One of the first places I came across it was at the Bear’s Paw in Frodsham, Cheshire, which I mentioned here. In his last years, I sometimes used to take my dad out for a pint in the Golden Lion on Sunday lunchtimes. He had given up driving himself, and wasn’t really able to walk to the bus stop, so it was one of the few opportunities he had to get out of the house. The Golden Lion doesn’t have its own car park, but the Bear’s Paw just across the road does. Situated in the centre of a busy market town where parking is at a premium, inevitably non-customers were taking advantage, so you can’t really blame them for bringing it in. As the price differential between the Sam Smith’s in the Golden Lion, and whatever was on offer in Bear’s Paw, was easily a pound a pint, we were still quids in.
However, before pubs take the plunge, they need to think through the implications properly. You may be annoyed by non-customers using your car park, but unless they’re genuinely preventing customers from finding a space it’s not actually achieving anything for your business. Even though it may seem only a minor inconvenience, it’s still a little niggle to weigh in the balance when deciding where to visit. People’s pubgoing choices are determined by a whole raft of factors, many of which may individually appear trivial. Plus, in an age where cashless payment is increasingly becoming the norm, not offering this option erects another barrier.
In most examples I’ve seen, the charge is fully refundable at the bar, but in some cases a minimum spend is set. For example, at the Moor Top in Heaton Moor near me, the car park charge is £2, but you have to spend at least £5 to get a refund. Obviously they’re not interested in anyone just dropping in for a swift pint.
If people are really determined to take advantage, the enforceability of private parking “fines” is distinctly questionable – the system functions more as a psychological deterrent. You can of course bar them from the pub, but that’s no use if they never come in in the first place. There is also the factor that many responsible people may be reluctant to use the car park of a business where they’re not a customer, but have no such compunctions if a charge is introduced, as shown by the well-known experiment of introducing fines for late collection at a day nursery.
It may well be, of course, that a pub has an under-used car park that it wants to turn into a revenue stream, and if that’s the objective it’s entirely reasonable. But, whatever the circumstances, it’s important that pubs consider exactly what they’re setting out to achieve before implementing pay and display parking. And, if you want to ensure 100% compliance, the only way to do it is through putting up an exit barrier.