Thursday, 25 March 2010

Going dry

Managed house operator Mitchells & Butlers have announced that they are planning a “rapid” exit from wet-led pubs, and intend to focus their efforts on dining brands such as Harvester, Toby Carvery and Sizzling Pub Company.

Now this may provide opportunities for other operators to acquire some of their wet-led sites and run them in a more enterprising manner. But I can’t help thinking it represents a further step in the steady erosion of the original concept of pubs as essentially places to drink and socialise.

In a growing number of areas, the proportion of pubs of that actually are pubs rather than “dining outlets” is rapidly dwindling, and the welcome to customers who don’t want to eat can be grudging in the extreme. Indeed, in many cases where a pub has been turned over to a food-led operation, the removal of public bars and meeting rooms has led to the expulsion of what wet trade there still was in the place.

I’ve never said pubs should not serve food full stop, but there has to come a point where the concentration on food to the exclusion of all else means an outlet can no longer be called a pub in any meaningful sense. Who would even cross the street to a Toby Carvery to savour its atmosphere and drinks range?


  1. The closest pub to where I live is a Toby Carvery and last year they achieved the cask marque. Although the bottled beer is better in the Tesco Extra which is closer.

  2. I'd never heard of the Sizzling Pub Company so I went to look at their website. There's a box showing customer reviews which currently proclaims "food is average nothing more nothing less". Either that comma-challenged comment slipped through moderation or it truly is the most complimentary one.

  3. Martin, Cambridge25 March 2010 at 23:38

    You make a fair point PC, but I often stay in their Lodges in Heaton Chapel and elsewhere, and always find a quite vibrant drinking area, often busier than local pubs due to competitive pricing.

    The arrival of a solid and reliable real ale range in Toby and other M&B pubs (Thwaites, Landlord, Pedigree are typical) is to be welcomed.

    I do regret the loss of proper drinking pubs due to the smoking ban though. The number of wet-led pubs up for sale that I walked past in Chadderton yesterday was depressing.

  4. Tweeted on this the other day. Looks like bad news for some of their brands. Thing is, most of their brands are rubbish. The loss will be their pubs that don't come under a brand (I think they come under village or town categories). Toby Carvery near me is flipping awful but unconditionally loved by the local community. In that case, Pub Co or not, it serves a purpose.

  5. Restaurants serve a purpose, indeed from time to time I eat in them. But they're not pubs.

    And, granted, a hotel can have a congenial bar that works for drinkers - the Heaton Chapel to which Martin alludes does. But most don't.


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