I hate to be the sort of idiot that constantly gripes about customer service, because it’s an easy way to sound like the kind of grotbag who thinks all people who work in service industries should bow and scrape to them.
But have any fellow Greenwich-ites noticed just how strange the service is at the bar in The Old Brewery? Now, I love the place, I love the beers, and I’d gladly subscribe to the construction of a statue to honour the founder of Meantime Brewery, Alistair Hook.
But I’ve heard a few odd tales of service in there, and encountered a couple of odd moments of my own. The reason I bring this up is that The Old Brewery is important. It’s not run by the awful Inc Group, it’s not run by a soulless chain, it feels like ours, owned by a firm that’s based in Charlton (and is moving to Greenwich soon). It was a great place to enjoy the Greenwich Sessions gigs for free, which was especially sweet since Inc Group was the concerts’ booze partner.
The Old Brewery should be something we can be proud of. And my word, it is a stupendous little bar. But the service in there… it’s just weird, like the staff have been told that keeping the place absolutely spotless is more important than serving customers.
The layout doesn’t quite help – middle-aged men tend to crowd out the bar – and admittedly some of the snotty customers don’t help either. But nobody seems to have told the staff how to serve in order at the bar, meaning trying to get a drink is a bit of a lottery.
I had a hilarious moment in there a couple of weeks ago when I spotted a bag of bacon crisps behind the bar, and finished my order with those wonderful words “and a bag of bacon crisps, please”. Which crisps, asked the woman behind the bar. “Bacon crisps, please,” I repeated, thinking she’d merely misheard me. She looked puzzled. She then brought all four flavours of crisps to the counter, and asked me which one I wanted. “Bacon crisps, please,” I repeated, pointing to the bag with the word “bacon” on the front. She finally understood.
Fast forward to last night, where there were three people behind the bar, three people waiting to be served, but only one serving – and stuck in a long demonstration of what whiskies were on offer. It took a bit of “what the hell is going on here?” face-pulling before another barman was given permission to serve. It seems as if the staff are ruled with a rod of iron, not allowed to use any initiative or wit of their own.
Right at the close of the night, obediently draining our drinks at 11.19pm and placing the empty glasses back on the table and getting ready to leave, one of the barmen approached us. Was it to collect our glasses, thank us for our custom and wish us a safe journey home? No. “We’re closing in ten minutes, guys,” he said, took our empty glasses, and walked off. I actually burst out laughing.
I worked in a busy tourist pub for a year in the 1990s, so I understand some of the pressure they’re under, but I think I can also sense when things aren’t quite right. Maybe it’s a Meantime staff-training problem – the service at the Greenwich Union has had some strange moments (recently the staff all seemed to have been instructed to ask “how are you?”, agony for those who can’t manage small talk) but generally it’s on the side of the angels. But the staff just don’t seem comfortable in the Old Brewery. It’s not that they’re outright rude, it’s just that they don’t seem happy there. Which I don’t understand, because I’d love to be serving the best beers in London. So what’s gone wrong?
Tourist Greenwich is notorious for crap service – like the haughty bar staff in Inc Group-owned venues, or the barman in the Cutty Sark one swelteringly hot day a few weeks back who had to be told what a “bitter shandy” was. Us locals are depending on The Old Brewery to save our sanity, and to save our home town from the march of identikit tourist crapdom. Please, someone make it better. Just give the bar staff a cuddle and tell them it’ll be okay. And do it quickly, eh?