Tuesday, 24 January 2017

A sobering contrast

Last Saturday, as I reported here, I attended the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival for the Great Manchester Beer Debate. Now, I can’t say that I’m a great fan of beer festivals as a punter, but it was hard to fault this one and it certainly had the feel of a special occasion. However, tempting as it might be, it would be wrong to extrapolate from the healthy attendance and lively atmosphere in the hall that all was well in the world of beer.

The following Sunday lunchtime I called in at one of my local pubs for a couple of pints. This is a pub that does show TV football, but Southampton vs Leicester wasn’t going to pull in much of a crowd, and except for big matches they don’t put it on in every room, meaning it’s easy to escape from it. Plus, they don’t have any piped music as it would conflict with the sports commentary.

However, it was notable that there can’t have been more than about fifteen customers in the entire place. Now, being a miserable sod, I don’t really mind sitting on my own with my pint quietly reading the paper, but I’m only too well aware that isn’t healthy for the pub trade as a whole. No doubt someone will pipe up “Well, Mudgie, you will go in the old man pub. The crafty bar down the road would be buzzing with bright young things,” but, realistically, it wouldn’t be. The only pubs that would be anywhere near busy would be food-led ones.

Twenty years ago, though, that pub, while not standing room only, would have been pretty busy. Now it isn’t, and it tends to become a self-reinforcing cycle, as few people really want to sit in solitary splendour, and if that’s their experience they will be less likely to go next time. I wrote in the past how just going to the pub for a drink was increasingly becoming something that normal, responsible people just didn’t do any more, and my experience underlined that point.

You can easily get into a regular habit, but suddenly realise that you’re the only person still doing it. Sadly, it seems that routine, casual drinking in pubs now increasingly falls into that category.

39 comments:

  1. Well, why not find yourself a more regular hobby that doesn't involve going out supping?

    Something more healthy?

    You can join a Call of Duty Xbox live zombie team or something.

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  2. Spot on. Special occasion is a good description of MBCF, and it takes a special occasion (local beer fest, quiz, music) to get a crowd out to the local these days, particularly midweek. Whether drinking cask, Perroni or Carling, pubs noticeably quieter year on year.

    Martin Taylor

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  3. There's much you're correct with, but is there a danger of snapshotting here? I once went to the (excellent) Fat Cat in Norwich, and when we (my wife and I, bucking the trend by being a middle-aged couple out for a drink?) were the only customers- and then, throughout the afternoon (on a weekday), it gradually filled to standing room only. When I visited this pub there were only the five of us, but it's often rammed. Something we'd observed on the 100 pubs tour we did is snapshots can be odd.

    As we've all said before, the causes of pubs closing are complex, but generally, the better ones survive, and it's not neccesary to become a gastropub either, thankfully, or indeed to do anything but be welcoming and serve decent beer.

    As to the social change of going (or not) to the pub, there's some truth for sure, but amongst my friends and colleagues going to the pub (and not just to eat) is commonplace, the usual. It could be, of course, that I've skewed the sample by choosing friends that like what I like...

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    1. Yes, of course it is only a snapshot, but it's an increasing common situation. And, as I said in the linked blogpost, when you do come across a pub that still "works" in the old way, very often virtually all the customers are over 50.

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  4. About 5 years ago, I went to St Helens to assess a pub for Merseyside Pub of the Year. It was a two-roomed pub, with sport on in the large room for the 7 or 8 who were there, so I opted for the smaller room, as had two couples. After a few minutes, a barmaid wandered through and switched on the TV to the same match. It didn't occur to her that we may well have chosen that room because the sport wasn't on there. I wasn't impressed, and didn't give it a good score.

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    1. Odd, innit? I sometimes feel that my drinking companions and I are very odd: we go to the pub to talk (and I sometimes go for peace and quiet with a book), whereas some people seem unable to cope without a row.

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    2. I had similar experience in a multi-room pub which had a TV in every room. The others were sparsely populated too so no need at all to turn our TV on. I emptied my glass and left.

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  5. Are the only people that go in pubs going in there to "score" them?

    Or do pubs serve some other function, and are people there for other reasons?

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  6. Good to know the criteria upon which CAMRA chooses its pubs of the year awards.

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    1. What a silly comment! I am one member: I am not CAMRA (there are 180,000+ other members, you know). It failed in the customer service part of the scoring, which had several categories. I judged the beer and all other categories using the prescribed criteria.

      What a pity! I was beginning to think you had begun to grow up, Py.

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    2. No need to get defensive, I was just thanking you for your explanation as to how the process is carried out.

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  7. Sounds like another pub trampled by the legendary "elephant in the room".

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    1. Which elephant is that? That not all males like sport?

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  8. I reminisced on this very subject a few months back, trying to compare the pubs that I remembered as a youngster in the late-70's/early-80's and comparing them to what we have now.

    Of course, it is just my musings and viewpoint on the decline of the pub-trade. But I am sure that many could relate to it.

    http://jester-midnightmusings.blogspot.co.uk/2016/08/the-decline-of-pub-sports.html

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  9. If people are going to use the past we first have to determine whether the past you are claiming is accurate.

    In general relativity, space and time are in essence the same, and therefore the past is frozen us like a time-like dimension. You have what you understand to be standard causality.

    In quantum mechanics probabilities can be assigned to past events based on the present state of a system. The past changes according to events in the present or future and your memories of busy pubs may not be actual records of events but created by events in the present or future. Basically pubs were not busy in the past until something somebody will eventually do to have made them so.

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    1. Sorry, you lost me after 'If ..' ;-)

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    2. Basically pal, just cos you and Mudge remember pubs as being busy don't mean they were. You are creating the past from a myriad of possibilities which is as fluid as all the possible futures.

      The fact that for Mudge the past is rosey, but the future miserable is in a way kind of sad.

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  10. Twenty years ago, the pubs were full of genial punters enjoying a pint and a cigarette. The smokers were always the friendly ones who would talk to anyone, which made for a 'pub atmosphere'. So now the smokers (who were the majority in most pubs anyway) don't go, most of their non-smoking mates don't go either. No wonder most wet led pubs in the UK are like doctor's waiting rooms that smell of piss and stale beer. And no wonder they're empty.

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    1. You're obviously picking the wrong pubs then,there's still plenty of good add busy boozers out there.Personally I think the non smoking thing is being a little overblown, if you really like pubs and happen to smoke,why give up the pub just because you can no longer smoke in it, if that's the case the pub side of things couldn't have been that important in the first place.

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    2. Re the previous comment, Good and busy boozers, obviously.

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    3. Well, I've been going in pubs for forty years, and over that time I've seen with my own eyes the wet trade outside of Friday and Saturday evenings steadily diminish and thin out. The fact that on-trade beer volumes have halved since 1997, and are only about a third of what they were in the late 70s, rather bears this out. Vast numbers of pubs have closed, and those that remain, unless they've gone over wholly to dining, are often as quiet as the one I described.

      Yes, there are still some busy pubs, but a lot fewer than there used to be, and I'd challenge you to find a single busy wet-led pub in my neck of the woods on a Sunday lunchtime, where once most of them were.

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    4. You might also like to read this blogpost about Sunday lunchtime through the years. Not about the same pub, but the experience is much the same. And those customers haven't been displaced to other pubs, or other sessions - they've simply vanished.

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    5. @ Citra

      Because there isn't a great deal of pleasure to be had when instead of enjoying the quite delightful combination of a pint, a ciggy, and good conversation, you have to abandon your pint, abandon the conversation, and have to go outside in the pissing rain and freezing cold to have a smoke. I would have thought that was blatantly obvious, even to a non-smoker.

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    6. "if you really like pubs" - only CAMRA members actually "like pubs" in the abstract. Most people simply like the experience of going to pubs. If that experience is made significantly worse for them, then inevitably they're going to go less often, or give up entirely.

      I mean, if you had to stand out in the freezing cold and pissing rain to drink your pint, would you really go to pubs quite as much?

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    7. I'd give up smoking, I like pubs and beer too much.

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    8. Whoosh! Point spectacularly missed there.

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  11. The festivals 'healthy attendance' was approx. 10% down on last year.

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    1. I have no involvement in running it. All I was going on was that it seemed pretty busy to me, and one of the organisers said that attendances were healthy.

      If I had one criticism, it would be that (yet again) toilet provision was inadequate. They really need to hire in banks of Portaloos - it's not as if there isn't room.

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    2. If you consider that after a few beers most blokes piss every half an hour or so, and it takes about 3 minutes to take a piss, you probably need a toilet for every 10 attendees. I wonder if they met those ratios? Who is in charge of this thing?

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  12. I've been going to pubs since 1970. They were uusually very busy, vibrant places. Hugely enjoyable for a regular night out. Then in 2007 came the smoking ban. Soon pubs became dead with a few notable exceptions usually in the cities or large towns. I still go to the pub about twice a week but even on a Saturday night most pubs are fairly quiet. Smokers now are forced to drink at home or stand out in the cold. However i was in Copenhagen recentlyvand proprietor run bars permit smoking inside. Needless to say they are packed !

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  13. Lets be honest, the big difference between now and 40 years ago is that it is no longer socially acceptable for men to leave their wives and kids at home and spend the day in the pub. Nothing to do with smoking, nothing to do with prices. I could easily afford to spend the weekends leaning on the bar with my mates, I just have other responsibilities.

    U25s have been driven out of pubs by draconian anti-drinking policies, 25-45 year olds are all at home with the kids, which is why pubs are by and large full of old men wondering where everyone else is.

    Incidentally, I went in a pub on Sunday afternoon and it was full of people - all young couples with babies. It was like a pushchair convention. Perhaps this is the future?

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    1. Sounds like the seventh circle of hell to me!

      Also worth pointing out that much of the Sunday lunchtime drinking crowd in my local pub used to consist of mixed groups. It certainly wasn't a case of the blokes jugging back a few pints while 'er indoors cooked the Sunday dinner.

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  14. ''...that pub..would have been pretty busy. Now it isn’t, and it tends to become a self-reinforcing cycle..''

    This is a good point. I'd go further and there is a downward spiral sometimes where a pub will be less busy for whatever reason, opening hours are shortened because there is less money for staff, or standards slip, or the gaffer stops caring etc etc. Once in the spiral there's often only one way it will end up - usually closure.

    I really believe that more people would use the local pub if they had a good pub to use. Sometimes there is a badly run pub nearby and sometimes no pub at all.

    The responsibility rests with individual licensees for the most part. Pub owners also.

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  15. One of our locals is quickly heading downwards. Few customers and a worrying lack of cash. A real shame, but its not hard to see why, and the landlord has had plenty of advice from punters on how he might turn it round, but whether through obstinacy, apathy, or because the pub operator ties his hands, nothing changes.

    Change the beer offer, offer some simple food, give the place a lick of paint, change what you show on the telly. All this would have helped.

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  16. Apart from anything else I think that getting the basics right is the most important thing.
    This means
    1. good drinks offer
    2. appropriate food
    3. friendly service
    4. comfy nice decor
    5. clean toilets
    6. open when you say you will

    Amazing how many can't do this

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  17. It's an interesting question as to what extent the overall health of the pub sector would be increased if pubs were, on average, better run. I addressed the subject in this blogpost, which strangely has never received any comments. My conclusion was "not very much", as the decline of the pub trade has largely been driven by wider social factors.

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  18. I've just read that old blogpost. I accept your point that there are wider issues at play than just pub quality but I still think it plays a big part in pub's general decline.
    For what it's worth I think Spoons are part of the problem, but I won't go into that now.

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  19. Humans are creatures of habit. Once they break a habit the non-participation itself becomes the new habit. Taking the question of Sunday lunchtime young males who formerly were the mainstay of pub trade have lost the habit of regular visits. The scheduling of live football on Sundays means that many will choose to attend the games or watch at home with cheap supermarket beers. That, coupled with the the increased costs of keeping teams going and worsening facilities due to council cuts means there are far less Sunday League football teams nowadays = a lot less players looking to slake their thirsts post match.

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    1. Yes, the post I linked to above referred to the rise of televised football, alongside Sunday trading, as amongst the reasons people had got out of the habit of the Sunday lunchtime pint.

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