Earlier this week, Boak & Bailey did a very stimulating blogpost entitled Pubs Need Casuals, Not Stakhanovite Drinkers, in which they ask whether a major reason for the decline of pubs is that people are visiting them much less just for the occasional pint or two.
This is a point I have often made myself in the past in posts such as Whatever happened to pubs?, Socially unacceptable supping and, from the very early days of this blog in 2008, Demise of the casual drinker.
The reasons behind this can be broken down into a number of categories, but basically it boils down to one issue. Whereas once it was seen as normal for moderate drinking to be woven into the fabric of everyday life, we have become increasingly censorious about it, and it is now seen as something that has to be ringfenced from all responsible activity. “What? You’ve had a lunchtime pint? You’ll have to write off the rest of the day, then!” As I said in one of the linked posts:
Overall, we as a society drink a bit more (maybe around 10%) than we did in the late 70s, but our relationship with alcohol has changed. It is no longer something to be enjoyed in moderation (and often with a vague sense of naughtiness) as part of everyday life, but something to be consumed more deliberately when other responsibilities can be set aside. People place far more emphasis on not touching a drop in “normal” situations than they used to. Just “going to the pub”, without involving a meal, is no longer an acceptable leisure pursuit in polite society.Realistically, this is not going to change until general social attitudes change. Nothing lasts forever, but I can’t see much chance of that happening in the near future. It certainly isn’t a question of pubs trying to make themselves more appealing – they were far busier in the past when in many respects they were much less appealing.
There’s an implicit question in Boak & Bailey’s piece that “if people say they like pubs, why don’t they visit them more?” but that’s rather missing the point. Many people would say they like local post offices and bank branches, and traditional butchers, but they’re not going to visit them just for the sake of it if they haven’t got a valid reason to do so. Boak & Bailey are pub enthusiasts who see going to pubs in itself as an interesting leisure activity. So am I, and bloggers such as Martin Taylor and Simon Everitt. But the vast majority of potential pubgoers don’t see it that way. As I said in the comments, a lot of pubgoing revolves around ritual and routine. Take that away, and many will no longer see any point.