These are tough times for pubs. Declining footfall, rising costs. Regulation and extra scrutiny from licencing authorities and representative groups. Why would anybody want to open a pub when the waters have never been so full of sharks? To open a pub that within six months is shortlisted for your CAMRA branch pub of the year is pretty good going. To be acclaimed for offering a wide range of top quality cask ales alongside the best of Belgium and Germany. To have received the benediction of members of the blogerati. All good stuff. All good messages for drinkers keen for a new experience. Gets the word out. Gives your place the feel of a Destination Pub. Can't have too many of those, even in London.
Now, suppose your pub is included on those listings sites. Good, right? They have directions from public transport, maps. Pick a postcode, do a search, bingo. They do have drawbacks, though. Some of these sites carry reviews. "One man's meat...", and all that. Then, some of them have ratings. So, good? Nope, sometimes, it's bad.
Cask Pub & Kitchen in Pimlico has been open since August of last year, and in that short time has achieved all of the stuff I mentioned up top. I try and pop in every week or so. It's the best ale pub close(ish) to where I live. I like the pub, and I like the people running it. Call that a declaration of interest.
There seems to be something rotten occurring on one of these pub review sites, Beer In The Evening (BITE). They've removed Cask from some listings, removed over 200 reviews and rating points for the pub which they say were "fake", and, more seriously, have alleged that Cask staff were posting reviews of other pubs with low scores in order to improve their own position. I caught the end of all this a week or so ago, when Martin Hayes at Cask was posting rebuttals to these allegations at three on a Saturday morning, all apparently to no avail.
I contacted BITE for comment, and to ask how they resolve these situations. They told me that they couldn't comment on individual pubs. Fair enough, I'm just being nosy and it's none of my business. What is worrying for Cask is that they can't find out what is going on either. Martin says all emails and calls have been ignored, and reference to his pub has been expunged from any reference to the West London CAMRA shortlist. He is in the Kafkaesque position of trying to refute charges without knowing who his accusers are, or being able to put his case. In the meantime, his pub is subject to snide comments about ratings fraud on the BITE forums, and there's no way he can stop any reputational damage beyond expecting site moderators to do their jobs.
I don't know much about BITE, except that they are owned by a company which operates dating websites. They have policies with regard to offensive or hateful posts and reviews, but unless the site has robust moderation there is the opportunity for reviewers with a grudge to put the boot in. I suppose they'd say their processes work, but it seems Cask can't get a hearing. That to me is a weakness in their process.
It might be a small corner of the world of beer, but in these straitened times for pubs, having to try and find a way through this kind of crap means less time to devote to the business. I for one, am glad to have an (almost) local like Cask and will continue to patronise it. And as for pub listings sites? Bite me.
You can still find Cask on the BITE site - look up any other Pimlico area pub, and it'll be shown as a nearby pub, or search under anything.