Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Getting down wiv da kidz

Over the years, brewers have perceived many threats to the viability of their business, often associated with younger customers shunning pubs for more attractive alternatives. There have been the talkies in the 1930s, the rock’n’roll coffee bars in the 1950s, the 1960s counter-culture and the 1990s rave movement..

At times, they’ve tried to fight back, as with the late 60s “trendy” renamings and refurbishments, and the mid-80s vogue for “fun pubs”. However, these things have never stood the test of time, illustrating the point that if you go along with one short-term fad, it won’t be long before the next one comes along. I always associate the fun pub with rolled-up jacket sleeves and the Escort XR3i.

More recently, it has been widely observed that there has been a general decline in alcohol consumption, most notably amongst the younger age group, and that the growth of social media has reduced their interest in socialising in pubs. Clearly this is a concern to pub operators, and Marston’s have been conducting a Pub of the Future project to work out how they can respond to it.

Some of the responses aren’t exactly surprising:

  • “the restrictive nature of pubs puts me off”
  • “the traditional food served doesn’t appeal to me”
  • “light and airy is definitely the way forward” (I can see where this is heading - Ed)
  • “the addition of relevant technology into the pub will entice and engage a younger customer”
However, a major note of caution must be sounded over this. There is always a risk that deliberately setting out to appeal to younger customers will alienate older age groups, while coming across as patronising to the target market. And asking people “what would you like to see in pubs?” is very different from “what would actually make you go to the pub more often?” and is often more virtue-signalling than genuine market research.

Appealing to the young is a real challenge for pub operators, but history suggests that a conscious attempt to attract them is doomed to failure. It is better to see what actually works on the ground and try to replicate that.

It doesn’t necessarily follow that pubs have to be modern to attract younger customers. In my student days in Birmingham, the Great Stone was the most olde-worlde pub in Northfield, but had the youngest clientele. And recently in Durham I was struck by the sight of groups of students participating a a pub quiz in Sam Smith’s resolutely traditional Colpitts Hotel. They even might find it a novelty to visit a pub that doesn’t have wi-fi.

Does any “modern” pub interior from the 1960s still survive? But plenty do that were already old-fashioned then.


  1. I am surprised none of the respondents said:

    "being hassled every time I go into the pub to get a drink by being asked for ID over and over again and feeling, as a consequence, patronised and belittled"

    Or perhaps they did say this and it has been overlooked.

    The whole 'challenge 18/21/25' bollocks is what's putting youngsters off pubs for casual visits. I was part of the last generation that was allowed to go in the pub and drink under-age so long as you looked the part and behaved yourself (which also, by extension, meant making sure anyone you were with did the same). The local police used to turn a blind eye if the pub was run by a guv'nor who did their job properly. Now that habit-forming avenue has been cut-off, is it any wonder there are less youngsters going to the pub...?

    Yes son, you can have your head blown off for queen and country or go ahead and add an extra hungry mouth to the population, but you can't get a pint down your local...

  2. I am I guess a generation or so ahead of Quinno and have been drinking in pubs since I was 14 (1974), never had any real trouble getting a drink and only once asked if I was old enough,by then I was 24 and a decade into pubbing,I put it down to the landlord being a silly old git.But now as Quinno points out the slightest hint of baby faced freshness is challenged,I dont know if it would have put me off of pubs,it would certainly piss me off.

  3. Why do pubs have to "stand the test of time" or any such BS? Why not tart them up to appeal to one segment then in ten years time, tart them up again? Keep changing them to move with the times. Maybe not like your clobber wardrobe, but you know, like most other peoples, yeh?

    It's a business appealing to a constantly changing demographic. Sometimes I wonder, is it the style of contemporary pubs you don't like or the idea of change? Does a pub, unchanged for 40 years, allow you a moments respite from the entropic truth of the universe, with only the peeling wallpaper hint at decay?

    Having said that to wind you up, the last two commentators hit the nail on the head. Young people are unwelcome in many pubs. It's a hospitality industry not a beer shop. Just as kicking smokers out by the bins isn't hospitable, the way under 25s are treated is nothing short of rude.

    I've seen many cases where bar staff after a shift of being condescended to by shitty customers, see an opportunity to condescend to a punter. You can get away with it with younger punters. You can't with older. It isn't just being carded. You can ask politely with "Sorry pal, I have to ask for ID". Then a thank you rather that a grunt when its shown. Rarely see it done politely. It's more often than not very abrupt.

    Pubs were never about the drinking. They were shared spaces. I liked pubs when I was young enough to live with parents or in Uny halls or even in shared houses. Pubs lost their appeal once I had my own home. The kids have obviously found something better than pubs. Not difficult considering how crap most pubs are. A lazy industry that have never been customer focused. On line video games are the new pub. Fighting is far safer.

  4. I like socialising with a variety of different groups of mates, and the idea of going to each other's houses just seems strange and awkward. So I end up in one pub or another maybe 3-4 times a week.

    I don't really understand how or why other people don't do this. What do they do instead? Do they just not socialise?

  5. Py, if the people in my office are anything to go by, the answer is no - they don't go out very often at all. Perhaps my staff aren't the most representative sample, but if they are, then it seems sitting in the living room watching the various soaps is a normal evening. Many people go out about once a month and that's it.

  6. I think py falls into the trap of assuming most other people are like him.

    Very often people get out of the habit of pubgoing when they settle down and have kids. And, in my observation, apart from Friday nights, groups of friends meeting up in pubs to socialise is a lot less common than it once was. It's noticeable how a high proportion of CAMRA activists are single, childless blokes.

    I would say a lot of people now tend to go out for a meal to socialise rather than having a pub session.

  7. So you are saying people simply don't socialise anymore? God what a pathetic lonely existence. No wonder there are so many divorces. No wonder we are all becoming hopelessly obese.

  8. Not at all, Py, I think the suggestion was people have found nicer places to socialize than pubs.

    A while back I joined a gym. I was struck by how much it was a social environment of regulars, many turning up just to socialize with others and do little actual exercise. I guess it made them feel virtuous and healthy.

  9. There are no nicer places than pubs.

    As much as I like my house, its doesn't have sky sports, draught beer, a pool table and a bevvy of attractive students.

    Going to the gym is fine, but its a shit place to socialise. You can't relax and chat freely when you're trying to bench press 80kg without dropping them on your head. Surely you socialise AFTER the gym? That's what I do.


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