Monday, January 24, 2011

Opening time

I am becoming increasingly disinclined to venture out in the evenings.

Savage winds seem to rage down from the north most nights, even when the days have been mild.  Most of my friends are away on holiday (or have left for good!).  And most of my favourite bars are not opening - at least not with any consistency.

Now, I sympathise with the difficulty of trying to run something like a bar business as an owner-manager, struggling to keep everything going almost singlehandedly.  And I sympathise with a disinclination to open early - or at all - when the weather is so inclement, and custom is so sparse.

But you need some kind of consistency and reliability about your opening policy.  You want to stop opening altogether on Sundays (Mondays, Tuesdays...) because there isn't enough business to make it worth your while?  Fine.  You want to start opening a bit later, at 7pm rather than 5pm or 6pm (or even at 7.30 or 8pm...)?  Fine.  But ADVERTISE your new opening times.  And then make sure you observe them as meticulously as possible.

You CAN'T just open whenever you feel like it - because, in no time at all, everyone will have stopped coming to your bar.

If we walk past a favourite bar that's usually open at 6pm or 7pm, and it's still not open at 7.30pm, we're going to assume that it will be closed all night.  There's really no point in opening up at 8.30pm - at least, not for those regular customers who always drop in early evening before heading off for a meal or a gig elsewhere.  Indeed, we'll probably assume - if it's in the slow first half of the week - that the owners have decided not to open at all on this day during the winter months.  And if it's during the busier second half of the week, we might well assume that the place is closed altogether; you really can't not open on time - even ONCE - on a Thursday, Friday, Saturday without people starting to think you might have gone out of business.

In fact, failing to open at a reasonable time, even once, potentially loses you A LOT of business (not just the business you might have got in that hour or two that you weren't open).  If a bar isn't open when I go to it, I'm going to go somewhere else.  I'll probably stay there all evening, and spend a shitload of money - and encourage my friends to come and join me there.  I might even start to like that somewhere else more than my former favourite bars, and elevate it to being my new default haunt.

If a bar is fairly regularly not open when I go to it (and I've had to go to some trouble to get there), I'm pretty soon going to give up on even bothering to check out whether it's open or not.

And if I've arranged to meet friends in a bar, and we've had to change our plans because that bar is mysteriously not open when we'd expected it to be open.... well, it's pretty difficult for me to persuade my east-side or south-side dwelling friends to come over to my part of town anyway; they're not going to have any truck with this particular bar any more (and this has happened three or four times now, just in the last few weeks).

A lackadaisacal approach to opening has always been my main problem with Ned's, the quaint little Aussie bar on Nanluoguxiang.  I like the folks there, but you just never know whether they're going to be open or not (especially early evening); and for that reason, regrettably, I have pretty much stopped going there - I probably only looked in on them a handful of times in the whole of last year.  Now, unfortunately, this disease has spread to a number of other bars in the area.

Bars - like trains - need to be RELIABLE.  If they're not, we'll find some other way of getting to our desired destination.

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