Wednesday 14 August 2013

Light dawns over Salford

It seems that wonders will never cease – the BBC has at last woken up to the disaster that has overtaken the British pub, and come up with a Newsnight piece about it last night together with this web article. Possibly some of the BBC staff have ventured outside their gated compound in Salford and spotted just how few pubs are left in the city.

The article even acknowledges the existence of the elephant in the room, although it also comes out with the usual guff about cheap supermarket alcohol killing pubs, an issue that I addressed here four years ago. As I said then, “the idea that simply raising the price of alcohol in the off-trade will do anything to encourage people to visit pubs is totally misplaced. It’s funny how you never heard all this bleating about supermarket prices killing pubs before the smoking ban and the recession.”

The picture shows the Grey Mare on the main road between Salford and Eccles, not too far from the BBC studios.


  1. Yeh the article does come with the supermarket guff but it mentions a feature not often discussed which I think is relevant. That of the habits of the young.

    Many people mention that there is more for young people to do these days. Sure social media offers a different way to socialise and playstations are great but young people still want to date and meet the opposite sex.

    I think many older drinkers fail to appreciate how unwelcoming pubs are to young people of legal drinking age. Challenge 25 stickers, no under 21's rules. It is more difficult to get a drink if you are 18 today than when I was 18 or even back when you were, Mudge, and all was black and white.

    If you consider an average lifespan of 80, and for easy arithmetic you are an adult at 20, then you have 60 years as an adult. Every 10 years a 1/6 of the market has been replaced. In 20 years it is a third. The overall market needs to welcome new entrants and not be the preserve of 50+ old duffers that want to drink warm pong in silence with the Daily mail and rage at the inequity of getting some pork pie with your cheese salad ;)

  2. Oh, I entirely accept that, Cookie, and have referred to it in the past. But it's interesting that when I was a lad starting my pubgoing career, the pubs we went to were often the most "unimproved" ones. The typical pub makeover nowadays seems geared for young professionals and yummy mummies and probably isn't very appealing to 18-yos.

    But it's a myth that pubs need to be "trendy" to appeal to the young. Indeed they often see through corporate attempts to be down with the kids.

  3. I took my son out on his 18th birthday, staked him a tenner and let him order. Fortunately he'd brought his passport with him.

    It's a very different world. By the time I was 18 I'd been drinking at the Railway Hotel, Purley for two or three years - and the Railway wasn't even known for under-age drinking (drugs, yes, under-age drinking, no). There was a pub nearby called (I think) the Wagon Wheel which was rumoured to operate an upper age limit of 18.

    It becomes a vicious circle - kids don't go to pubs, so they don't get the pub-going habit, so pubs don't see them as customers to attract or retain, so they're not welcoming to kids, so kids don't go to pubs. Then there's uni and the Student Pub experience, which is different again. What with the death of the workplace lunchtime pint, it's a wonder anyone under 30 ever starts going to pubs at all.

  4. As I said here, "I suspect if I was thirty-five years younger, and just embarking on the world of adulthood, regular pubgoing would be something that would not even feature on the agenda."

    And when I was that age, we were regularly going to pubs when we were 16, in the full knowledge of our parents, although there would be little sympathy if we overdid it.

  5. Yes, there is a difference between trendy and contemporary, of which the latter will win over the former. But how many times do people ask why most young people feel more comfortable in a Starbucks than a pub? It isn’t just the milky coffee and the free Wi-Fi.

    Bars that are frequented by the young on Saturday night are modern contemporary environments free of grumpy barmen that will card you or even be disparaging because you want lager, a cider Alco pop, and ice with that. I cannot think of a single reason for a young person to have any interest whatsoever in any pub that CAMRA stick in its beer guide. Maybe it doesn’t matter and they will when they are older, maybe they won’t but fewer of them will even be in the habit of going out for a drink.

  6. @Phil his passport? Says it all mate as to why kids may have less interest in it.

  7. I do feel sorry for kids nowadays. I started going to the pub when I was 14 and to nightclubs when I was 16. I've been ID'd about 10 times in my entire life.

    I went to the pub pretty much every day between 18 and 28. The result? A happy social life, lots of mates, a constant supply of girlfriends, and I got very good at both pool and darts.

    and yes, we tended to choose the cheaper, more unreconstructed working mens pubs, the ones with pool tables and dart boards. The exact ones that are currently disappearing, funny that.

  8. I've often asked this question, and have yet to receive a real answer - what CAN be done to increase the amount of customers in pubs?

    Perhaps the industry is now in state of managed decline, and the government and pubcos know this. Which is why they're trying to extract as much cash as possible from them before they all go.

  9. That might be worth a bit of thought and a future blogpost.

    Probably not very much, as most of it is caused by long-term social trends that are outside the control of government.

    However, what government can do is to avoid measures that they know will make it worse.

    As I'm sure regular readers recognise, this blog is a bit of a rage against the dying of the light as far as pubs are concerned.

  10. Cooking Lager,

    Many people mention that there is more for young people to do these days. Sure social media offers a different way to socialise and playstations are great but young people still want to date and meet the opposite sex.

    but those places aren't affected.

    I've been analysing what factors keep pubs open, and so far it's:
    1) places to pick up birds
    2) places with high food turnover

    Not one young person's pickup joint has closed in my town since the smoking ban. There's 2 near my house and if I drive past on a Saturday, they're full. Their trade seems to have been unaffected by the ban.

    Reading seems to be the same - it's all estate pubs, rural boozers. Pitcher and Piano? Still doing nicely.

    And that's simply because you can't replace that with a smoky-drinky, and people will tolerate some inconvenience to hook up.

  11. The pitcher and piano is over 21s and far too expensive for anyone under the age of 30 anyway.

    I think this idea that young people only want to go to trendy expensive bars is incorrect.

    An alarming number of the working mens pubs I frequented as a 20something in Nottingham have now closed. They haven't shut because the 50 year old regulars left, they were all still there smoking in the door way.

    They shut because when me and my mates left and stopped putting £500 behind the bar every week, for the first time ever there wasn't another group of youngsters to replace us.

    The question is, why not?

  12. "They haven't shut because the 50 year old regulars left, they were all still there smoking in the door way."

    Maybe 50% of them were, and were thus very visible, but the other 50% had departed.

  13. maybe so, but the pub was still going strong for a decade after the law changed, so I don't think you can put it down to that.

  14. Umm, 6 years does not make a decade and, as I've said before, the effect of the smoking ban is a long-term, insidious one, it wasn't all worked out within 12 months.

  15. Precisely! Its impossible to tell how many more customers pubs would have lost if it wasn't for the ban, so speculating is pointless.

  16. Cookie - he's left school (what with being 18), hasn't started uni and hasn't got round to applying for a provisional driving licence, so his passport was the only thing we could think of that had his picture and date of birth on. It does seem crazy. You can see why the last government thought they could get ID cards in by appealing to the yoof.

    Mind you, he did say he reckoned he knew where to get fake ID if he'd wanted it. But that's even more of a performance, of course.

  17. Well Yeh Phil but a passport is a tool for visiting a foreign country ;)

    Sometimes a simple fact sums up a long explanation.

  18. From Dave Atherton

    There were bleatings from CAMRA about the price of supermarket alcohol. SM was just as cheap pre ban.

    “The other major reason cited is cheap supermarket drink. My research has suggested that supermarket drink pre ban was just as cheap then as it is now. The first quote is from the Business Section of The Guardian from July 2004. “But supermarkets sold alcohol at a fraction of the price it was on sale for in pubs, he said. Some were selling brand name cider for 51p a can and export strength lager for 64p during the Euro 2004 football championships.”

    In a letter dated 28th March 2007 Ian R Loe the Research Manager of CAMRA to the Competition Commission states:

    “Research by CAMRA in the period just before Christmas, sound that supermarkets were selling Fosters and Carling for the equivalent of 54p a pint…a pint of beer in a pub 148p to 213p from 1995 to 2005…the cost of supermarket lager ..the average price is down from 70.8p to 67.4p..” Let me remind you this is 4 months before the smoking ban.

    The most obvious evidence of this is from This Is Money where on the 21st September 2006 the prices in Tesco were listed for Fosters lager, Red Smirnoff Red Label Vodka and Jack Daniels. The 2010 prices were taken on the 12th August from and for 2011 on the 2nd July.

    Beer and spirits 2006 2010 2011

    4x 500 ml Fosters £3.53 £3.42* |£3.97 *

    Red Smirnoff Vodka 70cl £9.79 £11.00 £14.29

    Wine 2004 2010 2011

    Wolf Blass Yellow Label £5.72 £6.74** £7.99

    Lindemans Bin 65 Chardonnay £5.69 5.24*** £7.99

    Jacobs Creek Shiraz Cabernet 75cl £4.73 per bottle £5.24**** 7.99

    * (Adjusted from 440ml)

    ** (special offer reduced from £8.99)

    *** (special offer reduced from £6.99)

    **** (special offer reduced from £6.99)

  19. "As I've said before, the effect of the smoking ban is a long-term, insidious one, it wasn't all worked out within 12 months." Well, I do remember you saying it before; I also remember your logic was - shall we say? - strained! The deterrent effect of the smoking ban on pub-going will be well and truly played out by now, and the recession we've been dipping in and out since 2007 is now a major factor, perhaps the major factor.

    But as time passes since the ban began, the more it becomes yesterday's issue: in a poll of 1,142 students 3.5 years ago, nine out of 10 said they would not scrap the smoking ban. Most of these will have left university by now and be in employment. It's also worth remembering that no drinker under 24 will have ever experienced an enclosed public smoking environment in this country: they'll be 25 next year.

  20. Yes, Nev, it was here, and I thought it was a pretty good post.

    And the "new entrants" argument cuts both ways - as I said there: "First is the fact that new entrants to the potential pubgoing population may well take a different view from their elders. If you’re used to going to pubs, you may be prepared to put up with popping outside for a fag, but if you’ve never got into the pubgoing habit you may fail to see the point if you’re not allowed to smoke."

    IMV it will take at least ten years, including a substantial revival in commercial property prices, before it will be possible to say that the effects of the smoking ban have fully worked their way through the pub trade.

  21. If as often suggested large numbers of smokers have replaced pub drinking with home drinking why are the sales of off trade booze declining (albeit more slowly) too?

    What is happening is that the population as a whole is drinking less. Either people are giving up, cutting back or dying older drinkers are not being replaced by young drinkers.

  22. That's an easy one, Cookie. Simply because the spell has been broken. I lived in a pub for just under a decade and associated with mostly pub-loving people, the pub was a delicious pleasure. Once you get used to not using them regularly, you find other things to do - smokey-drinkies can really only happen at weekends as they have to be planned.

    Not enjoying the pub led to me not drinking as much, it's not a good thing for pubs that their appeal has been diminished as is now pretty clear. It's a brilliant boost for those who want to force people to drink less though. The drinks industry inadvertently shot themselves in the foot by not objecting to the denormalisation of the buffer between them and the health lobby's next target, alcohol.

  23. Off-trade sales have fallen more slowly than the on-trade, so it's entirely possible that some pubgoers have switched to home drinking within the overall secular trend.

    And, as Dick says, once you've given up the pub and the company of your mates, you may well not feel inclined to drink as much, if at all.


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