In the early years of my drinking career, it was noticeable how a lot of pubs managed to strike a good balance between drinkers and eaters. They would have a menu of food, very likely placed on each table in the lounge in a PVC binder, and possibly an A-board outside advertising their food offer, but would avoid having table reservations, place-settings or areas for diners only. You would be more than welcome if you wanted to eat, but they would still retain a strong core of customers just there for a drink. In many ways this mixture of regular and casual customers led to a vibrant pub atmosphere.
Although obviously not found in the inner-city backstreets, this model of pub was very common in town and city centres, suburbs, small towns, villages and rural locations. But, over the years, it has steadily been eroded. Many of the more successful ones have been converted to an entirely food-led format where drinkers are made to feel like second-class citizens. Some, while ostensibly still laid out in pub style, have effectively achieved the same result. Others have closed down entirely, while some have retreated to a mainly wet-led model and stopped opening on weekday lunchtimes. I have had meals in several pubs that are still open but which no longer serve food.
They still exist, albeit in dwindling numbers, and I continue to feel that, because of the wide customer mix, they are places that, more than many others, generate a good buzz of welcoming pubbiness. The Davenport Arms at Woodford is a good example. A good pub shouldn’t be a monoculture where everyone is after the same thing, whether it be food or beer.
Maybe now it is Wetherspoon’s who are foremost in championing the mixed-use pub used by people with a range of different objectives.