Friday 9 November 2012

Lunchtime O’Booze

A point I’ve made in the past is that “a problem with understanding why pubs succeed or fail is that everyone tends to assume that other people’s patterns of pubgoing are much the same as their own, whereas in fact they will in many cases be radically different.”

There was an example of this recently where one commenter was struggling to understand what trade there would be for suburban pubs on weekday lunchtimes. While lunchtimes are never going to be as busy as weekend evenings, in the past many pubs did a healthy lunchtime trade. Food obviously is an important element, and would appeal to retired people (many of whom have a healthy disposable income), parties from offices and other workplaces, “ladies who lunch” and even (bites lip), “yummy mummies” and their offspring. Plus, on any given day, many working people will be off work but not away on holiday, and so might fancy a bite to eat down the pub too. Suburban shops aren’t deserted during the day on weekdays, far from it, so why should pubs be? There are plenty of people out and about for a huge variety of reasons.

There was also historically a significant wet trade from most of the above categories, especially the retired. In the years immediately after the introduction of all-day opening, some pubs could be like a pensioners’ social club in the afternoons. It has often been remarked how daytime drinking appeals much more to the over-65s than the evenings do. Many suburban pubs adjoin local shopping centres, so people would call in for a pint or two on the way back from buying their loaf of bread and pint of milk. Some pubs, especially those near betting shops, attract an audience for televised racing. And, when prices were not as steep as they are now, it was far from unknown for the unemployed to spend a fair bit of time in pubs.

Often, you could encounter a very congenial atmosphere, with the pub ticking over nicely, a good mix of drinkers and diners and a wide variety of people coming and going throughout the session. Most lunchtime pubgoers have tacked their visit on to something else rather than just going to the pub as an end in itself. Far more interesting from the peoplewatching point of view than the evening session.

Clearly, with the increasing reluctance to mix even very light alcohol consumption with work, and the general rise of political correctness and anti-drink sentiment (not to mention that big grey thing in the corner), this kind of trade has noticeably diminished over the past couple of decades. But it’s still there to some extent – many overtly food-led pubs continue to do good business, and if you went in a suburban Wetherspoons like the Wilfred Wood in Hazel Grove on a Tuesday lunchtime you would find it reasonably busy with a mix of customers. Even today it’s an eyebrow-raiser to find a well-situated pub with an apparently reasonable food offer totally devoid of customers. However, you’ll now find far fewer wholly wet-led pubs opening at lunchtimes (at least Monday to Thursday) outside of town and city centres.

While it is referring to pubs in or near the City Centre, it is also interesting that a Central Manchester pub guide I have from the early 1970s comments on the fact that many pubs were busier at lunchtimes than in the evenings.

(Pictured is the Nursery, Heaton Norris, Stockport, CAMRA’s National Pub of the Year in 2001, a quintessential suburban pub that in fact opens all day, every day)


  1. Its a rather odd assumption to make that any view of other peoples behaviour could only ever be informed by an extrapolation of your own behaviour. I don't eat McDonalds for lunch either, doesn't mean I assume no-one else does.
    Equally, if I make a statement on the viability of a market in a certain situation, its not because I personally would or wouldn't do something, but rather because of what I have observed about the behaviour of others.

    For example, I only recently read a blogpost about a suburban pub that was completely empty on a Friday lunchtime. This post only served to reinforce my experience of observing the emptiness of suburban pubs whenever I happen to have been in one at lunchtime. Whatever market there was back in the 70s has clearly been slowly eroded.

    None of this has anything to do with whether or not I personally go to the pub at lunch time, why would that be relevant?

  2. Umm, you wrote "Thing is, if its in a surburban location, who is it going to attract during the middle of the day? Not going to be many shoppers or office workers popping in for coffee or lunch like there would be in a city centre pub."

    I have answered your question there.

  3. My point was simply that I didn't find this lack of customers particularly surprising, I've been in lots of suburban pubs at lunch time and they're almost always virtually deserted. I think you heavily overstate the market for lunchtime drinking in suburban pubs 2012.

  4. Just accept it, no ones interested in pubs during the day

    No ones interested in pubs in the evening. No ones interested in pubs full stop. They would all be better off as a Tescos Express.

    The day of the pub has passed. This is the 21st century. It is nicer.

  5. Cookie, with the greatest respect, you are talking out of the back of your arse. My (suburban) local was busy this lunchtime, about half eating and the rest just having a drink. When I go down later for the last hour, I can guarantee it'll be rammed. Always is. By all means load up on cheap lout from Tesco if you like, but some of us still enjoy just "going down the pub".

  6. the London suburbs have been badly affected by the shortage of lunchtime drinkers especially the wet led pubs thats why so many pubs have shut.But its now the turn of the gastropubs .i know of 6 in west london who have closed in the last 2 months.cheers john

  7. Martin, Cambridge9 November 2012 at 22:43

    There's still plenty of lunchtime suburban drinkers (try southern B'ham), but I think Wetherspoons seem to do a pretty good job of mopping up customers, which is one of the key factors is the reduction in opening hours in neighbouring pubs.

    No criticism of Spoons, whose pubs seem able to satisfy the needs of pretty much all pubgoers except the occasional CAMRA purist.

  8. It will be very interesting to see how the Spoons does in Poynton, which opens next month.

  9. Eye Bill, there are some backward places in the country but I like to think eventually everywhere will have electricity, running water and Tesco Expresses instead of pubs.


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