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?