Charlie Says

Charlie has written extensively for the press on the food & beverage industry and is also the subject of frequent articles on the sector and his achievements in business. Below are extracts from his regular column for the Propel newsletter.

  • Charlie McVeigh

Pint Please! Launching Project Pint...

Charlie McVeigh unveils his Project Pint campaign to combat the ‘fear of going out’

I’m calling it. The virus is over. And so is its more damaging corollary, the lock-down. The infection rate is plummeting, beaches are crowded, and urban pubs are buzzing with takeaway trade. Professor Sunetra Gupta – the UK’s leading expert since the defrocking of Neil Ferguson – says not only is covid-19 on the way out but lock-down itself makes us much more vulnerable to a genuinely dangerous Spanish Flu-type pandemic.

All that remains is for a visibly ailing Boris Johnson to work out how to extricate his divided government from the hideous web of fear and anxiety he has spun. For the moment, like desperate cultists trying to explain why the end of the world didn’t come, they are still doubling down on the messaging. Meanwhile our poorest children receive no education, our basic human rights are suspended, the host of newly jobless can be counted in millions, and our beloved hospitality industry stares into the abyss.

Seven weeks ago, a tweet from Mark Brumby of Langton Capital pleaded of ministers: “Destroy the economy or let 200,000 vulnerable people die? It’s a dreadful, dreadful choice and well above our pay grade. But one thing we do know. Don’t, whatever you do, do both.” Guess what, Boris went and did exactly that. The discharging of infected patients from hospitals into nursing homes to make way for the covid-19 surge that never came may be the stupidest, cruellest most self-harming decision ever taken by a government. It doubled the body count and probably will add a further month to the lock-down that is destroying our economy and society.

The result of all this is a nation cowering at home. Polls this week say almost half of the population believes the government is “underreacting” to the threat of the virus, with a further 34% saying lock-down measures are “proportional”.

Given the people led us into lock-down – I reckon the economy had effectively stopped a fortnight before the announcement – the people must lead us out. My view is hospitality has a vital role to play in removing FOGO (the Fear of Going Out) and replacing it with the more familiar FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). Mark Wingett, of Propel, went one better and coined JOGO (the Joy of Going Out) this week. Whichever, we need a plan that all can get behind.

Hardest hit in all of this are pubs, which don’t look like returning to full normality until next year. In a tweet of my own this week I suggested we replace Project Fear with Project Pint. This clearly struck a chord and I had a flood of emails and direct messages from operators and brewers asking how they could get involved. My challenge? Project Pint was nothing more than a figure of speech at that stage.

But following inspirational conversations with people such as Logan Plant (Beavertown Brewery founder), Peter Borg-Neal (Oakman Inns) and Kate Nicholls of UKHospitality, I am beginning to understand what it might be. A document will be circulated around the industry early next week but here are the three key points:

1. Pint please!

Using pub language Project Pint will remind the great British pub-goer of all the wonderful, visceral experiences that put the pub at the heart of British life. All messaging will be positive, and hospitable. Fear will not be mentioned, and nor will rent-free – this is not about our balance sheets, it’s about pub people.

2. Let the pub people speak!

The website and our social feeds will feature daily vox-pops from pub workers, brewers and pub-goers detailing all the many reasons why they love cold, foaming pints of draught beer and why they miss their local. Crucially, we will be an open-source, grassroots project that will give everyone a voice through the website and social media.

3. Free pint please!

Project Pint will look to forge a partnership between brewers and publicans so from mid-June we will be looking to get pub-goers to sign up for a free pint when pubs reopen. We’re not certain of the mechanic yet, but it can’t be beyond modern technology to work out something simple, fun and engaging where there’s free beer involved. To make this happen, we’ll need great people, lots of beer and a moderate amount of money. Last time I looked there are plenty of the first two in lock-down-world. The third, well, can we leave it that I may be in touch in the coming days?

Let’s see where this goes. Initial reaction from the people I have been in touch with is hugely enthusiastic and positive. One of the challenges faced by hospitality campaigners is finding a banner to unite around. I am hoping for pub owners, pub workers and pub-goers this will be that banner. The positive nature of the campaign may also help all of the industry to find its voice again. Pint please!

Charlie McVeigh is the founder of Draft House, and chairman of The Breakfast Club and Butchies

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