in the car park than on an expedition in the Sahara. The Surrey definition of poverty is having to share a pony with your sister. Tamsin still thought she was poor as she chose her £2 million ‘downsize’ retirement place on the south coast which to most people looked like a medium sized hotel. Which was odd because she often claimed to just need “a small house in the country”. She also thought she was fat when she had less curves than a Saudi motorway. Once, when a comedian asked her, “What do you do?”, she answered with total honesty and not a hint of irony. “Nothing,” she said.

With great wealth comes great responsibility and Tamsin’s particular responsibility was making sure that she chose exactly the right thing from the menu and the wine list. If you visit somewhere on a weekly basis and you have read the wine list inside out on every visit, you would expect to have a favourite wine. But Tamsin had to try at least three wines every week because she couldn’t remember what they tasted like or which ones she liked best. Even if we told her which one she liked, she would decide that it didn’t taste the same as last week (even though it was Pinot Grigio and therefore tasted of nothing). Her ever exasperated, miserable and short-tempered banker husband and silently autistic son would sit in increasingly hungry amazement as she failed to decide……on anything. Which table to sit at, which chair to sit at at that table, whether to change table, whether to keep her cardigan on, whether to have ice, whether to have a starter and what to alter on the chef’s carefully prepared and costed dishes. Her whole life had become a celebration of procrastination with a smattering of imagined allergies and calorie counting that specifically excluded intake of wine. Her eating technique largely consisted of pushing rocket leaves around a plate with a fork while discussing other non-meals:

  • What do you have for breakfast?
  • Well, I used to have dried banana and muesli with nuts on but nuts can be quite bad for you if you get the portion wrong.

This was Tamsin’s peak in the kitchen department but with an au pair, two nannies and a cook, there really isn’t too much to think about.

 

 

 

Brainard Wilder

is a lecherous old man with a habit of masturbating in front of elderly cleaners. There are odd rumours of incest surrounding his family and they act very strangely together. His daughter was, after all, born to B Wilder. Some people simply call him Brainard the Rapist, with the disturbing disclaimer, “He’s definitely been questioned but probably never charged.” He has an explosive temper fuelled by drink which he puts down to his disability, although his disability often disappears when he forgets to limp or use his stick, such as on the occasion his conker was knocked from his hand in the 2009 Conker Final and he ran across the room to retrieve it like a modern-day Lazarus. He can talk at length on any subject without any knowledge of it whatsoever – “If the Japs hadn’t dropped the atom bomb on Pearl Harbour, America would never have entered the war” or, “Ben Elton definitely wrote “The Importance of Being Earnest.” Brainard has done everything – Olympic high-diver (seems to be no record of you, Brainard), Swinging Sixties London hairdresser (can’t find you in even the most minor biographies, Brainard), Michelin-starred restauranteur (have looked through all the old guides, Brainard. Where are you?). Even in a pre-Trump world, Brainard wouldn’t let facts or lack of evidence get in the way of a good story. Now he runs a furniture warehouse and wears a scarf. Every month he says that sales are up 163% on last year and he’s looking to buy such-and-such a farmhouse that is on with Savill’s at £4.65m but he forgets that the pub has a resident, diminutive private detective (Inch High Private Eye) who keeps us updated on Brainard’s regular stream of CCJ’s, impending and past bankruptcies. He lives in a rented corrugated shack and pays 20% IDLY (I Don’t Like You) Tax on every purchase.

 

We’ll move onto some of the bigger players next time……….

#pubs #villagepub #hosptalitylife #barstaffproblems #customerserviceproblems #beerlovers

Holding Screwdrivers and Conversations: the art of being a Compleat Landlord. No.5 – Chefs

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Chefs

There was a time when we weren’t busy enough to have a second chef. Then there was a time when we realised that no matter how busy you were, you didn’t really want one. The relationship problems, the scattered children, the substance abuse, the prima donna antics, the petty theft, the chip on the shoulder that comes from being transient, 30-40 and never being good enough to wear the tall hat. We’ve had chefs who have lasted such a short time that we don’t even remember their names. Indeed, we’ve appointed chefs who have never turned up but we didn’t know that was going to happen until the night before – ‘My mother in Spain has been taken ill’, ‘My wife doesn’t want me to work week-ends’. Why did she marry a chef then?

No-one can remember the name of the South African chef who left Jersey to work for us at the end of the summer season. His two referees agreed that he was a good chef and said little else. His French partner was to work front of house. In Skype interviews they had seemed sensible and reliable but when they arrived from the night ferry into Weymouth, he was a very different character. He wasn’t just in your face as so much of all over your head, a constant steam of rapid-fire bullshit spewing from his mouth. Speed or coke were our first guesses. Oh well, nothing new there – we had a chef once who said that it was the drugs that attracted him to the job in the first place – so we sent them to their room to recover and start the following morning but only one turned up. Guess which one.



– E can’t come to work today, e doesn’t feel zo good from ze boat crossing.

It’s not a great start. When the girlfriend finishes work, she goes to Tesco to get him ‘something to eat’. The plastic bags strain under the weight of angular shapes within.

Sunday begins the same. At the end of a busy service, it’s time to make some calls to the Channel Islands.

-Hi, you gave me a reference for a chef named (can’t remember). You said he was a good chef.

-Yes, he is.

-Is there anything you didn’t tell me.

Long Pause.

-He drinks……..and when he drinks, he doesn’t turn up for work.

-So, he’s a good chef if he turns up for work.

-Yes, that’s about it.

-And how often does that happen?

-A couple of times a week.

For some reason I made a second call. This time I spoke to the Head Chef. It’s a reference I will never forget.

– Well, Mondays and Tuesdays he has a bad ankle, Wednesday and Thursdays are his days off, Friday and Saturday he has a stomach ache and when he turns up on Sunday he isn’t much good.

When I fired him on the Monday (before he had actually started) he asked for his boat fare from Jersey. I’ll leave you to guess if I gave it to him.

We are setting our standards too high. Perhaps Hungarian Stan would be better but he too cannot complete a full week without ailments or injuries. He has also stolen one of the waitress’ bicycles, although he denies it. Finally, he is allowed to run the kitchen alone on a quiet winter Tuesday. We call from a night out to check if this potentially fragile arrangement is working. Isabelle answers.

– Hi Issy, how’s it going?

-Not very well. Six ladies came in and ordered dinner and when I went to the kitchen it was in darkness; Stan had locked up and left. They come in quite often and they weren’t very happy.

Another phone call.

-Stan, I hear you locked up and went home at twenty-five past eight.

-It was very quiet. Anyway, it was twenty-eight minutes past eight.

-What the fuck? (rhetorical question) You’re fired.

-That’s so unfair.

I’d like to say we never heard from Stan again but it’s not true. He came back the next day purely to spit at my wife and call me “bitch”, a nickname it took me a long time to live down, as if I was a cross between Al Murray and Joan Collins. All of the chefs we fired threatened us with tribunals but they never went there. We paid very few of them for their last week – or in some cases last month – of work. They shout a bit and threaten to ruin you but basically they just see it as an occupational hazard. Like Winston, who cycled off in a huff at 1pm on a Sunday lunchtime having kicked the shit out of the dishwasher because he was told it was not acceptable to defrost a crab in a kettle. Or Daryl, the archetypal loser who spent his spare time making false benefit claims, drinking cooking wine and robbing the safe of 10p coins in change bags and walked out on Christmas Eve. Or Lesley, who had a full-on catfight with her lesbian partner who had just discovered that her sexuality might be more fluid following a steamy encounter with a regular. A simple domestic, except it took place in full view and earshot of a guest’s wedding reception. Or Koens the Belgian, whose signature dish was chicken, cornflakes and Coca-Cola (“it tastes much better than it sounds”) (it didn’t) but whose real speciality was asking waitresses thirty years younger than himself if they wanted to go or a walk in the woods.

There was no-one however quite like Polish Stan. A tiny man, raised in a Polish army orphanage, he confided two important things at interview – he could work with anyone unless they shouted and he didn’t drink. Wow, a chef with no bad habits. Except a tendency to panic. To panic so much that when left alone, he would get the food out very quickly. Mainly because he had forgotten to cook it.

-This burger’s raw.

I resist the obvious Basil Fawlty response. You can forgive the odd mistake though and this was his first week. Monday of the second week wasn’t auspicious either and that was his day off. Anthony the Fraudster called in for an early evening pint.

-I’ve just seen your new chef, staggering down the middle of the road, pissed as a pudding. I nearly ran him over.

-But he doesn’t drink.

-Well, he was clutching a bottle of Absolut.

The mystery was solved moments later when the police arrived and poured Stan from the back of the car into the road. He simply wandered into the laundry shed and slept the night there. The next day he was acutely embarrassed.

-I am so sorry. I don’t drink but I met my girlfriend’s parents and I was so nervous I started drinking and it was a disaster. It will never happen again.

Okay, a one-off. But the following week when we returned from an evening out, a clearly lubricated Stan was there to meet us.

-We have problem in the kitchen. I need to talk you.

-Let’s talk about it tomorrow, Stan.

-No, I need to tal k now.

Julie could see I was irritated.

-I’ll deal with it, you go to bed.

Which I did. After half an hour, the discussions were continuing and the two voices were getting louder. I got up and dressed.

-Look, can we leave this until tomorrow now?

Stan indicated that he couldn’t. I shouted.

-WHATEVER IT IS, WE ARE NOT DEALING WITH IT NOW, WE ARE ALL GOING TO BED.

Stan hid behind a chair cowering and in the morning he was gone.

It’s good to have a French chef. They do know how to cook and the best of them will admit that British food is now far better than the sauce drenched throwback of haute cuisine. But you do have to cope with a lot of Gallic shrugging. We had several but Jean-Claude was particularly stereotypical – his idea of a good day off was to sit in a cafe in a black roll neck sweater with endless cups of coffee musing on his lot, only to come up with the same conclusion every week – “Life eez sheet”. Contributing to this equation were his working days when, “Zay all come at once” and order whatever he was short of. “Ow zay know?” he would scowl and follow up with the plaintive cry, “Where’s my spatula? J’ai perdu mon spatula”. “Are you French?”, one of the less bright waitresses once asked after four weeks in the job.

Of course, kitchen porters are on a different scale. Sometimes a little lacking academically or linguistically, or sometimes just young kids who think saying “My bad” forty-three times a day makes up for the forty-three service disrupting mistakes they have made. Managing them requires the skills of teacher, sergeant-major and zookeeper. Strangely, if they are truly passionate about food, they can go on to be kitchen greats and many well-known chefs have taken this route. Unfortunately however, most of them have taste buds that can just about distinguish a hot kebab from a cold kebab. We had one who didn’t know what a prawn was. Their main skill seems to be the ability to stop whatever they are doing to watch open-mouthed as the chef counts the cauliflowers in the latest veg delivery as if he is performing some sort of mathematical miracle. Most of them have lost him by the time he gets to six.

I only managed the kitchen for three weeks – it was always my wife’s job.  I managed the intelligent, motivated and relatively normal people who inhabit the front of house. Three weeks out of ten years when Julie was away. I was a broken man.

#pubs #villagepub #hospitalityindustry #chefs #kitchenporter #pubkitchen #beerlover