Politics and Pints

As a London-based company, we at Ortus followed the London Mayoral elections.  Many people were saying it would be a close race and, for a while, I agreed with them because our office was fairly evenly split between the candidates … although given the amount of banter and arguing that goes on every day this was perhaps unsurprising.

However, on 29thApril I knew for sure that Sadiq Khan would win.  Why?  Well, on that day Zac Goldsmith committed the cardinal sin of being photographed holding a pint with two hands.  In fact, it was worse than that.  He was holding his pint with two hands in a dainty way.  It is difficult to imagine a more horrifying situation for an aspiring leader in Britain.

Other politicians have fallen foul in a similar way.  On 20thJanuary 2014 Ed Miliband visited a brewery and seemed to grimace after sipping some strong bitter.  I don’t blame him … it was probably 8am.  However, Cityam.com immediately asked the question “Is Ed Miliband the only politician who doesn’t like beer?”

Yet this presents an opportunity too.  On 8thAugust 2000, William Hague (then Conservative leader) attempted to throw off his schoolboy-ish imagine by boasting that, as a teenager, he had drunk “14 pints a day” (bbc.co.uk).   On 24 March 2014, George Osborne attempted to show his empathy with the “ordinary” British people by dropping into a pub and drinking a pint (dailymail.co.uk) although he attracted criticism for sipping before it had settled.  Nigel Farage has based his whole image around happily holding a pint (and a fag).

And the best example is possibly when David Cameron took Chinese President Xi Jinping for a pint at the Plough at Cadsden near Chequers.  It was possibly the most blatant piece of choreography I’ve ever seen.  They had a pint and some fish and chips … and left inside 20 minutes!  How does that work?  It was a photo opportunity based around two pints (of IPA) … nothing more.

So, why this political obsession with drinking pints?  It seems to derive from a feeling that, to be a proper British man, you have to enjoy standing in the pub effortlessly consuming a pint of bitter.  You have to stand a certain way and drink a certain way, otherwise you’re not quite right.  Maybe this was true many years ago … but pubs and drinkers have moved way beyond this.

The Carlsberg Consumer Insights Report for 2015/16 explores how consumers spend their time in the pub.  The results are illuminating.  Motivations include attending the pub quiz (43%) enjoying evening cuisine (37%) and …. wait for it … having a cooking lesson (18%).  Popping in for a quick pint is also becoming less common.  Big weekend occasions are becoming more important as consumers cut back during the week to save for the big event. 31% of consumers budget over £30 for a weekend occasion (41% budget £15-30) versus only 9% budgeting £30+ during the week.

Pubs also have to forget stereotyping in order to succeed, because consumer segments are do diverse.  The Carlsberg Consumer Insights Report refers to drinkers born from 1980-2000s.  They are social-media savvy, value sensitive but price insensitive, and engaged in occasions such as Halloween, beer festivals, live music and sport.  Drinkers born pre 1980s still respond to traditional marketing methods such as A-boards and leaflets, they are big reviewers of pubs on online review sites, they are price sensitive and value  good service, and they are drawn by habitual occasions such as a pub quiz.

An article byCharlie Teasdalein esquire.co.uk investigates the complexities and challenges of running a pub in modern Britain.  He quotescareer landlady Farika Holden, who has run pubs in London for 20 years:  “Lunchtime drinking doesn’t exist anymore … that was my bread and butter, what paid the rent. Then anything you made in the evening was your profit. You worked your ass off between noon and two and then that was it … In the late Nineties, girls would drink three bottles of wine between two and go back to work! It doesn’t happen anymore, it’s just not cool.”

Charlies Teasdale also quotesTom Kerridge who is chef-patron at the Coach pub in Marlow:  “We run a breakfast menu from 8am to 10:30am, then until noon it’s coffee and cake of the day, noon to 2:30pm is a lunch menu, then after that we do pies or hot sandwiches until 6pm, and an à la carte dinner menu until 10pm.”

It is inevitable that politicians will continue using the pub and the pint to build their image and convey their message.  There is nothing wrong with that … they have a job to do.  However, the reality is that the stunts only speak about them … the world of pubs and pints is way more complex. 

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