The price is right

Sometimes, when Roberto or one of his colleagues is rolling barrel after barrel of beer through the door of The Shakespeare on delivery day, I wonder what it's all about. It's an existential crisis of sorts, I suppose. There he goes, humping vast quantities of ale into the store room and I'm thinking "How can all these gallons of liquid sustain so much infrastructure?"

The beer factory, its machinery, the shop floor workers, the secretaries, the salesmen, the salesmen's vehicles, Roberto, his chums, their lorries and all their expenses, advertising, the metal barrels themselves, the cleaners, the exorbitant electric bills - the list of what goes into bringing a humble barrel of beer to our door is infinite. Then, once it's arrived, the expense involved still hasn't finished. Our rent, wages, bills, taxes, cleaning and maintenance - all of these things and more are sustained by the gallons of beer that slosh onto the premises each week. I suppose in raw materials - water and hops in essence - a pint is worth about 2 or 3 cents, so by the time we charge three euros fifty for it, there's a massive margin that's been introduced but, frankly, there really needs to be, what with all of that behind-the-scenes infrastructure to support.

A few years ago, I'd pay a couple of euros for a small bottle of Coke or something in a little back street bar and think "Blimey - that's a bit steep, sir." Not these days. Having seen what goes on in the vast underbelly of a business, I never question anybody's prices anymore.

"Eighty five euros for half a lager? Certainly, my man - lord knows the bills you must have to pay. There's five hundred, sir, keep the change, I insist."

Unless we're talking about one of those absurd restaurants that serve a bit of cress and grated cheese next to a humungous squiggly line of chef's sauce of the day for a zillion pounds, I've come to the conclusion that most places are charging precisely what they need to in order to pay everything back along the supply chain.

If ever I'm supping on a pint somewhere and the vaguest inkling of a thought occurs to me that it might be over-priced, I only need to think of Roberto's beaming face and the two small children he's told me about and suddenly the cost of the ale I'm quaffing seems very reasonable indeed.