Sunday, 15 November 2015

Chairs, chairs, everywhere...

...but not a place to sit. I think it was on Martin Taylor’s blog that he made a comment that he had gone into a pub and, despite a plethora of seating, couldn’t find anywhere he felt comfortable actually sitting. This very much resonated with me. In the old days, most pubs had extensive bench seating, so effectively you could sit anywhere and it was much the same. My ideal perch has always been with my back to the window and a clear view of the bar, although that hasn’t always been achieved.

But, more recently, this has been undermined, with priority being given to individual tables and loose chairs more typical of a restaurant. So, often there is a confusing mix of high-level posing tables, raised benches, large round tables, seating booths and bijou dining tables for two. I go in and feel that there’s nowhere I really fancy sitting.

A prime example of this is Robinsons’ recent refurbishment of the Bull’s Head in Hale Barns. The two south-facing, bay-windowed rooms used to be great places to sit and have a drink, but now all the fixed seating has been ripped out and replaced with vintage-style armchairs and steamer trunks in place of tables. “This is a pub full of theatre and intrigue.” Err, no. The phrase “Get in the Sea!” comes to mind.

Earlier this year I also visited a large local pub that had recently received a thorough refurbishment. A previous line of bench seating had been stripped out, and I found it difficult to choose anywhere amongst the mixture of different, edgy seating that I would feel at home.

As so often, trendy marketing bullshit from people who scarcely use pubs trumps experience and common sense. If you make drinkers feel uncomfortable, they won’t come.


  1. I don’t know what it is, but I too much prefer my back to the window and a clear view of the bar.

  2. I'm with Paul. It's hard to define good seating, but easy to see when it doesn't work. Those tall seats around circular tables are worst though, and they're not just in posing pubs. Sam Smiths it right more often than not.

  3. It's weird how it works - last time I went to the (refurbished) Baker's Vaults, I got my drink & then had a mild panic: help! where am I going to sit? On a second glance I realised that there was plenty of seating free, but it was all the kind of furniture that I automatically discount when I'm looking for somewhere to sit and relax (i.e. tall narrow spindly chairs grouped around tall narrow spindly tables).

    Perhaps it's all a cunning plan to discourage lingering and increase throughput. Or perhaps they're just clueless.

    1. Maybe it's a deliberate ploy to deter 50+ codgers ;-)

  4. Clueless I'd say. A pub close to me was 'refurbished' some years ago and the bench seating in the lounge end was ripped out and replaced by a selection of fashionable leather settees and chairs, none of which seemed to be designed for actually sitting comfortably in or matched the hight of any of the tables. What the operator had missed though was that the seating capacity of the pub, which attracted a mature crowd who like to sit and was never going to attract standing drinkers, had had its seating capacity reduced from around 100 to nearer 50, with a proportional effect on the takings...

  5. Ah. Bench seating. I like it too and it works, but not sure at all why it is so 2unfashionable."

  6. Bench seating is ideal, but the same result can be achieved almost as well using individual chairs, provided they are all of the same normal height and are arranged with their backs to the wall, as shown in this picture of the Red Lion in Leighton Buzzard from Martin's blog.

  7. There's an otherwise excellent pub in Cambridge that suffers from an excess of ridiculous seating. A large area that could easily fit in 20+ people around bench seating and stools is stocked with distressed arm chairs and bizarre gym equipment, and as a result holds about 8-10 people.

    Not surprisingly, its almost impossible to get a seat, so most people who come in the door turn round and go straight out again. A shame, because the beer is excellent.

    I wonder how much their stupid seats are costing them in sales each month?

  8. I have long advocated beer pumps should display a "TAND approved" logo. Maybe it's time for pubs to have a "Mudge approved" logo.

  9. 'Deterring 50+ codgers' seems to be the main principle governing pub design and layout these days ... well, they will miss us when we're gone.

  10. I would have thought old codgers would love vintage arm chairs. What's wrong with them? They're very comfortable.

  11. Vintage armchairs tend to be too low and it's a struggle to get up out them. Plus they're very space-inefficient. Fine for the living room or the lounge in an old-fashioned hotel, but not for a pub.

    The #1 codger gripe is posing tables, though.

  12. Bernie the Pub Landlord18 November 2015 at 10:05

    So I can keep bench seating and have a pub of old codgers that sup sod all, making a pint last for hours, only in to use my central heating and lucky if they spend a tenner all afternoon/evening.

    Or I can put tables in and have wealthy youngsters spend £15 on a burger, £5 on a craft beer and shift from the table after an hour so some more wealthy youngsters can sit down?

    Of course old codgers can do one. My boozers for spending money in, if you old codgers wanna stay warm, go down the library.

  13. @Bernie - but if you install big round tables you can only get half the number of wealthy youngsters in. And in my experience groups of youngsters are very likely to just nurse glasses of Coke while updating their Facebook profiles. Often half of a group won't even buy a drink at all.

    And there are several over-50s in this comment thread who I can assure you do not make a pint last for hours :-)

  14. @Cookie - excellent idea. We could have a little plaque depicting a cat supping a pint. We can start off with the Nursery, the Griffin (Heaton Mersey) and the Boar's Head - all still bench seat heaven.

  15. On the point about youngsters nursing a coke, I've seen plenty of groups of mature students in Cambridge pubs buying a round consisting of half-pints, cokes and of course free water. It's all cash of course, but not all students are wealthy, even here.

  16. Bernie the Pub Landlord20 November 2015 at 10:38

    Students can sod off, no one under 25 in my gaff. Just high spending urban professionals that spend a lot in a short time and don't bother anyone 'cos they like pissing about with their iphones. They can sup my overpriced soft drinks, or my lattes or my craft beer. I've designed the gaff with "old codgers bugger off to the library to stay warm" in mind. I might even put a sign up to that effect.

  17. Give me a comfy chair(insert Python skit japes etc) and my pet gripe is when a local which had that nice sofa removes it so they can pop in another table and 4 chairs.


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