Service is the “new battleground” for pubs, and an area where the sector has not necessarily improved noticeably since the 1970s, Fuller’s chief executive Simon Emeny told the Future Pub Conference.

Emeny said operators “wax lyrical” about their capital projects, “but in reality great service from genuinely nice people is what our customers crave over everything else”.

He said most facets of pubs have “improved immeasurably” since the 1970s, but added: “To me I’m not sure service necessarily has. I think that service for this industry is the new battleground, and it’s service where I think this industry has the most work to do.

“I think one of the drawbacks of the pub of today is we’ve lost the spontaneous, personal touch and in many cases replaced it with bland, pre-scripted conversations and disengaged, disinterested staff.

“We’re working harder than ever in this area because we think it’s going to be key over the next six years. We at Fuller’s are not a scripted, branded pub operator. We run a lovely collection of 400 characterful pubs and we want our staff to have the personality to match this character.”

Emeny said pubs “haven’t made full use of technology” and, highlighting the difficulties of getting served in a busy pub, said they still “make it very hard for our customers to spend their money”.

“They have to fight their way through a busy pub. They’re going to queue at the back bar. After they’ve waited for quite a long period of time and lost their lovely position in our sun trapped garden, they’re going to fumble for payment. And that’s before we give them the honour of exchanging drinks for some of their hard earned cash. How strange does this sound?”

Emeny added: “I think the winners over the next few years… will be the ones that find new technology to get a drink into these lads’ hands without moving or opening their wallets. And I think that’s possible.”

He said the standards of competition in the pub sector is “ever improving”, and added: “If I was a restaurant operator at the moment, I would be really worried. I think it’s no coincidence that if you follow the Peach Tracker pubs consistently outperform restaurants.

“The smoking ban has given well run pubs the opportunity to cater for a wider range of occasions. The gap between a premium pub and a restaurant has become ever more blurred.”