Monday, 11 June 2018

Looking for a role

Phil of Oh Good Ale has recently been recounting his experiences doing the local CAMRA Mild Magic trail. In his concluding post, he makes some very thoughtful observations about the current state of the pub trade.

So, what’s going on out there? Pub-going is changing; like Spinal Tap, its appeal is becoming more selective. The progressive denormalisation of alcohol and social drinking, as a part of everyday life, is continuing to drive pub-going numbers down – or rather, it’s ensuring that losses in pub-going numbers (which are inevitable with social and cultural changes, plus the march of time) aren’t being made up by equal numbers of new drinkers. There is a new breed – or a number of separate, partially overlapping new breeds – of drinker; it’s not just a few hundred hipsters, but on the scale of the population as a whole their numbers are tiny. We can get a false impression from looking in the wrong place, I think. People come from miles around to destination bars in the town centre (and Chorlton), and those bars get pretty crowded at times – but if they’re in town, those people aren’t drinking in the pubs where they live. Thanks to a range of social changes, many of them positive, pubs have lost what used to be their steady clientele (defined roughly as “every unmarried male over the age of 14 and a large proportion of the married men”) – and people who know their Beartown from their Beavertown aren’t going to fill a gap that size...

...There are places where an old style of pub-going doesn’t seem to have gone away, but there are many others where it seems to have died completely, leaving big multi-room pubs waiting for a clientele that isn’t to come back (or not more than a couple of times a week)...

... That’s the world we’re in now, pretty much; unless that wider trend towards denormalisation can be reversed, the pub industry’s going to be facing lean times – or rather, even leaner times.

This echoes several of the points I’ve made in the past in posts such as this and this, that:
  1. The “denormalisation” of drinking alcohol, especially in a social setting, is one of the key factors in the decline of pubs

  2. People increasingly see going to the pub for a drink, if they do it at all, as a distinct leisure activity in its own right rather than something woven into the fabric of everyday life

  3. “Use it or lose it” is a simplistic and not very helpful statement. The problem isn’t so much existing pubgoers visting less, but demographic churn not replacing them with a new generation
While some pubs, in specific locations, catering to specific markets, continue to thrive, many others, even if still open, are all too visibly “running on empty”.

22 comments:

  1. There are a few micropubs in Peterborough that are really trendy with the pre prandial, post office young crowd, happy to buy beers, lagers and ciders at London or London plus prices. But they are only there for a couple of hours then drift off home. Do they go out later locally? Can't say, but I do know a few young farmers and they are adopting the roles of the older farmers and patronising their locals or adopted local pubs regularly not just end of the week. I have a mate who runs a rural pub. He is very busy Friday and Sunday nights and all Sunday afternoon with food and drinks. Saturday evening isn't quiet but not roaring. I tend to like the early evening before dinner as oposed to the 20.00-22.00 slot but it varies. I find myself going into loads of new pubs (to me) because of the brewing, the beer festivals, the time of year and the like. A good pub, with good beer and good choice and pleasant landlord/landlady and also bar staff can get along just fine it seems. They still have pull to get the drinkers in especially if complimented by good food that isn't too pricey. I was in Washington DC. Found a great bar near the hotel and kept going back there. Why? It served draught Blue Bass. Hadn't seen this in the UK for years but here it was. Just like it used to be. I voted with my feet. Always partial to Blue Bass.

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    1. "Denormalisation"? By whom, and amongst whom?

      I haven't seen any serious evidence of it amidst the generations of our family and friends.

      Sure, some priggish health journos write as if it were so, but that's not quite the same.

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    2. You must lead a very narrow and sheltered life, then.

      Look at any office. How often do the workers go out to the pub for lunch? And, when they do, what proportion of them have an alcoholic drink? Now compare that with thirty years ago. That's denormalisation for you.

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    3. One could, with equal justification, call it "normalisation" or "re-normalisation". One doesn't have to be a priggish health journalist to argue that there is nothing normal or desirable about the entire staff of an office being mildly fuddled and thus inefficient for half the day.

      The change may be bad for the pub trade but that doesn't make it bad in the greater scheme of things. The introduction of the motor car a century ago was very bad news for farriers, livery stables, hay merchants and cab drivers but overall it was a good thing.

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    4. That's not "denormalisation", Mudge, it is "Americanisation", of work contracts, which, like in the good ol' US of A, now generally forbid drinking during the working day.

      It happened at my last firm, which previously had enjoyed quite a jolly beer culture. (It folded shortly after the ban too.)

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    5. Even if you agree with it, it's still denormalisation as it narrows the range of opportunities when people will consider an alcoholic drink in a pub, and thus reduces their trade. And if you believe that a pint or two will make you "mildly fuddled" all afternoon you are following the line of the anti-drink lobby that any consumption of alcohol has to be strictly ring-fenced from all responsible activity.

      It always seems distinctly hypocritical for people to bewail the decline of pubs while at the same time cheering on many of the factors that have made it happen.

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    6. If you're going to talk about "denormalisation", then that has to relate to what people at large consider to be normal. I see no evidence that they (here in the UK) now think that having a beer is abnormal, it's just that they are often now forced to obey Americanised employment contracts. The 1730 rush to the pub seems to have increased if anything in recent years where I go, arguably as a result. The Septics were always a bit low church in these matters anyway.

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    7. But very many pubs have reported a significant fall in their after-work trade. So where is "where I go"?

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    8. Generally I go to pubs in the fine cities of Britain, or in the comfortable parts of the countryside. I don't use many in small provincial towns or in the suburbs, and I accept that these are the more likely to be struggling.

      One thing seems clear to me though. That is, that as our ties with the Continent diminish, the UK will become ever more influenced by that land over the pond, famous for Prohibition and for bullying employees, rather than by say, the French, the Belgians, and the Italians, with their lunchtime culture, and with less draconian terms and conditions for employment.

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    9. So, just as I thought, your experience is narrow and unrepresentative of the wider picture.

      Anyway, your final sentence reveals you for who - and what - you are. Good bit of trolling, but goodbye pal!

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    10. Re:Peterborough, I really noticed how quiet the town centre pubs were at 8pm while I've dropped my wife at the station over last few months. As you note, Bumbles and Puzzles, as well as the Oakham Tap have been quietish after a short burst of post-office activity. And of course, the old estate pubs are dying fast. Any trade more likely to be taken up by casual dining places than new pubs. Yes, that is pessimistic. Martin

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    11. Yes, those who spend most of their drinking life inside the "beer bubble" really don't appreciate (or choose to turn a blind eye to) just how much the wider pub trade has been hollowed out.

      You're confusing me now by pretending to be your son ;-)

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    12. I can't post on your blog under my own account, possibly because I don't know my own password. Think of it as my alias ! Martin

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    13. Sorry about that, but as you know Blogger have discontinued the OpenID feature, which allowed you to comment using your Wordpress account, and for the time being I've turned off unregistered posting in an attempt to deter my very persistent troll.

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    14. It's also confusing as I have another regular commenter called Matthew whose tone of voice is quite different from yours.

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  2. "The “denormalisation” of drinking alcohol"

    Demonising, surely?

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    1. I think the two are distinctly different concepts. "Demonising" implies that it is bad in all circumstances, whereas "denormalisation" means that it is still grudgingly accepted, but not regarded as part of normal day-to-day activities.

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    2. I'm pretty sure the modern temperance brigade think that it is bad in all circumstances but they moderate their language to let them keep chipping away at each aspect of drinking alcohol.

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  3. The ship has sailed. It is what it is. Things ain't going back. You can always convert a chippy or boopkies into a pokey microbar for the 3 or 4 that still wanna pub it.

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    1. He's right, again. Four people in a micro, four handpumps = happy CAMRA, loads of press. Four basic keg boozers closed - no-one cares.

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  4. When I used to go to the USA on business, having conducted said business in the office, I would often be taken to lunch. Oh, the looks of disapproval I got for having a couple of beers or glasses of wine with the meal. Especially in California. And back then you could smoke so after the meal I would light up a smallish cigar. That would not only offend my lunch companions but several tables nearby too. It was perfectly legal back then. I just played the ignorant foreigner card and won them over with my wonderful British accent. I have never fought shy of drinking at lunchtime. But there again in the afternoons I wasn't taking any business decisions so never a problem. You get this nonsense over in the UK now. Fortunately as my own boss and as I'm usually in a pub it is no matter but I do not drink water in a pub. However, I am always mindful of the laws regarding driving. So I get my business partner to drive the delivery van! Simples. Mines another pint.

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  5. As I said to Pete Brown the other night, I can’t control which pubs stay open or which ones wither on the vine. But the ones I choose to frequent can’t just ignore me when I walk up to the bar, pull a pint like a girl, serve it in a shitty glass and let me sit down at a table with dozens of spent glasses and empty crisp wrappers on it.

    I want badges glasses - tulip, preferably.

    I want civil staff.

    I either want tasteful music, or none at all.

    And I don’t give a monkey’s chuff what the beer decides to call itself. Taste is all.

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