Sunday 3 February 2013

A more selective appeal

Tandleman recently wrote a post about the future of the pub entitled I’ll Still Have a Pub to Go To. This included the following comments about the current situation that could almost have been written by myself:

So why go to the pub? Remaining bottom end pubs are no go areas, road house pubs have either gone or become family oriented eateries, estate pubs have closed, slowly, one after the other as drinkers can drink and smoke cheaply at home, town centre pubs can be hell holes at weekends (or magnets for a certain kind of young drinker) and deserted during the week. Good honest locals are struggling too. My observation too is that many young drinkers that do find their way to the boozer, aren't drinking that much by way of beer, but ready mixes, exotic ciders and gaudily coloured spirits with Red Bull.
His conclusion is that, while the pub trade has declined, there will always be pubs of some kind for those that want them. Despite all the doom and gloom, it is important to remember that we still have two-thirds of the pubs that were trading thirty years ago, and some of them at least continue to do very healthy business.

However, as I posted here, both the geographical and social range served by pubs have become narrower over the years. The famous quote from the classic film This is Spinal Tap that the band’s appeal was “becoming more selective” is very much true of pubs as well. Whole swathes of inner cities are now pretty much devoid of pubs – see this post on Pubs of Manchester about how a recent closure has left Collyhurst in Manchester “an almost pub-free district” – while the comfortable middle classes, although they may eat in gastropubs, don’t do much actual drinking in pubs any more.

It’s also the case that closing one pub doesn’t necessarily mean that all its customers will go to another. Making a visit to a pub depends on a particular combination of opportunity and geography, and for every pub that closes, there will be a proportion of its customers who simply stop going to pubs rather than moving to one down the road, and a segment of society for whom pubgoing ceases to be something that is an option in their normal routine.

Rather than having a universal appeal, pubs in future will need to specialise in those aspects of their offer that they can do well enough to tempt people out of their living rooms. This is why, in the right location, specialist beer pubs are doing much better than bog-standard pubs, but it doesn’t mean your average estate local will prosper by putting on a range of craft kegs. Pubgoing will increasingly become a niche market, not something most people do.

In a sense it is now Wetherspoon’s who are flying the flag for pubs used by a variety of age groups and for a range of different purposes, and which anyone can walk into without looking or feeling out of place.

Another factor is that, perhaps counter-intuitively, pubs seem to thrive in areas where there is already a lot of activity, rather than locations convenient to people’s homes. We can see clusters of pubs and bars, and new openings, in places like Chorlton and Didsbury, and to some extent in areas of Stockport like Heaton Moor and Cheadle Hulme, while many pubs set amidst housing estates have closed despite the number of potential customers living nearby. That is certainly what drives Wetherspoon’s location policy.

Yes, there will still be pubs and bars in twenty years’ time, but I expect there to be a lot fewer than there are today and, outside of major city centres and prosperous inner suburbs, just going to a pub to have a drink will be something that most people rarely contemplate doing and indeed perceive as a trifle eccentric.


  1. "just going to a pub to have a drink will be something that most people rarely contemplate doing and indeed perceive as a trifle eccentric"

    I think you are a little behind the times. This is already the case for the majority of people. Pub going is an occasional thing with a purpose, a meal, a work do, meeting friends. It no longer is woven into the fabric of most peoples lives.

    No amount of supermarket bashing will change that.

  2. Cookie, I already know that. But, you know, you have to sugar the pill for the beards. To say that their much-cherished "community pub" scarcely exists nowadays might be more reality than some of the older ones can bear.

  3. Heh, we are the beards. The purpose of pubs is beer enthusiasm and geekery. The community is other geeks.

  4. Cookie's beaten me to it again. While reading your article, I was thinking about when I last went to a pub, but I can't remember.

    For someone who lived in one for 10 years and used to think there was no better luxury in life than whiling away a Friday night or Saturday evening in the pub (any pub, I've never been choosy), it's odd to realise that they are not even on my radar any more.

  5. From my point of view, "going to pubs" is one of my main leisure interests, but I can well understand how many people no longer see it as at all relevant.

  6. Professor Pie-Tin3 February 2013 at 19:29

    Unusually I didn't go to the pub today but then again I did have a humungous hangover from the four puvs I visited last night.

    Fortunately none of them was this one that charged a feller nearly six quid for a pint of Heino last night.

  7. A lot of community pubs, rather than disappearing altogether, are being replaced by small community bar areas in otherwise poncy gastropubs, or, increasingly, Thai or Indian restaurants. Back to the old lounge bar/public bar divide. I wouldn't be surprised if the beer was 20p cheaper for the locals in the back bar either.

  8. I paid €7 for 500ml of Heineken in France back in 2005!

  9. Martin, Cambridge3 February 2013 at 22:47

    In (good) pubs in Leigh and Wigan this weekend I paid £2.10 -£2.20 a pint (All Gates and Prospect), which seems to be only a bit under the norm for that part of Lancashire. Manchester. In West London on Tuesday inferior local beer was £4.00 +.

    Point being, it is still possible to make pub-going viable for the working man with good cost control.

  10. Professor Pie-Tin3 February 2013 at 23:02


    You drink Heineken ?

    Say it ain't so, champ.

  11. When in France, do what the French do...

  12. The French drink 33 Export (local heineken) or wine.

    But has pub going ever been a regular part of most peoples lives? A count of pubs and chimney pots suggests it has traditionally been an activity of a minority of working class people.

    Post war brewery marketing and the innovation of pub grub made it appeal to middle class England and socially acceptable for women but by and large the aspirant working class have never aspired to it. Aspiration lent itself to more European habits.

  13. "just going to a pub to have a drink will be something that most people rarely contemplate doing and indeed perceive as a trifle eccentric"

    Don't know about other places but I don't recognise this from my experience in Bristol. When I go down to my local it;s full of people who've just gone out for a drink. And it's not a specialist real ale pub for the beard club or an achingly on-trend clip joint for the crafterati. It just sells standard bitters in good nick, it's warm and comfortable and attracts a good social mix. Works for me. And it lets dogs in.

  14. But your local pub, Bill, may well be in just the kind of big-city suburb populated by the liberal middle classes which, as the post says, is the type of area where pubs are likely to continue to do reasonably well.

  15. If people have the money, then a decent proportion of them will go to the pub and spend it. But we're in a recession, and a recession that is hitting the working classes - traditionally the most enthusiastic pub goers - the hardest.

    Just imagine if all the middle class ponces like me hadn't got a taste for beer as students, the pub industry would really be in the shit then, even the pubs in posh areas would be struggling.

  16. Got to give you that one Mudgie, my local pub is in a middle-class suburb, although I'm not sure I'd describe some of the inhabitants as liberal. However, it's surprising how many of the regulars get the bus to the pub from comparatively less affluent areas. This could be because some of their closer pubs have closed or the surviving ones are shitholes but it does show that people still like to go for a drink and are prepared to travel to do it. It also means it's not all Gin'n'Jag, which can only be a good thing.

  17. I'm thinking of suburbs like Didsbury and Chorlton in Manchester with a lot of youngish professional people, often working in education, healthcare, media etc. The gin and jag belt proper has declined, as I posted here. The really posh areas such as Halebarns and Alderley Edge have actually lost pubs.

  18. Yes, I remember your gin & jag post. Don't know Didsbury but I have been to Chorlton and I know the sort of people you mean. Not like that round here. Strangely, the really posh areas in Bristol (Sneyd Park, Stoke Bishop) have never had any pubs.


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