Friday, 18 January 2008

Demise of the casual drinker

A phrase that often crops up in older pub guides is “the casual drinker” - which I interpret as meaning a person, or a group of people, who visit a pub where they are not regulars, with the intention of just having one or more drinks, and specifically not to eat a meal.

At one time this pattern of drinking was a mainstay of the pub trade, and going to a new or rarely visited pub just to try it out was commonplace among groups of friends, while an inviting pub door often beckoned you in for the proverbial “swift half”.

Yet a variety of factors have combined against it - official messages have increasingly promoted the idea that any drinking whatsoever does not mix with responsible activity, many pubs have closed down, the licensed trade has become increasingly diverse and fragmented, making pubs less welcoming to all comers, more and more pubs have effectively become restaurants where those who just want a drink attract funny looks, and an “all or nothing” attitude to drinking has prevailed.

And as casual drinking becomes less and less common, those still in the habit of popping into strange pubs just for a quick pint or two begin to stand out, and may well feel out of place. Yet in my experience the serendipity of casual drinking has often been one of the most enjoyable aspects of pubgoing.

Possibly Wetherspoon’s pubs, whose size and high throughput allow a degree of anonymity, are one of the last havens of the casual drinker - but of course those are only found in urban centres. Try ordering a round of pints in a Chef & Brewer and showing no interest in the menu and you will stick out like a sore thumb.

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