John Collingwood: Beans on toast anyone?

Last weekend I had a ‘change mishap’ and had to go on a search for pound coins.

Gin Lane

What I saw in Newcastle, would be repeated up and down the country…It was bitterly cold, the ground was a sheet of black ice but the crowds were out in force. Girls were tip toeing around in 5 inch heels, unfazed by the plummeting temperatures, wearing next to nothing and more concerned about where they would be getting their next drink vs the onset of hypothermia.

I lost count with the amount of promo staff trying to entice me into their establishments, with the promise of free shots!  It was like a scene from the Inbetweeners movie, only 30 degrees colder. Would it be a delectable highland tequila…I think you know the answer to that.

Flyer in hand I walked into the bar.

What struck me was I was entering into a totally alien environment, places I had not visited since I was a teenager.  The chart music was blaring and the big groups of guys and girls were drinking what reminded me of the pints of ‘green monsters’ I used to serve at the Halls of Residence bar I worked in back in 1998. While standing at the bar, I could not help but check out what delights were on offer…apart from the free fluorescent blue shot voucher I had to redeem. Just so you know, I didn’t!

Treble Vodka & mixer for £2.50

3 for £5


9 shots for £5, that works out at 45p a shot, what sort of ‘vodka’ were these customers putting down their neck and more importantly how much would the bar have to sell to actually make any money?

This got me thinking, is binge drinking just a part of the British psyche? You only have to look at the famous picture of Gin Lane by Hogarth, to realise that this has been prevalent in our country for centuries.
Compared to the level of drunkiness in the 1750s, which tipped the scales at 14 gallons of gin a year for every man, women and child; we could be seen as being t total in comparison.

Seriously though, it was a real eye opener, as these are places I choose not to visit but seeing the amount of people that do…quantity vs quality seems to be winning! Therefore in such a price sensitive time we are living in now, how can we change these engrained opinions on alcohol and how we choose to drink it?

The Eureka moment

A couple of days later I was making some breakfast and decided to have some beans on toast (Heinz of course)…then I had a light bulb flash above my head. I love beans on toast, but I would really get bored if I ate it every day; but if needs must, I would, as it is cheap and serves a purpose.

We live in a day and age now where we have so many culinary choices. Breakfast can be anything from Eggs Benedict to Crunchy Nut Cornflakes. We have a portfolio of things to choose from that we feel comfortable eating and creating. However to the vast majority of the UK population, when it comes to their personal drinking portfolio…it is somewhat limited.

A fact that has stuck with me since my repping days, is that 65% of customers do not know what they want to buy until they get to the bar. But there lies the problem. If a customer has a limited personal portfolio of drinks in their repertoire, then they will default to what they trust and feel comfortable buying.  They will be blinkered and default to their ‘metaphorical beans on toast’…vodka and coke / lime & lemonade / orange juice, you get my point.

If customers are confident going out to restaurants and experimenting with different dishes without a raising an eyebrow, why is it that they don’t do the same in bars?

There are several factors – Bars have got to take some of the blame and I really do hope that the English government take a leaf out of the Scots and imposes a ban on all price promos, as it is just encouraging this disease to flow through the vains of our country.

The biggest stumbling block I foresee, is how do we educate the masses. Yes as bartenders, we do our research, try out new products and perfect our own creations, but in the mainstream bars and on a hectic weekend night, you can’t stand their asking a million and one questions to make your guest a perfect drink, it is simply impractical.

So that’s the thought I want to leave with you…how can we get customers to increase their personal portfolio of drinks?