I can’t help thinking that Chris Maclean is looking at the pub trade through rose-tinted spectacles when he says he thinks the worst is now over and there are great opportunities out there. He is entirely right, of course, about the vicious circle of decline – falling trade leading to shorter opening hours, reduced facilities and lower standards of service and cleanliness. But putting all the lights on, turning the heating up, smiling broadly and organising a series of special events will do nothing to revitalise business if the trade isn’t there, and may well look more like flogging a dead horse.
I see no evidence that the pub trade is poised to roar back into life once the economy starts to improve. On the contrary, I see large numbers of once-thriving pubs that are virtually empty most of the time, look increasingly tired and down-at-heel and seem to be hanging on by their fingernails. If anything, the recovery might hasten their demise by making redevelopment into something else more financially attractive. Exactly where are all these new customers going to come from, when there’s been no evidence of them over the past two-and-a-half years? There are vast numbers of pubs for sale or to let on all the estate agents’ websites – there are two in a half-mile stretch on my journey to work – but nobody seems to be biting.
There will be a lot more pain before we hit the floor – I can easily see eight to ten thousand more pubs going – and few of those that remain will bear much resemblance to a pub as understood in the Seventies and Eighties. Of course the pub-haters will see that as a good thing, “But they serve ciabattas and have comfy sofas!” Umm, precisely.
This comment from Pete Robinson is spot-on:
I do take issue with talk of ‘bad pubs’ because there's no such thing IMHO. Grotty back street boozers are, or were, a reality and I deeply grieve their passing. They were as vital a part of our British pub culture as the very finest establishments. Many people loved their pure, unashamed character even if it was served in a dirty glass. They survived two world wars and a century of recessions only to be wiped out by the nannying political correctness of people who would never be seen dead in such places.In reality, the decline of the pub trade is nothing to do with bad pubs or bad licensees. It might be possible to revive one or two failing pubs with a lot of care and attention, but all that would do would be to leach trade away from other pubs. It would do nothing to increase the overall demand for pubs.