In Boak & Bailey’s recent discussion about getting casual drinkers back into pubs, the old chestnut inevitably cropped up of “Use it or lose it!”
As I’ve written before, there are two sides to this. It’s certainly true that, through your own personal preferences, you play a small part in making a collective choice as to which businesses succeed and which fail. It’s called voting with your feet. But the idea that, as an individual, you can make much difference is misplaced. As I said, “Quite frankly, I have better things to do than go to pubs I wouldn’t otherwise visit in an almost certainly vain attempt to stop them from closing.” The same is true of bank branches, post offices and local bus services.
But there’s a point that’s being missed here. It’s not so much my or your choices that are affecting the success of businesses, it’s demographic churn. The existing customers may continue going, but if the new entrants to the market aren’t, then the business is going to suffer and probably ultimately fail.
I’ve often heard the view expressed that small changes in taxes or costs won’t make any meaningful difference to people’s behaviour. For those already established in the market, that is probably true, but it’s different for new people. Only a small movement will lead some to make a different choice and, over time, that can be significant. “Increase cost X by 2% - who will notice the difference?” Most won’t, but for some pubs, or other businesses, that will be the difference between success and failure.
I would never fool myself that my own contribution made any difference to the success or failure of any particular pub. Unless on holiday, it’s pretty rare that I actually drink more than about 15 pints in pubs in a week. Neither my wallet nor my liver would stand it. As I said, the average adult in Britain drinks less than two pints of beer in a pub each week. I doubt whether there has been any week since I turned 18 in which I haven’t comfortably exceeded that except when ill.
But actually I probably am spending less in pubs that I did ten years ago, for the specific reason that a combination of TV sports, loud piped music, dim evening lighting and often indifferent beer have made my local pub much less appealing than it once was, and, from what I see, less appealing to other customers as well. I try to make up for it in other ways, but the fact that I can no longer just nip round the corner for a quiet, reliable pint in congenial surroundings does have an impact.
Incidentally, kudos to Boak & Bailey for continuing to raise the big issues that so many other bloggers fight shy of in their pursuit of the latest awesome new beer.