What France expects from its British pubs

Just as foreigners have a preconceived notion of what makes a typical café in France so the French have a fixed idea of what constitutes a traditional British pub.

Family-run British brewer and pub chain Charles Wells ran into this stereotype when it opened a ‘pop-up’ pub in Bordeaux last year.
The company’s France director Craig Mayes said: “We installed our beers and created a kind of funky look but customer reaction was disappointing.
“They said, ‘This isn’t an English pub. Where are the carpets? Where are the board games, where’s the dart board?’.” It’s one of only a few stumbling blocks the company has encountered in 30 years.”
Charles Wells was founded in 1876, in Bedford, England, and the move into France began with a business deal.

“We bought a piece of business from Allied Domecq. There were a lot of franchised pubs all over Europe that came with it. We sold off the others, but we thought this was a good route to market for our beers and retained the London Town in Toulouse and The Bombardier in Paris.”
That decision has proved successful — and surprising. “The initial reaction from French people wasn’t so much about the beer. People felt British pubs were quite different to French bars, yet the idea of a British pub in France was very popular.”

Today, Charles Wells owns and operates 13 pubs in Paris, Lyon, Montpellier, Toulouse and Bordeaux, all serving the company’s own beers, which are brewed in Britain and shipped across the Channel.
“Our strategy is to get to 20 pubs by 2020,” said Mr Mayes. “My desire is to expand cask into other pubs because customers love it.
“I’m working with guys in the brewery to understand how far cask beer can travel before it becomes unpalatable.

“If we can create refrigerated storage and transport and we can do the journey in a reasonable time, then my plan is to have cask right across the estate. It’s a work in progress.”
It is not only expats who enjoy the range of beers. Mr Mayes said: “In Paris, The Bombardier mix is 50-50 Brits and tourists, and local French. As for the rest, clients are 70-80% French.”
The rise of craft beers has delighted Mr Mayes. “Beer is going through a new age of interest. With the resurgence in craft beers, younger people are taking an interest.

“The French are used to cold fizzy beer. We’ve had to encourage them to try it and try it again and once they get the taste for slightly warmer, less fizzy ale, they enjoy it.”