Archive for the ‘Beer and You’ Category
There’s been a lot of talk recently about the chronic short-pouring that occurs in the Vancouver bar scene. From CAMRA Vancouver‘s rather public Twitter shaming of craft beer bars to the Vancouver Sun‘s (slightly) more scientific survey of a variety of pubs, craft or not.
The results? Yes, pubs are short pouring and yes, it’s a widespread issue. When you consider the absolute, letter of the law on the matter, ordering 20oz of beer must net you a glass that contains no less than 19.5oz of actual liquid beer. Given appropriate head levels for properly poured beer, that basically means that it’s not possible to fulfil a beer order in the same sized glass as the volume of beer advertised (aka 20oz of beer cannot be properly served in a 20oz glass).
However, having said all that, I think this whole glass-vs-pour size thing is a distraction. Most bars are not short pouring to increase profits, but rather incidentally are short pouring due to a variety of other factors: common industry practice, competitive pressure around advertised size, etc.
Yes, it’s not legal and yes, pubs should all get on board but, deep down, most pubs weren’t truly aiming to rip the consumer off.
Say you run a pub. Say a keg costs you $200 to buy and holds 120 14.5oz pours of beer. Now say you want to make a (perfectly reasonable) 150% gross profit on that beer, before expenses. You’ll sell that 14.5oz of beer for ~$4.25. Hey, running a bar ain’t cheap.
Slide over to the pub next door, and they’re selling a real pour of 16oz, but still paying $200 to get that same keg. Only now it holds 110 pours because they’re actually serving 16oz of beer. In order to stay open, though, the gross margin still needs to be 150%, so they sell that sleeve for ~$4.50.
A third pub, for whatever reason, sells their 16oz real pour for $5.00. Maybe they have a view. Maybe they’re all fancy-like and clean their glassware between uses. Who knows. The result is ~175% gross margin, but the short pour level of 0% shows that they’re not cheating you, they’re just expensive.
However, go to the next pub down the line and the real motivation in advertising a larger pour is to gouge the clients. In this case, that 14.5oz pour is listed as “16oz” on the menu and priced at the same $4.50 as the real 16oz down the street. Bam, that’s 170% of gross profit, and that combination of short pour and high profit margin becomes a tell.
Those of you who’ve read my blog for a while know where I’m going with this. If I had a list of short pour levels plus price levels for a variety of pubs I could then find the ones that are actually ripping off clients. So, I took the Vancouver Sun’s reported pint pour sizes, pint prices, and researched the raw cost for the beers they’re serving. I then applied the magic that is mathematics to see if the short pouring bars split out into two groups: those that short pour without profit increases in mind and those that do.
The result? Yup, they do. The folks that short pour for reasons other than deceiving their clients have almost no correlation between short pour levels and profit. However, a different group emerges from the numbers; a group that has quite a strong correlation between the level of short pour and profit. Strip out the bars with zero correlation between pour size and profit and you get this graph of short pour percentage vs profit margin.
Basically, the trend is that for every 10% of a short pour (e.g. 18oz instead of 20oz) these bars’ profits go up 100%. That guy on the top? Shortpouring 30% for over 300% gross profit margin. Note that there were other bars with 300% margin. However they were selling you what they advertised and, as such, I don’t consider them dishonest, just expensive. All told, though, just under 50% of the bars surveyed by the Sun wound up fitting the trend line very nicely.
Next up, I took it a step farther. If there’s an entire sub-section of the pub industry dedicated to ripping off clients via short pours, wouldn’t it reason to follow that there’s a support industry out there? I mean, they’re not simply selling you 14oz in a 20oz glass and hoping you won’t notice. Nor are they placing a 14oz glass in front of you and banking on you shutting up and taking it. Nope, they’re using deliberately misleading glassware.
On the top is the standard “shaker vs sleeve” debate. One of those glasses holds 16oz while the other holds 14.5oz. You can tell the difference by looking at the bottom. This, plus a 16oz sleeve being delivered when a pint is ordered, is what you’re most likely to run into in the wild.
The bottom, though, is a singular piece of mastery. Meet the Anchor Hocking 1170U. This monster of a glass is praised for its large size, its heavy weight in the hand and, above all, its ability to help with both “portion control” and “profits.”
Oh, you thought they’d call it “helps you rip off customers?” Nope. When you’re dishonest, you need a euphemism to hide behind, and the dishonest pub has latched onto “portion control.” That monster glass? It holds 10oz. 10 freaking ounces. In a glass you could knock out a horse with. Those divots on the bottom deliberately hide the fact that the bottom inch of this sucker is pure glass. Those sharp angles likewise conceal just how thick the glass is on the side. There is only one possible reason to make a glass in this fashion, and it’s not about being fair.
Don’t worry about being limited to 10oz, though; they almost make virtually identical glassware in 16oz, 14oz, and 12oz. Same height, width, style, and weight (when full of beer). They don’t specifically say so, but these glasses are basically designed to enable slowly lowering pour size as your patrons get drunker so as to maximize profits/fraud.
Forget the glass vs pour size debate. Education will solve that on all sides. It’s these bastards we need to go after.
There was a whole flurry of keyboard-warrioring going on this weekend over a recent CAMRA effort to raise the issue of endemic under pours in the local craft beer pub scene. Like their style or not (and I did not like their style) they at least got us talking about it.
One thing that immediately became clear from the discussion is that there’s plenty of confusion out there regarding what, exactly, is meant by the phrase “16oz of beer.” It might seem trivial upon initial inspection, but two camps quickly emerged: those that feel 16oz is the beer alone (head is extra) and those that feel 16oz is the amount of beer–including head–that fits in a 16oz glass.
There’s no official line on this matter, either. The LCLB Policy Manual helpfully suggests that “quantities” must be displayed as part of a price list, but never clarifies what a certain quantity of beer actually is. Thus, we must infer from the policy. The point of listing quantities is to allow patrons to appropriately gauge their consumption (although curiously listing ABV is not required). It would reason, then, that the LCLB intent is to specify the volume of the liquid itself excluding head, since head contains very little alcohol.
UPDATE: Measurements Canada has since explicitly confirmed that stated volume for beer sales does not include head. No ifs, ands or buts.
With that out of the way, we can talk about making it all better. Clearly all we have to do is get out the ladder, climb up to the chalk board, cross out the “16oz” before “Fat Tug, $5.00″ and then write in “~14oz” right? Maybe yes, maybe no.
Sure, everyone reading this would see that, congratulate the bar on upping their standards, and then order a properly poured ~14oz drink and tip big. Other folks, especially those not vested too heavily in craft beer, will see the now-lower “14oz” size next to the just-the-same $5.00 price and say “What the bloody fuckin’ ‘ell?!” (Everyone has a cockney accent in my examples).
That person would likely then walk out the door and into a pub that’s still selling their 16oz (glass) of Fat Tug for the old price of $5.00, despite the fact both pubs are serving him the exact same amount of the exact same beer in the same glass, and charging the same price for it. Only now he’s very mad at one of them.
Basically the logic is “we can’t afford to be honest because then the dishonest folk would profit at our expense, so we’ll just be dishonest too” or more frequently stated “it’s common industry practise.” Sure, it’s common, but that doesn’t make it the right thing to do. Bar owners either know full well that they’re playing fast and loose with serving sizes, or they manage to convince themselves that “16oz” actually means glass size, and everyone should know and accept that. Sorry guys, as a beer consumer, and a regular reader of that epic tome, the Licensing Policy Manual, that dog don’t hunt.
Sure, there are other options. The bar could buy 18oz glasses, and actually pour the client 16oz of beer. Of course, this has two added expenses: the new glassware plus the extra 2oz of beer the client is now getting for that same $5.00. Your rep is saved, but your profits are down. As a business that’s no good.
Can’t raise the price of that 18oz glass/16oz pour of beer either, since that just puts you right back in the scenario of directly competing with the dishonest places down the street, only this time the size stayed the same on the board but the price went up.
So that’s the corner we’ve painted ourselves into. The bars have been short pouring people for so long that it just seems like the only way to do business, and giving the competition any slight advantage in terms of perceived value just isn’t palatable.
What do we do? There’s no easy solution. I’ve thought on this long and hard, and I don’t see a way around ripping off this band-aid. We have to go cold turkey and give up the addictive profits of short pours. The pubs should pull out the ladder and change their pour sizes. They should also post a sign explaining what’s happening, and what’s happening down the street.
Consumers are smarter than you give them credit for; they’ll figure it out. Yes, it brings up the awkward conversation around honest vs dishonest prices and which of those you were charging before, but it lets you frame that discussion and prepare your staff for it. Best do it now while you have control.
Either you lead the charge, or slowly, folks will start to wander into your pub, look at your board and ask “is that pour size or glass size?” Trust me: you don’t want to be honest because your clients figured out you were lying, and demand it of you.
In the long run, move away from the “~14oz” pour and into actual marked glasses. These are more expensive, but when you hear people talking about places with marked pours you hear phrases like “fancy as shoot” and not “what’s with these weird markings?” (Okay, some of the people in my examples are actually near-illiterates from Alabama). Fill lines remove all doubt about what’s in your glass and allow your patrons to ask other bars why they, in turn, don’t have fill lines.
Make no mistake, moving in this direction won’t be easy, but I also suspect it won’t be as hard as bar owners fear. In the long run, it’s simply the right thing to do. Might as well get a head start.
tl;dr: Here’s a link to the form letter to Suzanne Anton if you’d rather not read my blatherings.
As a general rule of thumb, you don’t do a lot for your political livelihood if you raise taxes. It’s unpopular, to say the least, and might eventually cost you the election. However, in terms of removing you from office as fast as possible, raising taxes has absolutely nothing on fucking around with the price of beer.
Yet the BC Liberals did just that recently, slipping a new minimum price for all forms of liquor into their so-called Happy Hour, perhaps with the hope that no one would notice.
Well, we noticed. People are hopping mad about a “Happy Hour” that comes with an “All Hours” minimum price so high that many bars now have to raise their prices to meet them, effectively negating the whole point of the legislation for vast swarms of beer drinkers Province wide. (Old minimum was roughly $0.11/oz; new is $0.25/oz)
Note that I didn’t include myself in that list. “Happy Hour” doesn’t hurt me much, at all. The new pre-tax minimum of $5.00 per 20oz pint is frankly a lot less than the regular prices at pubs I frequent (where prices range from $8 to $15+ per pint). I guess I might actually save some money, but likely not.
You see, I don’t order beer by price. I’m fortunate enough to have a high paying job, and to be honest its been literally years since I’ve seriously weighed the price of a beer as part of my purchase decision. A beer on special is not likely to attract my attention. A special beer is.
This reminds me of an actual conversation I had at a local LRS a few years back during the release of a hot new local beer.
Me: “Hey, Beer X has no price. How much does it cost?”
Them: “Do you care?”
Me: <quiet clinking as I put beer in basket>
Bear with me; I’m making a point here. Despite not being affected, I still care about this new law, and it upsets me. Why? It’s a shitty, poorly thought out law that clearly doesn’t have the best interest of the electorate in mind. I’m the one most likely to benefit from it, but I’m also the one who frankly doesn’t give a crap how much my beer costs.
Other people, with less income (or more mouths to feed and/or more desire to retire some day) care a bit more about their beer prices, and the 43% at-till jump some are seeing from $3.50 (incl tax) to $5.00 (or more, plus tax) is a Big Freaking Deal to them. These folks have entirely different concerns, budgets and desires when it comes to beer, yet they’re being saddled with the exact same cross-the-board minimum price that is so beneficial to people like me.
And that, my friends, is a Shitty Law. It benefits the select few who are fortunate enough to not need the benefit, while it harms the many who either care very deeply about beer prices, or simply cannot afford an increase.
My beer prices aren’t going up, and it wouldn’t make a difference if they did. For a sizeable chunk of people, their beer prices are going up dramatically and now they have to have fewer pints in the pub, less often, or not at all.
Less people ordering less pints means less people serving pints and cooking food, and the individuals who make their daily bread performing those same tasks should be very concerned about this policy, indeed.
So, dear Suzanne Anton, can you honestly say that you made this change with the belief that the majority of British Columbians truly wanted it? Who stood up and said “You know what? Raising minimum pricing by over 100%, establishing the highest minimums in the entire country, by a wide margin, is just a rutting grand idea! Let’s do that! Why? Why not? Sometimes you just have to innovate, dammit!”
Is this change that >2.4 million people in our province truly want? I’m not talking about “in their best interest” or “for the greater good” but rather “Do >50% of British Columbians want a minimum $5 pint?”
If the answer is “yes” I’d love to see the data. If the answer is “no” and/or “political side-step” then I would gently remind you that representing the will of the people is YOUR FUCKING JOB. You’d best start doing it.
If you’d like to voice your own displeasure about this change, but lack a convenient blogging soapbox on which to do so, click here for a form letter. Alter it. Sign it. Click send. Feedback is the only way to let them know they’ve gone too far.
Or, if you want to get fancy (and fancy gets more attention), Paddy Treavor has a great post listing the various people in the government you can yell at, including a link to all BC’s MLAs. If your MLA is in The Opposition, they might even listen to you.
Note: The email link might not work so hot for all folks. If it doesn’t, here’s the email template so you can copy/paste:
Subject: Opposition to LCLB Policy Directive No. 14-07
The Honourable Suzanne Anton, M.L.A.
Minister of Justice
I write to express my displeasure with the British Columbia Liquor Control and Licensing Branch’s recent Policy Directive No. 14-07, which implements “happy hours.”
While the implementation of variable pricing itself is a welcome change, the government’s inexplicable decision to tie this improvement with a massive increase in minimum liquor pricing is a decision that I simply cannot support.
The result of the Policy Directive is to increase, by more than 100%, the minimum price a licensee may charge for beer. To comply with this new minimum, many establishments in low income or rural parts of British Columbia have actually had to increase their regular beer pricing.
The notion of variable pricing–the very intent of recommendation #16 of the Liquor Policy Review Report–cannot and will not enter into the picture in such establishments. The new minimum pricing is now the only pricing. As such, many areas of the Province will never see a happy hour, and many patrons will simply forgo having a beer in a restaurant and pubs.
This policy is bad for restaurants; it is bad for service industry employees; it is bad for British Columbians as a whole, and I urge the British Columbia Provincial Government to reconsider this decision, and to fulfill their mandate: to implement policy that represents the best interests of all British Columbians.