Good wine list & craft beers appeal to broader clientele – John McKenna

Pubs must now provide a unique experience if they want to thrive, says John McKenna, co-author of the 2011 Bridgestone 100 Best Restaurants in Ireland guide,published recently.

“I don’t go to the pub because there is nothing there I want to drink” he stated bluntly, “but if pubs offered a short but good wine list and some craft beers, they would appeal to a broader clientele”.

The only reason he’d go to a pub today would be to buy a bottle of Guinness, he told Drinks Industry Ireland.

“I feel to some extent that what’s missing in the drink offer in pubs is individuality. I can see the way that international marketing language supports such a big business, but for me one of the things that has helped the wine market to expand exponentially is the ability to introduce people to new drinks. The most important wine in Ireland has been Jacob’s Creek Chardonnay because for those who were reared on Liebfraumilch etc, it engendered a taste for variety in people.

“Admittedly, the demand for variety is not good from the point-of-view of the brewery but from the point-of-view of the consumer who’s actually requesting new things, this is a pivotal point. It’s why we go to new restaurants. Places that offer people variety do well. But pubs offer a lack of variety. When there is no difference between my pub and yours, there’s no individuality in the drinks offering and I think it’s one of the reasons why people of my generation – in their 40s and 50s – go to pubs less.

“If I want variety now, I’m looking elsewhere, I’m not looking at the Irish pub and I think there’s a huge opportunity here for the on-trade.”

He added that unpopular as it might be with corporate brewers, they will have to help the pub trade by introducing seasonal brews.

The food writer said plenty of restaurants have seen their business increase by more than 30 per cent in the past year despite the downturn, citing Harry’s Bar in Donegal as one example.

This year’s  guide has 17 new entries including pubs such as Deasy’s Harbour Bar in Clonakilty, the Poacher’s Inn in Bandon and Augustine’s in Cork’s City Quarter.

The food writer claimed that many restaurants had seen business increase by over 30 per cent in the past 12 months despite the recession, so restaurateurs should stop “whinging” and start changing if they want to survive.

“If you adapt, you’ll survive,” he commented of those restaurateurs complaining about the high VAT levels and labour costs, offering little sympathy – “It’s your own fault”  – for those who’d gone out of business .

Social media websites and other means of communicating now play an important part in spreading the word-of-mouth about good food, he said.

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