Friday, 25 October 2019

Calling time on time

There used to be a very straightforward ritual attached to closing time in pubs. Ten minutes before the actual time, “Last orders at the bar!” would be called. Then, at the hour itself, it was “Time, Ladies and Gentlemen!” And, after ten minutes of drinking-up time, it was chucking out time, when the customers would be asked to leave the premises with varying degrees of firmness.

Drinking-up time was interpreted differently in various areas – Birmingham, for example, was very strict, while Greater Manchester tended to be much more relaxed. However, it was a standard routine that was generally understood and accepted. And, of course, with afternoon closing too, it happened twice a day. In 1988, when all-day opening was finally permitted, the permitted drinking-up time was extended to twenty minutes, which in many places was merely a recognition of what was already happening. But, otherwise, nothing changed.

However, the 2003 Licensing Act, which was implemented in 2005 and led to a much more liberal regime overall for opening hours, swept this away, and left it much more to the discretion of individual establishments as to how they managed the process. On the face of it, that may sound like a welcome measure of deregulation, but in practice it often just leaves drinkers confused and disgruntled. This is exemplified in this blogpost from Boak & Bailey and this tweet from Jules Saunders:

There are three interlinked problems. One is that it has become increasingly difficult to establish when pubs are actually expected to close, something made worse by many pubs’ habit of describing their hours as “12 till late”, which is no use to man or beast. Then, even when hours are published, they may vary them apparently capriciously from one night, and one week, to the next. And, when you’re actually in the pub, it may not be at all clear when closing time actually is, and you may be taken aback when the shutters suddenly come down without warning. If you are eating in a restaurant or watching a film in the evening, it really helps to know where you can be certain to be able to get a drink afterwards.

I can’t say I’m actually in pubs very often at late-night closing time, but I’ve certainly heard many complaints about it. Plus I have experienced the situation where you’re in a pub and are not sure whether to get another one in before 11, or whether to wait until you’ve finished your pint. Of course you can ask, but you really shouldn’t have to do that. If a pub ever deviates from the standard closing time, why can’t it display a sign above the bar saying “Bar closes at midnight tonight” or whatever?

This is another manifestation of the sense of entitlement still widespread in the licensed trade, a feeling that customers should feel privileged to be allowed in at all and really have no right to be provided with decent, reliable information. Another example of this is the unwillingness to display price lists. Shops tend to operate fairly standard and predictable hours, but pretty much every one displays its hours outside. Pubs’ hours are far more diverse and variable, yet equally far less likely to be on view.


  1. Hours are more often seen on Facebook and Google Business listings than actually on the premises these days. And they're also more likely to be out of date.

  2. One thing you pubmen have to accept is that pubs are one of them special types of business that attract the early retired to start vanity hobby businesses to keep themselves busy, whilst more business orientated chain pubs tend to attract unengaged staff uninterested in serving you or wiping your table due to the poor pay and unsocial hours, meaning many pubs are badly run. Face it, accept it.

    But ask yourselves. If they were well run and kept regular advertised hours, would they be the businesses that attract your affection?

    My corner shop is well run, always open & Mr Patel is a hard working fella for his coin. I'm not sure corner shops are held in as much affection as pubs.

  3. Spot on regarding strict Brummie door policy. I love the place but the door policy compared to other cities was/is crap.
    They delight in turning people away..
    I remember going to The Hacienda in 1990 in jeans etc and no problem and then bring turned away from Brum a week later as my jeans "weren't expensive enough!
    Off topic I know but Brum door policy was garbage

  4. The Stafford Mudgie26 October 2019 at 09:25

    I find that those "three interlinked problems" are best avoided by using pubs early in the day.
    Even before 1988 I was as likely to benefit from an afternoon 'lock in' than a night-time 'lock in'.
    Yes, now "it may not be at all clear when closing time actually is" but I've heard that a pub in Market Street near me will close at about 9pm if it has no customers and I can understand them not remaining open for another couple of hours on the off chance of a customer wandering in.

    1. It's a golden rule in the trade that a pub should keep open no matter how quiet. Once a pub gets a reputation for shutting early customers stop going long before the time they think it might be closed early. Then there's a licensing issue - local authorities have been known to point out that if a pub isn't keeping its stated hours, there's a case for restricting their hours to those that they're using.

    2. I was just about to say that - getting a reputation for erratic opening hours can be really damaging to a pub's overall trade. If you've found it closed once when you expected it to be open, it's likely to deter you from going at any time.

      This happened to the Swan With Two Necks in Stockport, which is situated on a pedestrianised shopping street, to the extent that it became a standing joke. However, over the past couple of years it's benefited from the new cinema at the back.

  5. I'd entirely agree. I don't often stay in a pub late, but will once in a while, meeting a friend. The pub we meet in varies it's closing time according to custom, which way the wind blows, and the landlord's mood. This can be very annoying if you just fancy one more...

  6. It doesn't matter what opening hours a pub operates, as long as it sticks to advertised hours. If you want to close early during the week, why not advertise that you close at, say, 9.00 pm or whenever and stick to it? I've never noticed any shops closing early because there are hardly any customers in.

    About four years, a friend and I went in at 9.45pm to have a look at the Falstaff in Southport which had just reopened after refurbishment. There were only two or three other customers in, and as we approached the bar, the barman said, "You're just in time."
    "For what?" I asked.
    "The landlady wants to close the pub at ten tonight."
    I replied: "I'm not drinking somewhere with stupid opening hours", and walked out. We went across the road to the Cheshire Lines, which was buzzing with a couple of reasonable beers on.

    I never went back - the refurbishment was horrible anyway. 19 months later, the pub closed down for another refurbishment, which was also unsuccessful and it's now closed completely.

    As for drinking up time, it was always a legal maximum; it was never an entitlement for the drinker. Even with 20 minutes licensed drinking up time, a pub could ask you drink up earlier. By de-licensing drinking up time, a pub can in theory let you hang around with your final drinks as long as they like - whether 3 minutes or half an hour - without anyone breaking the law.

  7. The sense of entitlement in the traditional licensed trade is very well established and has existed for my entire drinking lifetime of over half a century. That was workable when there were no other outlet for booze than the local and the customer you threw out would be replaced by someone thrown out of another pub. But in the modern climate it is commercial suicide
    Many licencees seem to think that the normal rules of commerce - like "the customer is always right, especially when he is wrong"; and that to sell your product you need someone behind the counter; and that closed premises do no trade - do not apply to them. Which might be a reason for the number of pub closures.

    1. Very true, I've been in some places where the bar staff think they are doing you a favour by letting you buy a drink, it's no only closing time that is a issue, sometimes it's very difficult to find out when a pub opens. This annoys me even more, with the internet offering endless opportunities for businesses to engage with potential customers. Many times I've given up and gone somewhere else after looking in vain at their website, which is very proud to tell me how talented the chef is, how locally sourced the ingredients are, the awards they have won, the quality of the beer etc etc, but seem to overlook that this is totally irrelevant if they don't publish their opening hours.

  8. Gloucestershire last night. 10.20 pm. Three pubs, all 11.00 closers per Whatpub, all shut. Two were chain pubs which in my experience are less prone to this sort of nonsense.

  9. I used to frequent a basic boozer in Leighton Buzzard. As closing time approached, the landlord would get up on a stool, bang a gong to silence the mob and then, affecting a stutter, would shout, "Ladies and gentlemen, would you all please fffffffff-------ind somehwhere else to go!" The pause before he completed the F-word was always accompanied by newcomers to the pub looking aghast at what they felt sure he was about to say.


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