Consumers' group urges publicans to end 'cinderella' price hikes

Publicans should show some seasonal goodwill and end the post midnight practice of hiking up drink prices in Dublin’s pubs and clubs, according to the Consumers’ Association.

Publicans should show some seasonal goodwill and end the post midnight practice of hiking up drink prices in Dublin’s pubs and clubs, according to the Consumers’ Association.

Dermott Jewell, Consumers’ Association chief executive, claimed the ’Cinderella Syndrome’ defied logic by allowing pub owners to penalise loyal punters.

Mr Jewell accepted publicans were hit hard by the smoking ban, but he said the gesture would go far in boosting consumer faith in the trade.

“It defies the logic of business, and good business at that,” he said. “What we are looking at is a downturn in turnover, and it’s extraordinary that they can’t see the reality and positivity of introducing reductions for customers willing to throng pubs and clubs.”

With the Office of the Director of Consumer Affairs (ODCA) vowing to crack down on traders in breach of price display laws in the new year, it is hoped the move could leave the Cinderella syndrome no more than a myth.

A random spot-check of pubs across Ireland in the run-up to Christmas revealed the level of compliance by publicans to the Retail Price Display Order 1999 left a lot to be desired.

Out of 189 pubs visited by ODCA inspectors only 139 (74%) complied with the law. During 2004, eight licensed premises were successfully prosecuted, but after the latest survey at least 12 more premises will find themselves in court in the new year.

Mr Jewell said stringent check-ups from both the Competition Authority and the ODCA could end the exploitation of revellers once and for all.

“It means we need a whole new form of inspection, and these inspectors are going to have to take the form of consumers who take account of prices,” Mr Jewell said.

“Let’s be honest there aren’t enough inspectors to take care of that practice, this is where we, the consumer, need to take control ourselves.”

Jay Burke, Irish Nightclub Industry Association chairman, defended the midnight price change. He said the two-tier pricing system was a justifiable surcharge to cover added costs for insurance, security, staffing and special exemption orders for late bars.

“It’s very clear why that exists, if you’re working until 3am in the morning instead of 11pm at night you expect extra for that,” Mr Burke said.

“The public may enjoy the image of the fat, rich publican but there are many others who are not doing so well.”

Mr Burke claimed the seismic change in the pub trade over the last year had left the industry in terminal decline. He said with one pub for every 400 people in Ireland any further cuts in profits would leave the property market swamped with unsaleable pubs.

He also called on breweries to cut their profit margins allowing publicans to pass on the savings to punters.

Both the Licensed Vintners’ Association and the Vintners’ Federation of Ireland said they could not comment on pricing matters. The groups are legally barred from advising publicans on setting prices for drink in pubs and nightclubs.

Figures released in the last couple of months revealed that drink prices in Dublin were on average 14.5% higher than in other parts of the country.

Mr Jewell said there was no excuse for this, with the city offering a much bigger customer base than elsewhere, and high demand for services through the tourist trade.

“I feel no sorrow for them whatsoever,” he said.

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