CAMRA have stated their intention not to include any information on pub opening hours in the 2021 Good Beer Guide, which is due to be belatedly published at the end of October. The reasoning behind this is that, in the wake of the Covid lockdown, many pubs will be operating different or reduced hours and, given the impossibility of resurveying every pub, the information would thus be extremely unreliable. No details at all are arguably better than incorrect details. This is only planned to be a temporary measure, and the aim is to restore opening hours in the 2022 edition.
However, even inaccurate information does serve a purpose in a negative way by giving an indication of times when you can be pretty sure that a pub will not be open, and thus there is no point in trying to visit. It’s a fair bet that very few pubs will actually be opening longer hours than they did before. There are also many pubs, such as the Wetherspoon’s which make up about 5% of the entries, where the opening hours are firmly established and could be published without any risk of misleading readers. On the other hand, in my experience, the shorter and more unusual the hours that are advertised for a pub, the more likely they are not to adhere to them.
It’s airily said that if you’re concerned about whether a pub might be open, you can easily phone them to check. However, that shows a failure to appreciate the way many people use the Guide in practice. Rather than fixing on a specific pub and planning an expedition to visit it, they are much more likely to browse a range of entries in a town, or along a route, to see which might be worth a visit. If you find yourself in Borchester on a Monday night, you’re not going to phone round nine pubs to check whether they might be open. You’re much more likely just to go to Spoons, which you know will be open. And the information contained on pubs’ own websites and Facebook pages is notoriously inaccurate.
Some have suggested that CAMRA should simply abandon publication of the Guide this year, as the lockdown has brought about such a dramatic change in the pub landscape that it has become more a history book than something of current relevance. However, its unbroken publication over 45 years has become a key symbol of CAMRA’s efforts, and it would seem wrong to simply discard all the effort that has been put into it at ground level. Plus, in the current climate when income from beer festivals has completely dried up, the revenue is important for CAMRA’s finances.
There are cogent reasons why the decision has been taken, but the importance of reasonably accurate information on opening hours should not be understated. It will also inevitably lead some people to decide not to purchase the Guide due to the incompleteness of the information contained in it. And it will make life even more difficult for the dedicated band of tickers of GBG entries.
Maybe it would also make sense to drop the beer listings against each pub, which can be even more inaccurate than the opening hours. But at least it will bring to a temporary halt the interminable debate about whether or not to adopt the 24-hour clock!