Tuesday, 24 May 2016

The pub of the future

Let’s fast forward twenty-five years to 2041, and see what the typical pub looks like then. One immediately obvious difference is that, because all alcohol advertising and promotion has been banned, it is not allowed to display a brewer’s name or even state that it is a public house. Some describe themselves as “dining rooms”, while others rely on the lingering memory that something called the Red Lion is a pub.

Since 2016, the number of pubs has declined from 50,000 to around 18,000, with reducing the drink-drive limit and banning smoking in all outdoor public places being major factors. The only place it is now legal to smoke – or vape – is within a private dwelling where there are no under-18s present.

The appearance of the inside of the pub has dramatically changed, as most of the bar counter has been shuttered off, leaving only a small section for service. No drinks – not even soft drinks – are on display, and all must be dispensed out of sight of the customer. Drinks are ordered from an A4 price list in small type, either at the service counter or from electronic terminals at tables. You’re not even allowed to use your own smartphone, as you would be able to save the list and circulate it.

Most drinks, especially in establishments serving food, are now brought to your table, although in some more downmarket wet-led pubs you have to queue up at the servery. The only bottles you are likely to see brought out to tables are sharing bottles of wine, which, as with all bottles, are in standardised packaging with prominent health warnings. Producers do not even have any discretion over the bottle design. There are prominent posters on the walls warning of the health risks of alcohol and making it clear there is no safe level of consumption.

Although some pubs brew their own beer, as it brings some tax advantages, they are not allowed to advertise the fact. Apart from this, the ban on advertising and promotion has effectively killed the microbrewery sector and all innovation in brewing, as you simply cannot promote your products. Some familiar brands of beer, such as Landlord and Pedigree, are still available, but they basically depend on a fading folk memory that these were once popular and widely advertised products. It’s now very difficult to establish where they are brewed, or by whom, and few consumers are bothered. It is increasingly common for customers to ignore the stock list and just order a generic “bitter”, “white wine” or “Scotch”.

CAMRA lingers on as a small and ineffectual lobby group, but it has had to largely terminate its operations. Any organised publication, in print or on the internet, of where particular beers can be obtained is now regarded as alcohol promotion and is illegal, while it is completely impossible to run beer festivals as you’re not allowed to advertise the fact that you’re selling beer. People can still discuss it in private conversation, but even a reference in passing to “The Pride was drinking well in the Dog & Duck last week” in a blog or newspaper column will attract the attention of the authorities.

Needless to say, alcohol smuggling, shebeens, smoky-drinkies and illicit brewing and distilling are all flourishing, and give great opportunities to organised crime.

Far fetched? Never going to happen? Well, that’s pretty much the situation that applies to retailers and consumers of tobacco products right now.


  1. You forgot the 'Personal Alcohol Consumption' Licence -also as a smart phone app. Alcohol may only be sold/served to those carrying a valid licence. To get such a licence one must have been born before 2020, carry private medical insurance (hardworking taxpayers shouldn't have to shoulder the cost for your wilful disregard for your health), attended compulsory 'Alcohol Awareness' lessons, have their DNA on record (to identify those who vomit in public)and have registered their intent to drink 24 hours in advance with the Police.

    1. I thought about that, but deliberately restricted it to things that, by and large, already apply to tobacco.

    2. I know, the 'forgot' of my comment was somewhat tongue-in-nicotine stained cheek. All the things I list however have already BEEN suggested/are being lobbied for hard by the Tobacco Control Industry. That Unspeakable Antipodean Aircraft engineer and his bum chum in fuckwittery Standing Glands for example.

  2. The popular history of prohibition is that of shebeens, Al Capone, Gangsters, Jimmy Cagney, Kevin Costner, bathtub gin in tea cups, People wearing spats.

    This is TV and Hollywood.

    95% of people obeyed the law and didn't drink. The most interesting product to come out of prohibition was malted milk as brewers figured a new use for malted barley.

    Like with drugs today. Most people don't do them.

    1. There is a lot of information available about alcohol consumption during prohibition. For example

    2. For most Americans, prohibition was nothing much. They got on with there lives and saved a few bob without the cultural norm of drinking. It was a "whatever". Al Capone was not shooting guns in every street. Life went on as normal.

      Smoking is now virtually prohibited. It's not a bother to 90% of people. The only 10% either vape as a tool to knock it on the head or moan about it on the internet.

      Drinking will go, and when it does no one will miss it, not least the kids who don't drink and still won't when they are middle aged and it's prohibited.

  3. My sister visited Boston. You have to completely finish your drink before ordering another. I seem to remember there was a problem having a bottle of wine on the table. I wouldn't be surprised if that didn't eventually spread to the UK.

  4. Obviously I understand this is meant as a provocative discussion piece but I genuinely don't believe that drinking will follow the exact path as smoking. Only on the fringe of the health lobby do people genuinely believe that alcohol per se is "bad", though I do believe there will be even less tolerance to open drunkenness than there is now.

    I see the future of pubs going down the "added value" route where they offer a premium experience of high quality beers but consumed in small quantities and less often, confined to urban centres or destination rural pubs. You might go to the pub once a week, at the most. Majority will go less frequently.

    The idea of sitting in a suburban or estate pub for hours drinking cooking bitter will be seen as strange. Being drunk in public will be a shameful and embarrassing thing.

    1. The post is an attempt to speculate what would happen to pubs if the policies of a complete ban on advertising and promotion, and on the display of products, both of which already apply to tobacco products, were extended to the alcohol market, specifically pubs. I'm not saying this *will* happen, but many campaigners are already calling for it.

      I always think this "less but better" business is a bit of a pious delusion that doesn't really happen in the real world. And you seem to be postulating a future where the filthy proles are no longer seen in pubs.

      In practice, as something is denormalised, it is the better off who lead the way in abandoning it. Go back fifty years, and there wasn't that much class division in smoking. Now it's very marked.

    2. The Blocked Dwarf24 May 2016 at 15:44

      I genuinely don't believe that drinking will follow the exact path as smoking

      Then more fool you-and I mean that in the nicest possible way, seriously. Did you miss the recent 'No safe level of alcohol' ? Take a guess at it's parentage. Pretty much all the Volksgesundheit groups have stated that they want to build on the 'success' of anti-tobacco and use the same tatics/game plan- I'll spare you the myriad of quotes.

      You really think that the nannying fusspots who want to ban even the sight of little white sticks emitting harmless steam will allow pretty, shiny bottles designed to ENSARE The Children to continue? I'm waiting for the day that some Health nazi realises that the alcohol from your pint actually EVAPORATES and CONTAMINATES the FRESH AIR in the tap room (albeit it in homoeopathic dosages). Yes that's right, 2nd hand alcohol...RUN FOR YOUR LIVES dragging your toddler behind you!

      Mudgie's piece is still far too Pollyana IMNSHO.

      By the time I reach 4 score and ten, I expect CAMRA will be viewed with the same OUTRAGE that is now accorded to the Paedophile Exchange...and Simon of FOREST may well find himself up on historical charges of 'grooming for the tobacco industry'

  5. Filthy proles have already deserted the pub in large numbers for the comfort of a slab of lager and Britain's Got The Pop Factor.

    Whilst I agree the smoking ban has been nothing less than disastrous for pubs, it has merely accelerated their demise. The kind of overweight, heavy drinking smoker are not being replaced as they die off, smoking ban or no smoking ban.

    Whilst I know you don't like the London Look, I do believe the capital generally points to the future in most things. What I see is the pub still featuring in life, but as a place to meet up before other activities, enjoy a nightcap, watch a film, have a meal, take part in a quiz etc, rather than the consumption of large quantities of alcohol regularly.

    1. I'd say in pubs and drinking, as in lots of other things, London is actually heading in a different direction from the rest of the country.

      It's very noticeable to me that the middle classes have, apart from in a few areas, largely given up on drinking in pubs, as opposed to dining.

    2. So has a large proportion of the working class, who stay in watching football on huge TVs. What we are left with is the pre-settled 20-30ish year olds and retired people.

      Whilst I wholehearted agree there is a concerted campaign to de-normalise drinking from the health lobby, it might be worth trying to come to terms with the fact that a significant section of the population no longer want to drink as much as they did. You may say that that's as a result of the health lobby, but that's denying that there is freedom of choice. It is still not difficult to drink in this country at any time during the day but yet fewer people are doing it on a regular basis. Maybe they just don't want to.

    3. "It's very noticeable to me that the middle classes have, apart from in a few areas, largely given up on drinking in pubs, as opposed to dining."

      and yet cask ale and craft beer, the two drinks drunks almost exclusively by the middle classes are the two growing sectors. The working class keg only boozers are the ones that are shutting, to be replaced by gentrified cask ale emporia.

      In fact, I think the evidence suggests that quite the opposite is happening.

      Most people's drinking habits are established by their early 20s and although they are constrained to various factors (eg job, marriage, children), they don't really change much. Most of the people I went to uni with in the hard drinking 2000s are still regular pub goers today - despite having professional jobs, wife and kids.

      The concern you should have is the short-sighted and antagonistic way pubs have treated the 16-25 age bracket in the past 10 years. The stats clearly show that it has put most of them off for life. you're never going to get those customers back.

    4. Meanwhile, back in Mudgie universe, I used to see middle-class people DRINKING in pubs in large numbers early doors in the evenings and on weekend lunchtimes. Nowadays, they've largely disappeared, and a few diners don't go very far to replace them.

    5. I don't disagree with you that the times people drink have reduced. Its now largely frowned upon to have more than a single pint over lunch before returning to work, and most people can't afford to eat their lunch in the pub every day anyway.

      People are also in more of a rush to get home to their wife and kids after work, and so restrict their post-work drinking to Fridays. Whether that is a good thing or a bad thing depends on your point of view. People also drink less before driving. Again, is that a good thing or a bad thing?

      Most pubs are still pretty busy from 8pm to 11pm 7 nights a week though, in my experience.

      Middle class people tend to have pretty active social lives, and that normally involves a visit to the pub - just to drink, not to eat - once or twice a week.

    6. "Most pubs are still pretty busy from 8pm to 11pm 7 nights a week though, in my experience."

      Really? Even on a Monday night?

      My local CAMRA branch does regular Friday night "Staggers", on what should be the busiest night of the week. Over the course of a year that will involve visiting around 100 pubs. Some are pretty busy, but plenty aren't. Of the six pubs we did last Friday in Offerton, I'd say only two counted as pretty busy.

      I also had a short stay in Shrewsbury the other week. On three consecutive nights, I visited three different pubs in the 9-11 pm timeslot, all current GBG entries. None was more than a third full, one embarrassingly empty.

      Obviously things may be different in PY universe. You must visit a very limited range of pubs.

    7. Absolutely - I go to the pub every Monday night and its hard to get served - not always the same pub, either.

      Current GBG entries are probably a pretty good guarantee of finding the most empty pubs in town. The old men who make the recommendations don't like pubs full of noisy hipster wankers. Did you try the Salopian?

  6. Yes your vision of the pub in the future i would say is pretty accurate. Outside of our cities and larger towns the pub is almost dead. Drive round the countryside at night you will see loads of closed pubs. Many of these pubs would have survived without the smoking ban. If people had a choice to go either to a non smoking pub or a smoking pub or even to a smoking bar within a pub, then a lot more pubs could have been saved. Unfortunately the nanny state run by joyless puritans the UK has become could never allow that ! Modern ventilation equipment can easily deal with cigarette smoke and many people like me would not have had our social life destroyed.

  7. Putting LOTS of THINGS in random CAPITALS does nothing to increase the substance of a post.

    Make no doubt I see parallels with smoking, but I don't share the bleak pessimism. Whilst even many (but not all) smokers admit to gaining little pleasure from the habit, the same is not true for alcohol which is why I don't believe the exact path will be followed.

    I do however believe the message that drinking is bad will continue to reduce overall quantities of alcohol consumed for many years to come. I believe this will mean the death of the "local" and the concentration of pubs to urban centres.

    For the avoidance of doubt, note the difference between observation and approval.

  8. Putting LOTS of THINGS in random CAPITALS does nothing to increase the substance of a post.

    Agreed, but it's not random at all and is actually internet punctuation- SHOUTING or stressing or making it a Daily Mailesque headline, you know the sort of thing :"VILLAGES FURY AT.."

    little pleasure from the habit, the same is not true for alcohol Unfortunately it is , or rather that is the expressed goal of the Health Fusspots. Drinking beer (or any alcohol) must become an 'addiction' from which no pleasure is gained and people only drink to feed their addiction. I would contend most smokers, if not all, get pleasure from smoking, otherwise we wouldn't do it-says the filthy , antisocial, kiddy poisoning ADDICT!

    1. I know its there aim, but where I disagree is how *in general* smokers want to quit, those who enjoy moderate drinking don't. That's why it will be harder for the health fusspots to succeed. They may do, but not by 2041, and possibly never.

  9. Where did you find that pic of my dad?

  10. People meet in pubs because its convenient. You don't have to tidy your house or worry about getting in drinks and nibbles and providing entertainment. Meeting your friends in the pub is far easier and less stressful than having them round to your house. Its neutral ground. Pubs have other advantages: the beer is often better, you can get something to eat, and there are entertainment distractions you don't have at home, like pool tables and sky tv. If you're single, you might meet someone to chat to.

    There are multiple reasons why people go to the pub; as long as those reasons still exist, pubs will still exist.

    I don't actually see much difference between the pubs I go in now and the pubs I went in 20 years ago. They're still the same busy, vibrant, noisy places full of people of every age and background. The only difference is that the beer is better and you don't go home stinking of smoke with an awful headache, both vast improvements.

    1. Thank you for another dispatch from PY World. In the pubs I go in, there has been a dramatic decrease in the number of drinking customers at pretty much all times apart from the traditional busy sessions of Friday and Saturday nights. Some once heaving pubs are now like a morgue. Smoking ban not solely to blame, but must play a large part.

    2. Its part of the regular churn of the pub trade that some pubs that used to be popular fall out of favour, and some that used to struggle manage to reinvent themselves. Its not in the slightest bit surprising that if you keep going to the same pub, you will see it in both thriving periods and deserted periods. Even in the past 5 years I've seen little village pubs go from thriving to dead to thriving again several times as different landlords have made either a better or a worse go of it.

      Maybe all the Stockport pub goers are now in those popular pubs that you deride as being "full of hipster wankers"?

  11. " The only difference is that the beer is better and you don't go home stinking of smoke with an awful headache, both vast improvements." There is another difference - as many pubs closed in the first five years after the smoking ban as did in the twenty
    years before the smoking ban. Pubs are still closing at a high rate and we are not in recession. It's about time pubs became booze free, that way teetotallers can claim pubs are just "busy, vibrant, noisy places full of people of every age and background".


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