Phil of Oh Good Ale has recently been recounting his experiences doing the local CAMRA Mild Magic trail. In his concluding post, he makes some very thoughtful observations about the current state of the pub trade.
So, what’s going on out there? Pub-going is changing; like Spinal Tap, its appeal is becoming more selective. The progressive denormalisation of alcohol and social drinking, as a part of everyday life, is continuing to drive pub-going numbers down – or rather, it’s ensuring that losses in pub-going numbers (which are inevitable with social and cultural changes, plus the march of time) aren’t being made up by equal numbers of new drinkers. There is a new breed – or a number of separate, partially overlapping new breeds – of drinker; it’s not just a few hundred hipsters, but on the scale of the population as a whole their numbers are tiny. We can get a false impression from looking in the wrong place, I think. People come from miles around to destination bars in the town centre (and Chorlton), and those bars get pretty crowded at times – but if they’re in town, those people aren’t drinking in the pubs where they live. Thanks to a range of social changes, many of them positive, pubs have lost what used to be their steady clientele (defined roughly as “every unmarried male over the age of 14 and a large proportion of the married men”) – and people who know their Beartown from their Beavertown aren’t going to fill a gap that size...This echoes several of the points I’ve made in the past in posts such as this and this, that:
...There are places where an old style of pub-going doesn’t seem to have gone away, but there are many others where it seems to have died completely, leaving big multi-room pubs waiting for a clientele that isn’t to come back (or not more than a couple of times a week)...
... That’s the world we’re in now, pretty much; unless that wider trend towards denormalisation can be reversed, the pub industry’s going to be facing lean times – or rather, even leaner times.
- The “denormalisation” of drinking alcohol, especially in a social setting, is one of the key factors in the decline of pubs
- People increasingly see going to the pub for a drink, if they do it at all, as a distinct leisure activity in its own right rather than something woven into the fabric of everyday life
- “Use it or lose it” is a simplistic and not very helpful statement. The problem isn’t so much existing pubgoers visting less, but demographic churn not replacing them with a new generation