Friday, 29 March 2013

Open and shut case

In the comments on my last post about entrance restrictions in pubs, Martin of Cambridge says: “I'm much more fussed about pubs in the beer guide which don't seem to bother opening at all; see for example several South London pubs opening at 4pm and nearly all so called micro pubs.”

He’s certainly got a point. Over time, in many cases the effect of allowing all-day opening from 1988 onwards seems to have been pubs opening for shorter hours, not longer. Before 1988, most pubs would adhere fairly closely to the standard permitted hours for their area, although opening a bit later at lunchtimes and Saturday evenings was fairly common. If a pub was normally closed even for one session it was something worthy of note.

In the early years of the new licensing regime, most pubs seemed to stick to their previous pattern of opening, and indeed a couple of years afterwards it was still hard to find anywhere open after 3 pm in the centres of Stockport and Manchester. However, the growth of Wetherspoons and other chain pubs, which didn’t close in the afternoon, made them start to reconsider that approach, and nowadays you’ll find that most pubs in town and city centres do open all day.

On the other hand, many pubs with a more local appeal started to take the view that there wasn’t much point in opening at lunchtimes at all, especially during the week, and switched to an evenings-only model, possibly including Friday, Saturday and Sunday lunchtimes, although some don’t even bother with that. This has even happened to some pubs that once did a healthy lunchtime trade with customers from local workplaces.

I’d certainly not want to argue that pubs should be expected to open at times when they can’t trade profitably, and curbing your hours can make it possible for a couple to run a pub with little or no additional staff. However, if they’re doing this, it’s surely vital to display the opening hours outside so people know when they’re going to be able to get in. Even if you’re not going to the pub on that occasion, you can still make a mental note of the hours for a later visit. And, if you turn up and find a pub shut, if you know it will open in half an hour you may stick around and wait; if there’s no indication at all you’re more likely just to go elsewhere.

If you are in a location where there is potential passing and casual trade, limiting your hours can also indicate a certain paucity of ambition and reluctance to cultivate a wider appeal. The amount of trade on offer at lunchtimes is often underestimated – for example, many retired people much prefer going to the pub at lunchtime rather than in the evening, and I’ve come across some pubs that are like a pensioners’ social centre in the afternoon. Plus people nowadays are less likely to work regular, 9-5 hours, so more working people will be around in the daytime. Open a Wetherspoon’s pretty much anywhere and there will be people in for a drink from mid-morning onwards, and throughout the afternoon, even when nearby pubs are firmly shut.

Another point is that lengthy and predictable opening hours are in themselves a selling point even to potential customers who aren’t really going to take advantage of them. You know Wetherspoon’s are open all day, and so you can plan a visit with confidence without having to check what the actual hours are. And one word-of-mouth report that someone visited a pub at a time when they might reasonably have expected it to be open, and found the door firmly shut, could do a lot of damage. If a pub gets a reputation for scarcely ever being open it will make it much less appealing to casual customers.

At the end of the day, pubs are there to provide a service to their customers, and if they can’t be bothered opening when people want to visit, it will result in a black mark for that particular establishment and potentially also the entire sector.


  1. I was in Stockport a while back and found several pubs closed for the evening - and one that was just closing when I looked in, at 7.00. I can see the logic (suburban pubs get the evening trade, town centre pubs get shoppers) but I can't believe this is a good strategy.

  2. Common in the City of London, of course. The GBG states that the Swan with Two Necks closes at 7 pm - in the past I think it has said "may close early if quiet" which is no use to anyone.

    A sad reflection of how dead Stockport town centre now is in the evenings, really.

  3. We've never found the Lamorna Wink open, in any season, at any time. People assure us it is still in business!

    I'd probably rather have a closed pub than one that is grudgingly open, though -- where they're putting chairs on tables and generally making it clear, passive-aggressive style, that they'd like you to clear off.

  4. Whatever the opening hours a pub chooses is its own business decision, but it should display them and stick to them. In the days of the old licensing system when pubs could apply for extensions on bank holidays, the licensee of my then local used to say he'd use his extension only if there were enough people left in the pub. In the face of that uncertainty, we'd drink up and go to a pub that we knew was definitely using its extension.

  5. Just wondering where Phil went. Apart from the Swan With Two Necks I'm struggling to think of any other Stockport Town Centre pubs that shut in the evening (which is unusual because as you say it can be quite dead - certainly in the week)

  6. It was the SWTN that was closing at 7.00, but I do remember passing another two or three pubs that were evidently closed for the evening. I ended up back at the Crown.

  7. John Clarke - In December we headed to Stockport one early evening and found both the Swan & The Tiviot closed.

    We also had a wasted trip to The Blossoms on a Sunday a week earlier but at least on that occasion they had the decency to stick a handwritten note on the door apologising that they were opening late.

    As is the point of the post, the problem is not when they choose to open, it is the not knowing.

  8. If it is any help, gents, I am led to believe Stockport has a 24 hour Tesco and many park benches.

  9. "Geordiemanc" - Surprised to see the Tiviot closed. Your point about the Blossoms is entirely spurious though. Sounds like this may have been a one-off caused by unforseen circumstances. These things do happen - how exactly could that be publicised anywhere in advance?

    And a people have said earlier if you are making a special trip try calling ahead.

  10. I'm sure the majority of pubs that don't open during the day do so purely because it is not profitable for them to do so. You can't really blame them for not wishing to lose money.


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