Monday 2 February 2009

Winds of change

Since the late 1970s, the amount of beer drunk in the on-trade in Britain has more than halved from 37 million bulk barrels a year to 17 million. This is often laid at the door of the ever-increasing price gap between the on and off-trades. While there is a certain amount of truth in that, it certainly doesn’t stand up as the sole cause, and in reality there are much wider and more diverse social factors at work.

Here, in no particular order, are some of the reasons why people visit pubs less:

  • The decline of heavy industry, meaning that there are far fewer manual workers for whom going in the pub every night and drinking numerous pints is a way of life.
  • The smoking ban. Obviously. That, at a stroke, probably removed at least 10% of the wet trade from pubs.
  • The trend away from beer towards wine. Historically, pubs have done wine very poorly and in any case it is something generally drunk with a meal rather than simply during a drinking session.
  • The increase in eating out, which tends to replace simple drinking sessions and is often not done in pubs.
  • There is a much wider and more interesting range of drinks available in the off-trade than there was thirty years ago, whereas, unless you're a cask beer fan, the range of drinks in most pubs can be somewhat limited.
  • Mass car ownership, meaning that taking loads of cans or bottles home is a more practical proposition than it used to be.
  • The erosion of traditional gender roles, meaning that it is no longer acceptable for the husband to go out to the pub while the wife stays at home with the kids.
  • The increased reluctance of many people to drive after consuming alcohol within the legal limit, thus reducing the number of potential opportunities to go for a drink in a pub. And car ownership and participation in driving are much higher than 30 years ago.
  • Employers are in many cases much less tolerant of even light lunchtime drinking by their staff.
  • Homes themselves are much more congenial places than they were in the 1970s and offer far more in the way of entertainment, with central heating, multi-channel TV, DVDs, computer games etc.
  • The Internet – sitting at home surfing porn posting blogs can be a lot more fun than sitting in the pub, and can become somewhat addictive.
The overall effect is that while many people still see going to the pub as something worth doing, they tend to regard it as a once or twice a week treat, not a daily routine. The pub trade has fallen off much more at lunchtimes and early in the week than at weekends.


  1. Don't forget that drinking everyday I also not very good for you. Almost all western countries are now more health aware, thus drinking less and less often.

  2. According to these figures, per capita alcohol consumption in the UK is 20% higher than it was in 1979, despite there being many fewer pubs.

    Therefore I don't really feel health concerns can be regarded as a major reason for the reduction in pubgoing. People are not drinking less alcohol, they are just drinking it elsewhere.

  3. Agree with what you are saying. People are still going out in droves, they just don't necessarily go to the pub. Sometimes going to the pub is not as good an experience as it should be. Many pubs need to up their game!

  4. Yes, it's not that people aren't drinking anymore, simply that they aren't drinking in the pubs. Also, the trend is for younger drinkers to start out much later in the evening, which puts the traditional pub at a disadvantage.

  5. The point about wine is very valid - many pubs seem to put a massive mark-up on decent wine.

    1. Pubs mark up everything to cover labour and overheads. You can't compare the price of wine in a pub to the price in Tesco. Also see soft drinks.


Comments, especially on older posts, may require prior approval by the blog owner. See here for details of my comment policy.

Please register an account to comment. Unregistered comments will generally be rejected unless I recognise the author. If you want to comment using an unregistered ID, you will need to tell me something about yourself.