Friday, 16 January 2009

Where have all the customers gone?

I know the period after Christmas is traditionally the slackest time of the year, and many people must be feeling “credit crunched”, but even so I have been struck by the echoing emptiness of several pubs I have visited recently. The amount of food and drink sold can’t have covered the heating bills let alone paid the bar staff’s wages. I know this sounds depressing, but there does seem to have been a downward step-change in the level of custom in pubs away from the normal busy times of Friday and Saturday nights and (for food houses) Sunday lunchtimes. Even on Friday nights I’ve been in what to me are decent enough pubs that are well under half full. If most of the drinking space in pubs is lying unused for 90% of the time they are open, this must call into question their viability.

It also must have a “vicious circle” effect, as drinking in a near-empty pub is rather dispiriting, however good the beer is, and is likely to put people off going the next time. But I don’t think all those former customers are sitting at home at those particular times cracking open cheap cans of Stella, it’s more that social changes mean that for more and more people, visiting a pub is simply no longer part of their normal routine.

3 comments:

  1. Well, people who run the pubs are going to advertise their events or whatever they do best a bit better. I was in the Railway and the Thatched House yesterday evening. Both were packed; both advertise, offer something unique, and more importantly both provide excellent service.

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  2. Yes, to be successful, pubs need to do something distinctive and do it well, which both the Railway and the Thatched do.

    However, Saturday night is one of the "normal busy times" mentioned in my original post. I was in the Nursery last night at the CAMRA anniversary meal and it was heaving. The drop-off in custom is very noticeable, though, away from those times.

    How many customers would have been in the Railway or the Thatched at 12.30 on a Tuesday lunchtime? In the case of the Thatched, none, I suspect, as it would be closed.

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  3. The Nursery is another great pub. I would like to visit it more often but the range of beers is not usually above 5%. As a rule of thumb and preference, I operate on a volume-price ratio. So I tend not to go there that often these days. I predict that the story is going to be different in the Summer when I am more likely to drink more and make use of the green area out the back.

    I am unsure how valid the observation about Thatched House is. I am not saying that you are wrong or that I disagree. Also, I am not about to second guess the intentions of the landlord. I see this pub as concentrating on a specific kind of evenings and weekend customer. Arguably, Ye Olde Vic is similar in that it centres upon an evenings audience but attracts a different sort of person. As I say, the concentration is wholly different to that of the Thatched House.

    The Railway maintains “normal hours” and focuses on a specific kind of clientele, inclusive of those sorts who would frequent Ye Olde Vic. However, no cooked food is on offer at lunchtimes. This was not the case, even a few weeks back. I believe there is a franchised food contract available. I think when food becomes available again then it is going to be busier on a Tuesday lunchtime.

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