You might have thought pubs had a role to play in tackling this issue, but in fact things have gone the other way. A generation ago, it wasn’t uncommon to see groups of old codgers in pubs, maybe playing a game of crib or doms, or just chewing the fat while nursing a pint of mild. But that wasn’t seen as a very lucrative trade, nor something that conveyed the right image. So many pubs were remodelled to appeal to a younger audience, with loud music, TV screens and uncomfortable posing tables, while others went all-out for the dining trade and made it clear that social drinkers, especially slow-spending ones, weren’t really welcome.
Then the smoking ban came along and made even more customers feel unwelcome. As one commenter often reminds us, older people will be particularly resistant to being forced out into the cold and rain, while non-smokers may have found the pub less appealing once their smoking friends had stopped going. Large numbers of pubs have closed entirely, while others have taken the commercial decision to stop opening on weekday lunchtimes, which for many pensioners was their favoured drinking session. And the remorseless drip-drip of anti-drink propaganda has created something of a stigma about pubgoing that wasn’t there twenty or thirty years ago.
Wetherspoon’s are often mocked for the number of customers using mobility scooters, but surely this should be seen as a positive sign that they are actually providing a social function for older people. I was recently in a branch in a fairly workaday town in the South-East where this was very noticeable. But Spoons tend in general to be located in town centres, so don’t act as local pubs near to where people live, and they’re also not noted for seating comfort.
The industry often claims that pubs play a vital role in communities, and in the best cases that’s undoubtedly true. But maybe they need to live up to the hype and take a long, hard look at making their venues more pensioner-friendly. After all, it’s the only growing section of the potential drinking population. And the argument that it’s encouraging excessive drinking amongst the elderly doesn’t really stand up, as most will only have a pint or two anyway.