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However, as the off trade snaps at the heels of publicans’ business, vintners hoping to stem the decline have woken up, smelt the coffee and introduced a number of new initiatives to boost footfall.

As the old adage goes, when the going gets tough, the tough get going and it has been heartening to see the wealth of new ideas floating around the trade in the last year, which are geared to improve standards and increase sales.

It came as a great disappointment however when Licensing World brought guests to one of our favourite pubs for Sunday brunch recently. Regarded as part of a new breed of licensed promises, the pub is lead by a progressive bunch who bought in consultants to market the bar, developing a distinct brand to appeal to a chic target audience. In terms of on trade pizzazz this pub had it all – a wide and impressive range of drinks, a fantastic wine menu and a truly excellent and reasonably priced food offering all served up in slick surroundings which offered comfort and oozed style.

Imagine our surprise then when after a few months absence we revisited the haunt and had what was possibly one of our worst experiences in an Irish pub in years. The stylish design and attractive staff were still there, as was the impressive menu. What was lacking though was the most vital ingredient needed in a successful pub – good service.

We were neglected, ignored and forgotten about. Food was cold, unappetising and frequently not what we ordered. Drinks were sent back on numerous occasions and staff came across as inadequately trained and hopelessly disinterested. Investigation among customers in the neighbourhood revealed a similar history of appalling service.

We are aware that when developing the pub the licensees went several times over budget. The smart surroundings, branded menus and customer cards, chic crockery, stylish uniforms and seriously luxurious couches all scream of a significant financial investment. What shows no sign of attention however, is service and we wonder would owners have been better off focusing a little less on the image of the bar and a little more on staff training?

Bearing our experience in mind we chose to look at service and training in our Cover Story this month. We found that in today’s turbulent market one of the best ways of boosting trade is by providing unrivalled customer care. As hospitality consultant Conor Kenny tells us: ‘The pub is like a theatre. You can have the best sets, backdrops and lights, but without people – the actors and audience – it is dead. In pubs, the audience is the customer, if your staff aren’t acting to the best of their ability then you’re in trouble.’ The proof is in the pudding, as our guests on the ill-fated brunch all declared that they would never darken the offending pub’s door again.

Our experience is an ominous warning for publicans. You can have the sleekest pub in town. But if you don’t provide the right service you’re in serious trouble. Publicans and staff might spend all their time dreaming up scheme for attracting customers through the door, but if you can’t back your promises up with good service them you might as well call it a day. The time has come to get back to basics and give punters what Irish pubs are renowned for the world over – a warm fáilte and excellent customer care.

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