Sunday, 1 September 2013

What time is time?

The 2003 Licensing Act gave pubs a welcome flexibility as to when they stopped serving at the end of the evening. However, it has led to a lack of clarity over when they do actually shut up shop which was never a problem in the days when the vast majority had to put the towels over the pumps promptly at 11 pm.

In your local pub, this won’t be an issue, because you’ll be familiar with their pattern of hours. However, if you’ve been out for the evening and end up in a relatively unfamiliar pub at 10.30, it leads to something of a dilemma. Do they shut at 11, as many pubs still do, or are they going to keep serving longer? So do you stay there, or move on to somewhere else that you know will stay open until midnight?

Add to this the fact that many pubs, while they may continue serving after 11, close their doors so they don’t attract late-night drunks turfed out of other pubs, and so you have to make your decision about where to end up before the traditional closing time. And some pubs, while they may have a licence to serve until midnight, will often actually call time before that if the trade is sparse.

Of course you can always ask the bar staff when they plan to stop serving, but that might not be so easy if the pub is busy and, in any case, surely the pub should make it obvious without expecting people to ask. So might it not be a good idea for pubs to display clearly, possibly by a little clock face mounted above the bar, when they are actually going to shut up shop, so that customers know exactly where they stand?


  1. Pubs updating their business practices to suit the needs and expectations of the modern consumer? Whatever next? Clear pricing? Table service? Clean bogs?

    Thin end of the wedge. Keep pubs real!

  2. Well, when pubs closed promptly at 3 pm at lunchtimes (2 on Sundays), and 10.30 pm in the evenings (11 on Fridays and Saturdays) you knew where you stood, and they were a damn sight busier than they are today.

  3. @Cookie: you want table service? Are you foreign? Just go to an Italian restaurant and nurse a bottle of Perroni, there's a good chap.

  4. Seriously, Mudgie, you make a good point. Part of the trouble is that under the previous licensing laws, closing time was understood to be when the bat stopped serving, say 11.00 pm, and then you had drinking-up time. Now the law defines closing time as the time you have to leave, say 11.30 pm. The bar can stop serving much earlier. This is confusing for us old 'uns who grew up under the old rules.
    Having said this, there were some startling anomalies under the old system. When I was a lad in Wrexham, some town centre pubs had signs outside saying the hours were varied every Monday and the second Wednesday of every month "for the convenience of persons attending the Public Market." This meant the pubs opened at 9.00 am, stayed open until 4.30 pm and opened again at 5.30 pm. Also, I seem to remember reading somewhere that the pubs in Carmarthen were open all day every day prior to the new laws due to some medieval statute.

  5. "when the bat stopped serving"? Just a typo, not a reflection on any landlady, barmaid or pub run by vampires

  6. Drinking up time could be a bit of a lottery in the old days, too. In Manchester and Stockport the police were very liberal about this. They didn't want pubs serving after time but drinking up time wasn't really enforced. Thus is was common to "double up" at last orders (say 10.55pm) and drink you beers in a leisurely fashion over the next 40 minutes or so.

    I've heard of people used to this regime being caught out in other parts of the country where you would be turfed out after the statutory 20 minutes and any undrunk beer taken off you.

  7. Bill, I wrote about market day extensions here.

    The 1977 Good Beer Guide has a wealth of these - they seem to have been particularly common in rural Wales and the English border counties.

    For Carmarthen, it says "Open all day first Friday in month and on four Tuesdays a year".

  8. Before 1988, official drinking-up tinme was only 10 minutes, of course. When I was a student in Birmingham, pubs would often fling open all the doors and start putting stools on benches at 10.35. As John says, the approach in Stockport was much more civilised.

  9. I'd forgotten about it being 10 minutes. It's seems like another age, which is a sign of advancing years I guess.

  10. And in the days of fixed hours, the pubs used to warn you when last orders where. Cue a rush to the bar when the bell ot lights signalled the end of the night. Often now there is no warning at all. I've been in Wetherspoons where you only find out they have stopped serving when you go to the bar.

  11. I got barred from a pub in Leicester 10 odd years ago in a closing time altercation.

    I went in with my then bird after a night at the flicks. Ten minutes later a weedy looking bouncer went round the place shouting "sup up and f**k off", then came to our table and said it to my bird. I expressed my dissatisfaction with his language towards my bird in robust terms and several upturned tables and broken glasses later was chucked out and barred for life. I landed a fair few decent punches and came away surprisingly unscathed, considering. The lass was impressed, though, and I rattled her for the rest of the term.

  12. Professor Pie-Tin2 September 2013 at 12:25

    UK closing time is still stuck in the dark ages.
    Here in Ireland it's 11.30 and 12.30 on a Friday and Saturday which seems eminently more civilised.
    And as most pubs are owner-occupied even these times are fairly relaxed.
    I often don't pop out until 11-ish and sup till 2-ish.
    Often in the company of the local priest and one of the boys in blue.

  13. As I'm sure most people reading this blog will know, under the old regime, pubs would sometimes apply for extensions for Bank Holidays. It never made sense to me that that they'd get the extension for a Bank Holiday Monday when most people had work the next day, rather than the preceding Saturday or Sunday, when most didn't. I got the impression that the licensing magistrates wouldn't grant extensions for ordinary days, only Bank Holidays. There had to be some sort of special occasion to justify an extension, and presumably two days before a Bank Holiday didn't count.

    My then local used to apply for one every time, but he'd say that he'd only use it if there were enough people in. As a result, we would go somewhere we knew the extension was definite, to his loss. I always thought that was a silly approach by an otherwise good licensee.

  14. I think they should have kept the Sunday hours, out at 12 -12:30, home for 3 for Sunday dinner, a kip on the couch for an hour or so, a shit, shower and shave for the 7;00 start and out the door at 11:00 and bright eyed and bushy tailed for work next morning.

    The pubs have the same amount of people out on a Sundays, but they're all staggered at different times now.

    Christmas day lunchtime is about the nearest you get to how it was these days.

    Even before the all day opening laws came in, after time drinking was enforced pretty lax round our way.

  15. but again @RedNev that maybe down to local interpretations as round these parts, the extension was applied to the Saturday and/or Sunday not the BH itself which was just given normal Sunday hours, got terribly confusing around Easter though :)

    but the last orders call at 10:45 was always strictly enforced it felt like a different world in places like Nottingham or London where you could still order a drink at midnight in a pub.


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