Publicans learn how to bolster profits without pouring a pint

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PUB LANDLORDS flocked to a trade show this week - to find out how to squeeze more cash out of thirsty customers.

At the Pub, Club and Leisure Show they learnt how to collect 20p for a 1p phone call, how to sell 6p-worth of nuts for 20p and how to charge pounds 2 for a 65p hot dog. In an unashamedly commercial exercise at Olympia in west London, dozens of stands offered everything from table football to jelly babies, skittles to flashing millennium lights, karaoke to horse- racing.

On the BT stand, publicans and club owners were shown pay phones that enable them to charge anything they like for a call. At weekends, for instance, 20p can be charged for a 1p call.

Chris Hughes, managing director of ToyVend, which markets vending machines, said: "Let's c0ut through the crap about how beautiful the machines are. They make a lot of money out of it. That's why most people are here. They are not interested in what they are buying particularly - they want to make more money."

ToyVend's pistachio nut machine makes 70p profit for every pound fed into it, said Mr Hughes. That's if the publican sticks to the recommended 18 nuts. But a tight-fisted publican can easily adjust the machine to give even fewer. It does happen, particularly in tourist honeypots, Mr Hughes said.

The Rollover company was there selling a new-style hotdog machine for pounds 395 and promising pubs "fantastic margins". The company estimates that by selling 30 hot dogs a day for pounds 2, a landlord can rake in almost pounds 22,000 in a year, of which almost pounds 15,000 is profit. Each hot dog costs the landlord only 68p.

Futbolin, which sells and leases table football machines, said it was doing good business. Jordi Rodriguez, a director, said: "Anything to do with football these days ... you're on to a winner." The company shares profits 50-50 with publicans.

Interfax Leisure was offering portable skittle alleys, which it described as a "proven profit booster". Its pamphlet boasts: "A beer and skittles night greatly increases revenue through sales of food and drink."

John Tomlin, a director of the show, which has been held at Olympia for the past 12 years and last year attracted 6,500 visitors, said the commercial nature of the exhibitors was inevitable.

He said the industry, like any other, was doing its best to offer as much choice to the consumer as possible. "Business is commercial and is run for profit. No one's going to say that is not the case. Unless an industry takes every opportunity to look at the trends within that sector, it is not going to be able to give people the best choice and the customer will end up being short-changed."

Jack Cherry, landlord of the Station Inn in Gravesend, runs what he calls a ''youngsters' pub'' with big-screen TV, slot machines, karaoke, pool tables and bouncy castle. "You can't have a pub that just sells drink nowadays,'' he said. ''You have to look at every aspect of making money. We don't charge kids to use our bouncy castle, but the kids bring the mums in and the mums brings the husbands in.

''But you have to get the beer right to be in with a chance.''