the forum

30 November, 2007

To respond to the unanswered questions below, or to ask a reader's advice, simply e-mail:


Q My staff are clamouring for a Christmas party. What can we do that's both unusual and cheap?


The Revenue will allow you to lavish £150 of tax-deductible cash on each of your employees for Christmas entertainment . But you don't have to spend it at Christmas . Why not give

staff a cut of the Christmas profits and put

the money towards a fantastic blow-out in January, when hangovers are less likely to be a

problem for the business?

Judy, Humberside

Q Is it acceptable to sell bottled beers with slightly rusty caps?

A I've been offered discount stock with rusty caps and the beer inside has always been fine. As long as the bottle emits that familiar gasp of air when you

open it, you know the beer

is OK. Customers are understandably nervous

and I tend to

drink such stock myself or

offer it to regulars who

won't go

to the Environmental Health department.

Ron, Oxfordshire

Q Is a hibernating hedgehog a health hazard in my stock room?

A Yes - for the hedgehog. The poor creature is liable to get squashed by boxes and scalded by tea!

I can only assume the place is a bit of a dump and I'm guessing the hedgehog is sleeping on old cardboard . Many hedgehogs have fleas, but they won't be interested in you or your pets. Hedgehogs wake up a few times during hibernation and may

like some water and cat food, but don't give them milk. I suggest you get the poor thing removed by a local animal rescue service.

Gill, Wilts

Q I am not doing any Christmas promotions this year and won't even decorate the shop. Will my sales be higher, lower or the same as a similar shop which gets into the swing of things?

Ron, Oxfordshire

Q I'm creating a fine wine zone inside a cellar I've just opened up to the public. Does it matter that anyone over six feet tall can't stand upright in it?

Mike, Cheshire

Cans more suited to beer

Q Are cans doomed as a packaging medium for beer as consumers drift towards bottles instead?

A It would appear not. In fact in 2006, according to research by the British Beer & Pub Association, 31.2 per cent of UK beer was sold in canned form - the highest percentage ever recorded. In 1974, less than 6 per cent of beer was sold in tinnies.

But you're right in pointing out the growing popularity of bottles, which are also enjoying their highest

ever share of the beer market (15.3 per cent). Both formats are chiefly benefiting from the declining popularity of draught beer, which is experiencing an all-time low of 53.2 per cent.

If you're wondering why those figures don't add up to 100, it's because the bottles we just mentioned are all non-returnables. Today, just 0.3 per cent of beer is sold in returnable bottles, compared to 33 per cent in 1961.

Although cans are less fashionable , because of their commodity image and perceived "metallic" flavour they give to the liquid, they are actually more suitable than most bottles as they protect beer from being light-struck and going "skunky".

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English wine: a happy harvest for Christmas

All across England and Wales, vineyards are being harvested. Down winding country lanes come armies of welly-wearing conscripts wielding secateurs and buckets, ready to reap the rewards of our vines. Happily they come, their cheeks ruddy with pride. Half an hour later they’re crawling over muddy clods with lacerated hands, drenched in claggy juice and cold sweat, as if ploughing through an endurance race.

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