Wednesday, 22 July 2009

A farewell to pubs

Depressing, although scarcely surprising, news today from the British Beer & Pub Association that the rate of pub closures has now reached 52 a week, or 2,700 a year. And that’s a net figure, after taking account of all the new trendy box bars that have opened. The real figure of losses of proper pubs is more like 70 a week. The number of pubs in Britain – 70,000 not so many years ago – is now down below the 54,000 mark. This is no more than I have hinted at in previous posts such as here and here. It’s wishful thinking, though, to expect the current government to do anything about it, as they have made it abundantly clear that they couldn’t care less about pubs and seem to view them almost as a kind of health hazard.

This blog posting by the ever-eloquent Raedwald is a poignant reminder of what we are rapidly losing forever. A whole way of life is disappearing, and pubgoing is becoming a niche activity that is irrelevant to vast swathes of the community.

But some people still don’t seem to get it, and complacently go on about how it’s just the crappy keg pubs that are closing. Broadly speaking, it is, but they aren’t closing because they are crappy keg pubs, they are closing because the overall demand for pubs has dramatically declined. Obviously, in such a situation, it is the less appealing pubs that will go to the wall first, but in the past the market was healthy enough for these pubs to make a decent living. All too often, people who really should know better fail to draw a distinction between the factors dictating the overall size of the market, and the factors determining how trade is distributed within a shrinking market.


  1. Is the market just shrinking or are large parts of it just not meeting demand?

    thought this worth a read

  2. The escellent piece by Raedwald is unfortunately only a reminder to generations such as mine. I rather fear, as evidenced by the witlessness of some bloggers (as well as younger people at large) that the pub holds no sacred place in society for them.

    Frankly, they don't know what they are missing.

  3. Mr Lager,

    I think it's pretty self-evident that the decline in the pub trade is overwhelmingly due to a variety of social changes that are largely outside the control of pub operators. Except perhaps in a very limited and localised way there is no "magic bullet" that pubs could adopt to reclaim the lost customers. There are a wide variety of styles and types of pubs, meeting all kinds of customer demands, and pubs in general are much cleaner, more comfortable and more welcoming than they were in 1977 when they were doing over twice the business. Diverse, fragmented markets tend to be quite good at working out what it is that customers want. It may well be true to say that a particular pub is prospering by doing x and y, but that doesn't mean to say lots more pubs in the same area would prosper and thus drive up the overall level of trade by doing the same.

    Oh hang on, there is a magic bullet that might make some difference… The one the government won't allow them to use…

  4. @Tandleman. Bob on, I enjoyed Raedwalds blog, but he was speaking of a world that in my view doesn't exist and of pubs I suspect might not ever have existed. Rose tinted specs. Witless? It's my aim. Realist and lacking in romance? Oh yes.

    @Curmudgeon, heh, call me cooking. I think for your definition of what consitutes a pub you are correct, because by meeting customer expectation they would no longer in your view be proper pubs. How's about that for saying you are both wrong and right?

  5. While Raedwald's comments are somewhat romanticised they certainly strike a chord with my experience of pub exploring as a youth.

    I have no problem with modern, trendy bars so long as they offer decent beer and actually have somewhere to sit. I think of places like Brigantes and Pivo in York and some of the bars in Chorlton. I certainly don't narrowly define a pub as a dark, nicotine-stained place populated by old blokes playing doms.

    But arguably bars of that kind are even more of a niche than "traditional" pubs, and very much an urban, middle-class phenomenon. The on-trade as a whole is suffering, it's not that people are deserting pubs for trendy bars. If that was the magic bullet plenty of folks would have fired it by now.

    In fact, in my experience, those pubs that have tried to "go trendy" have shot themselves in the foot.

  6. Have to agree with your analysis-except the magic bullet bit, I imagine:)

    There has been a lot of nonsense talked about this issue and unfortunately a lot of attention has gone on what constitutes a closure. The bottom line is that more and more pubs are closing. And the vast majority do not reopen. It is a ridiculous statement to suggest that they do and that is only crap pubs that are being affected. Why am I not surprised that we never see any facts to back such a glib statement up? We can debate why these pubs are shutting-which they are, but let’s not bury our heads in the sand.


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