Monday, 11 March 2019

Selling your (Dover) sole

The Morning Advertiser has recently reported how pubs have grown to rival restaurants, with no less than seventeen now possessing Michelin stars. This is presented as though it is unalloyed good news, but should it really be seen as an entirely positive development?

Of course it is a truism to say that many, perhaps most, pubs would struggle to survive without serving food of some kind. However, there is a huge difference between offering snacks and functional food for people who are already in the area, and setting yourself up as a destination dining venue that people will make a special trip to visit.

I have written before how developing a destination food trade will, over time, tend to drive away other classes of customer. And that’s not just “drinkers” in a narrow sense, but anyone else who wants to partake in an activity other than eating, such as various sports, pub quizzes and meetings of clubs and societies. If you don’t feel at home if not dining, you will stop going.

While it may still have the outward appearance of a pub, it has in functional terms turned itself into a restaurant. In effect, it has sold its soul to continue in operation as a business. And is becoming a high-end gastropub really all that different from metamorphosing into an Indian restaurant or a convenience store? It certainly is unlikely to be much of a resource for its local community.

One of the Sunday papers recently ran a feature on the best pubs in Britain, and it was taken as read that each one would have, not a signature beer or cider, but a signature dish. A generation ago, that would have been unthinkable. In the early days of this blog, I asked whether it would have been better all round if pubs and restaurants had gone their separate ways. Of course, that particular ship has long since sailed, but I can’t help thinking it’s still just as true today.

Incidentally, for those reading this on a mobile who can’t see the sidebar, please cast your vote in my new poll on whether you’re really more interested in the pub or beer experience in pubs.

23 comments:

  1. Of course it's a good thing, Mudge lad. Pubs becoming something better than a pub is good thing whether that's a shop, flats or restaurant. It's the things that become pubs we need to crack down on. Them pokey micropubs that used to serve a more useful function as a bookie, chippie or knitting shop.

    We do need a better word than pub restaurant or pub themed restaurant, though. How about a portmanteau? Pubaurant. Restub. Pestaurant.

    Then we can stop pretending they are still pubs. If people book a table, if tables are reserved for diners, it ain't a pub.

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    1. And if a place selling craft beer has regular locals, then we can stop pretending it ain't a pub too.

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    2. The presence of regulars doesn't of itself make an establishment a pub. See here: When is a pub not a pub?

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  2. There's a gastropub 200 yards from where I live. It was the last rough fisherman's pub in the area and on the bones of its a**e. Heineken pumped over half a million quid into it in 2013 and it was taken over by a Masterchef runner up. Initially drinkers were sharing the pub with diners but that's pretty much all worn off and even though it calls itself a Gastropub - 11th in the 2019 Estrella Damm Top 50 - it's a restaurant in a former pub that tolerates a few brave souls standing at the bar for a pint. A bad thing? Not as far as helping to regenerate the area goes, but it's a lost pub, no less than if a Sainsbury's Local had opened up in the building.

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    1. That illustrates my point about how the dining trade over time drives out the drinking trade.

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    2. The dining trade got a big boost in 2007 when the government closed down most of the drinking trade. Pubs died that day. What remains are not pubs and whatever goes on in them is not pub life.

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    3. What a load of nonsense, Anon. Clearly you don't go to pubs any more. You do realise you can just step 3 or 4 yards from your seat outside the door if you want a cigarette, don't you?

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    4. Sigh... How many times have I explained this to you before? For a smoker, being able to enjoy a cigarette with his pint is a key aspect of going to the pub. Take that away, and the pleasure is greatly diminished, so it's hardly surprising that smokers (and their tolerant friends) end up going less often, or not at all. Would you really go to the pub just as much if you were forced to stand outside to drink your pint? For once, maybe you should make an attempt to understand how other people see things.

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    5. I don't go in pubs anymore because pubs no longer exist. That was my point, Neville. You may like your anemic casual dining gentrified family outlet or even your cheery beery micropub and you may have convinced yourself that they are a reasonable substitute but I remember when real pubs existed. Not facsimiles living off the name of something that died in 2007.

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    6. "For once, maybe you should make an attempt to understand how other people see things."
      Maybe you should practice what you preach?! Not all smokers are against the smoking ban. I know because I'm one of them. My pub going habits have not changed in the slightest since the ban. For that matter I don't know anyone who has stopped going to the pub because of it. And I know a lot of smokers! Sigh indeed...

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    7. Perhaps RedNev didn't go into pubs pre 2007 when they were full of like minded people enjoying themselves. Why should we have to go outside to enjoy tobacco. Smoking pubs should be allowed. Non smokers can have their own pubs.

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    8. @Anonymous: Funny how all six of the claimed smokers who say they support the smoking ban seem to post in my comments. Do you actually enjoy being treated like scum?

      File alongside "Drinkers for Prohibition" and "Jews for Corbyn".

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    9. I used to be a heavy smoker until I packed it in a couple of years ago, not because of the smoking ban but because fags had just become too expensive. The ban didn't to stop me going to pubs but I still resented it like mad and would love to see it repealed. I took up vaping to replace the tabs and find that most pubs, bar Spoons, are happy with it.

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  3. They are not pubs. Presumably they are marketed as pubs to attract those people who like to think they are going to the pub. I can't think of any other reason. Try sitting down in a Michelin starred "pub" and asking for a pint of bitter. Perhaps at least 50% of seating available to people not ordering food should be used as the classification.

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  4. The newspaper that celebrates the loss of a space for villagers to meet for something less than a sit-down meal is the same paper that tells us that a "popular" pub is being closed down for lack of custom. Lazy journalism taking press releases at face value.

    Ultimately the market will decide, and I didn't join CAMRA to prevent the market working, however clumsily. But there's a world of difference between the family brewer's pub with plenty of space for a beer and crisps, and the Brunning & Price or Cheshire gastro where ALL the tables expect you to be eating.

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  5. The Stafford Mudgie11 March 2019 at 20:58

    Michelin might know a thing or two about tyres but they've no business lecturing us about pubs.
    ( Just back from three pints of Holdens Bitter and (three) faggots, new potatoes and peas in the lounge of the Swan at Whiston. It would have been the bar if I'd just wanted Holdens and scratchings )

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  6. It's perfectly fine to claim the sizzling pub company or the 2 for 1 pubs or the beefeater chains or the wacky warehouses are not pubs but restaurants but if a pub has been in the beer guide for 20 years and then becomes a restaurant we should all just quietly get on with pretending it is still a pub. If people use the beer guide and are then surprised they are not allowed to use a table unless they dine, that is their look out.

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  7. I don't think the dividing line is clear, and you can't even use the Michelin star/gastropub as a divider. There's a "pub" not far from here The Crown which is a Marstons 2 for 1. Food is unexceptional, beer, last time I went, was OK, but it really is no longer a pub. It did used to have a small drink-only area, but that has now been eradicated. Last time we went in, we were asked 3 times if we were eating in 20 minutes. We don't go in anymore (which also means the nearby Thai restaurant doesn't get visited either, as there's nowhere decent for a pint). The place does well though, as it's in a prominent position on a main road, is family-friendly, and has a decent car park, it's just not a pub in the real sense any more.

    Conversely, two of 4 pubs within 1/2 mile of my house both serve food and do good business with it, but only serve food in one of two rooms, and there's still places to sit in either room if you just want a drink, and I think that's the key for me- I positively welcome food in pubs and eat in pubs a lot, but I don't want the food business to overwhelm or even eradicate the fact that it's a pub.

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    1. The Stafford Mudgie12 March 2019 at 17:24

      I remember the Crown on the Watling Street bring a proper Banks's pub with Mild and bitter on their metred electric pumps but that was a long time ago.

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    2. @Stafford Mudgie: Not so many years ago, it still met that description. It wasn't so bad before the last refurb, either, but it's not a place I care for now, I wish the Rising Sun over the road was still there (sadly long closed and mostly burned down).

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    3. yeah I was going to mention Marstons as one of the exceptions to rule,as the last one of their "family pub and carvery's" I walked in, I was accosted at the door as I walked in before Id even made it to the bar, did I want a table to eat at ? and then discovered all the tables were reserved for people eating if you were only drinking you couldnt sit down. so I stood at the bar had a quick pint and havent been back since. But apparently Heston Blumenthals pub the Hinds Head which has a Michelin star is supposed to very much be a separate eating/dining experience and a normal,or as normal as you can get in a place with two 3 star Michelin restaurants, pub.

      So its tricky, I know alot of pubs in rural East Anglia would have shut without the gastro trade, some balance it alot better as still being local pubs & just do good food to complement it, some dont and are more after the dining crowd, but will still serve you beer though its easy to feel out of place. Though Ive found more places outside of East Anglia where the dining/beer mix feels totally wrong, definitely Bristol/Bath lots of places seemingly that ar pubs, but that are just restaurants serving beer, which isnt the same vibe we get in East Anglia at least.

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    4. The Stafford Mudgie13 March 2019 at 02:41

      I think the Rising Sun was Marstons but has been closed at least ten years.

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  8. A good restaurant serves good food and gives good service
    A good pub sells good beer but offers poor service: you have to go to an understaffed bar to get the beer
    A gastro-pub seems to combine good food and poor service. The number of times that I have been unable to get a second drink in a gastro-pub because the staff are all engaged in serving food ...

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