Features

A Response To Ray Sparvell’s Beer Prices Rant On WAToday

Words by: Andrew Bennett


I usually let shoot-from-the-hip criticism of our industry through to the keeper, thinking if someone hasn’t invested the time to get to know why and what we do properly, then just return the ignorance serve. We’ve all got better things to do than shout at the sky when keyboard warriors pull at the threads of our tolerance don’t we?

But every once in a while, whether in passing, in jest or published by the Fourth Estate, there come views and opinions expressed about us and our industry that simply cannot go unchecked. Every now and again the perfect storm of stupidity, ignorance and almost calculated naivety must be answered.

Opinions should be just that. But of course the internets changed that so now everyone gets to hear what you think. What your dinner was like two weeks ago or if that movie was actually shit, shouldn’t matter to me, and it doesn’t really. It’s your opinion…

Except when pseudo Agony Aunts like Ray Sparvell get on the www and accuse Perth publicans (of which I’m one) of being complicit in a citywide swindling of our customers through, wait for it, the price of beer.

Ray, since you took the time to paint me and my compatriots as the Sheriffs of Nottingham to your Robin Hood who sweeps in to save the day, allow me to retort:

Your odyssey of overcharging starts not with your hand in your own pocket, but what must have been the unfathomable humiliation suffered when a friend offered to buy you a pint.

But wait, cue thunderclap and horror music…. It was a $13.50 pint of Italian beer at the Oxford Hotel.

OH HOLY HELL.

$13.50? FOR BEER! IS THIS COMMUNIST RUSSIA? DID WE LOSE A WAR?!

The full treatise as to why this and almost all other beer prices in Perth is obviously designed to swindle Joe Citizen is laid out. But first, luckily you’re on hand to do the mathematical heavy lifting, telling us that two of these unconscionably overpriced beverages came to $27. A figure, for future reference, qualifies as ‘wallet-emptying’.

We know this because, as you point out, “You can buy a carton of it for around $47 or so” and drink it at home.

Right. Got it. Because that makes sense. You’ve cracked the Da Vinci Code of saving money Ray: retail is obviously a big con.

Why have I spent years drinking beer in a pub when I could have just drunk at home? WHAT A NOOB. Jesus I’ve been doing it wrong all these years.
Thankfully Ray, now my eyes are open.

Why fly to Sydney (Qantas one way at $468) when I can just walk? LEGS ARE FREE
Why buy a punnet of tomatoes ($2.50 from Coles) when I can just grow them? Cheers Mother Nature
Why but a Bonds T-shirt ($20 from Target) when a simple needle and thread will do? ‪#‎reapwhatyousew‬

Makes sense doesn’t it? Its cheaper to do it at home by yourself isn’t it Ray? They’re basically the same huh? And its only when you do the charitable thing and grace those dastardly publicans with your presence, first thing they do is go for the wallet right?

Why are we such vultures I wonder, when a beer at home doesn’t cost the same as it does in a pub? Well you’ve got the answer there too: “… publicans will say that there are many costs associated with running a hotel, lease, wages, plant and equipment blah, blah, blah-de-blah.”

Blah, blah indeed. I certainly hate all those pesky nuisances of running a bar. Urgh electricity…. please! Staff…. Who needs them?! Running water…. What a con!

As you can probably tell Ray it’s at this point I’d spat my morning coffee over the screen and threw the toys out of the pram.

If you’re going to chastise an industry for its cost of sales, but dismiss those very costs as ‘blah, blah’, less than a footnote, less than an acknowledgement, I think we’ve got the first peak behind the curtain of your diligent research into the subject.

Just so you know, contemporary hospitality operators in Australia, Perth in particular, will tell you profit margins are razor thin – often much less than 10%. After rent, wages (some of the highest for staff in the Western world) cost of goods and other overheads, those ‘blah blahs’ have a horrible tendency to add up.

But when you walk into the air-conditioned pub with the lights on and the water running, a staff member who gets a decent wage shows you to a table that isn’t a milk crate and gives you a seat, gives you water in a glass, a menu that’s printed, takes your order and inputs it in a till powered by computers, fetches your beer that’s either shipped to the bar from across the State, the country or even overseas, in a glass that is washed and cleaned after you leave, while you listen to music or maybe a live band, I ask you honestly if you think its still as simple as ‘blah, blah’.

A recent response from a 1-star review in England from a customer who complained about the price of the hot water in her tea more fully summarises the costs (blah blah am I right) involved in running a pub or restaurant, but why let details ruin a good rant?

Instead lets pick on the real issue at hand: you think beer is basically shit and should be provided to you at next to nothing.

I’m no brewer but I’m not sure my brewer (Feral Brewing Company, Nail Brewing Australia, Mash Brewing Co., Colonial Brewing CompanyCheeky Monkey Brewery & Cidery, Pirate Life Brewing, etc) and producer (James Young, Hippocampus Distillery, Whipper Snapper Distillery, etc) mates would agree that “…beer is essentially water with three other ingredients”. I assume you’re referring to the German Purity Laws when Bavarian noblemen decreed beer could only consist of ‘water, hops and barley’ in 1516.

500-year-old Germans must be right huh? Lucky it hasn’t changed since then. The Oxford Hotel should have charged you 1 x goat and the promise of a fair maiden shouldn’t they?

The always-entertaining “craft beer v normal beer” debate might have to wait for another day because we’ve got more important matters at hand don’t we Ray when you deliver a masterful interpretation of the socio-economic position of beer in our society:

“…it’s a working person’s alcoholic beverage and it should cost next to nothing.
It should be so cheap it even comes out of your taps at home.”

Rrrrriiiiiggghhhhhttttt….

I’m a let you finish Ray but to save time, its 2016. Men don’t just drink at the front bar then go home to the missus who has dinner ready anymore. The blue collar/white collar dystopia has been dismantled but if you really want to draw distinct circles on purely economic lines, by all means do so but don’t be so naïve to think you can transpose neat drinking habits across those outmoded demographics.

How your dad and grandad drank isn’t how we drink, and how we drink is most likely not how our kids will drink. To think it is, is plainly ignorant. And to try and cast beer as the cheap panacea of the masses, borders on offensive. Shame on you.

So now we’ve got to the numb of the issue: WA bars refuse to acknowledge that beer is a product someone next to stupid can make, produce cheaply and dispense exclusively to the proletariat for peanuts. Even Orwell’s 1984 couched it in more vivid terms when he said: ““So long as they (the Proles) continued to work and breed, their other activities were without importance… Heavy physical work, the care of home and children, petty quarrels with neighbors, films, football, beer and above all, gambling filled up the horizon of their minds. To keep them in control was not difficult.”

Who would have thought Orwell’s 1984 and you would have arrived at the same answer to get the workers their swill cheaper? It’s gambling isn’t it? It’s not the first time you’ve actually seriously suggested introducing institutionalised gambling into WA for the specific purpose of undercutting the cost of a beer in the pub.

Slow clap Ray. Because your idea of pokies in WA deserves a slow clap.

According to a Productivity Commission Report in 2010, there are at least 115,000 Australians who are directly and seriously harmed by gambling and another 280,000 experiencing significant risk. 400 suicides a year are attributed to gambling and three out of four people being harmed by gambling principally use poker machines.

But who cares – it could mean cheaper worker juice right?

Just when the Orwellian nightmare of greasing the labour mills with cheap piss appear to be within our grasp, you snatch it away with the suggestion that a web-based ‘watchdog’ to track the incremental pricing on beer in Perth might be a better solution.

It works for petrol right? The same must be beer because poor people buy petrol too! Just ask Joe Hockey.

And how could it not when the only barometer we need to measure the value of an experience is the price of a pint. Live in Mandurah but the cheapest pint of Super is in Bassendeen? Fuck the local lets go for a 40 minute drive! Who cares we can find marginally cheap petrol along the way!

See Ray, the problem is when you willfully ignore the economics that go into the price of your pint and boil everything that goes into serving you down to just the final price tag, you reduce the total value and meaning of the hospitality industry, what myself and my family do, to a value equation.

According to you it follows that:
My local offers a $0.50 cheaper pint so its better than yours.
Bush Chook is cheaper BrewDog so its obviously better.
A steak from Rockpool costs more than a quarter-chicken-and-chips from KFC so its clearly inferior.
A $13.50 pint a the Oxford is a rip off because I could have just drunk at home.

Ray I invite you down to our pub – the Dutch Trading Co at 243 Albany Highway – and I’ll gladly buy you a beer and talk to you about what it costs me and other operators before you even walk in the door. We have beers like Colonial Brewery‘s awesome local brews at $6 but don’t worry, I’ll be buying…

I care about the development of our industry and presenting our customers with options, including the best beer in the world. Like Brouwerij De Molen’s Tsarina Esra which is $18 a middy. Its expensive I know. But its probably the only keg in the country, shipped to us from the Netherlands where its brewed in a historic windmill in the middle of the country and can age up to 25yrs. Its beautiful, one of the best beers I’ve every had, but what would I know, I’m just a worker.

The one thing we can agree on is that value for money has to be clear and present at every transaction, otherwise the purchaser has every right to feel ripped off. But there is value for money in a great deal of Perth hospitality and it doesn’t have to involve jumping from one $10 steak-and-beer night to another.

If you want ingenuity, integrity, development, further investment, world’s best practices and engaging and thoughtful hospitality, then acknowledge the realities of being a retailer of a heavily taxed consumable in the most isolated capital city in the world instead of dismissing it as ‘blah, blah’.

If you don’t, then keep drinking at home.