Monday 27 July 2020

Junk policy

In an attempt to revive the hospitality trade, the government have announced an Eat Out to Help Out initiative, under which customers of pubs and restaurants will be able to get a 50% discount on food and soft drinks on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesday. What a good idea, you might think. You could go out and enjoy some fish and chips, or roast lamb, or a cheddar ploughman’s, followed by some tiramisu or chocolate fudge cake. The only problem is that, apparently, the government don’t actually want you to eat any of those things. Under their proposed anti-obesity strategy, they’re all considered so bad for you that it won’t be possible to advertise them on television before the 9 pm watershed.

It seems that Boris Johnson has been spooked by his own brush with Covid, which has prompted him to adopt “Nanny State” policies that previously had been ruled out. I wrote about the possibility of this happening back in May, and concluded that “any ‘war on obesity’ started by the government will be largely ineffective, will get a lot of people’s backs up, and will create a whole raft of unintended and undesirable consequences.” it also seems particularly bad timing to impose new restrictions when hospitality businesses are already struggling.

It is presented as a crusade against “junk food”, but that is a nebulous concept for which it is impossible to come up with any hard-and-fast definition. In practice, it will to cover foods that are “high in fat, salt and sugar”, which in practice covers many items considered natural and wholesome. I wrote last year how a similar ban on advertising imposed by Transport for London had caught up in its net a company specialising in boxes of fairtrade products, who had had the temerity to include bacon and butter in a photograph. But they felt it was unfair on them rather than drawing a wider conclusion. The whole can of worms is set out in this paper (PDF donwload) from the Institute of Economic Affairs.

Fortunately it seems as though small independent businesses will be excluded, as including calorie counts on menus would place an unreasonable administrative burden on them. However, the clamour to bring them within its scope will be unlikely to relent, whatever the wider consequences. And the restrictions on what can be advertised will harm the revenue of already struggling media outlets.

The policy is effectively filleted with his usual aplomb by Christoper Snowdon in this article entitled Boris Johnson’s Absurd Nanny State Crusade:

Finally, it is at least pleasurable to think of all the headaches the government will now have as it tries to turn the dozy ideas of ‘public health’ fanatics into workable legislation. Most of the policies that Johnson is toying with have been dusted down from the fag end of the Cameron era. They were gathering dust for a good reason. They are not just illiberal and ineffective, they are impractical and illogical. Since there is no legal definition of ‘junk food’, the government will find itself in the same preposterous position as Transport for London, which had to ban adverts showing butter and jam last year and even had to censor its own promotional literature to remove images of popcorn and cream.
One of the few consolations is that we will be able to enjoy a lavish helping of Schadenfreude as the whole thing becomes tangled up in its own contradictions.

It’s gesture politics pure and simple, straight out of the “something must be done” school of public policy. But, sadly, it seems that whichever party you vote for, Public Health England always ends up in government. And the fact their sights have currently been trained on food doesn’t mean they won’t return to alcohol in future.

Friday 24 July 2020

Hollowed out

Unexpected traumatic events often lead to major changes in behaviour and policy, some of which are temporary, while others prove to be permanent. However, at the time it can be difficult to tell which is which. Remember after 9/11 how people were saying that nobody would be building skyscrapers any more? Have you looked around central Manchester recently? On the other hand, nineteen years on, there are still severe restrictions on what you can take on to aircraft in your hand luggage.

Nearly three months ago I came up with a list of likely long-term changes that the Covid lockdown would bring about. I think all my points remain valid but, as I was essentially considering the impact on the licensed trade and the retail sector, something that I didn’t mention was the move from office-based to home working. Yet many commentators are now saying this may represent one of the most significant shifts in society that emerge from it, which will have many implications for the role of city centres.

It’s been widely observed that the recovery from the depths of the lockdown has had a somewhat Polo mint-shaped character. Many suburbs and smaller towns are not far off normal levels of activity, whereas city centres remain deathly quiet. There are various factors behind this. They are places where most of the footfall comes from people travelling in from outside rather than those living nearby. Non-essential shops were not allowed to reopen until the middle of June, which is only six weeks ago, and pubs, cafés and restaurants, which most people would see as an essential part of a shopping trip, came three weeks later. At the same time, compulsory face masks were imposed on public transport, which people are much more likely to use to reach city centres, while they will travel more locally by car. And forcing people to wear masks in shops will make that day out shopping in the West End even less appealing. Plus the level of tourism, both international and domestic, has fallen off a cliff, and tourist attractions are only just reopening.

But undoubtedly the move from office to home has been by far the single biggest factor driving this. This has often been foretold, but has never really happened, but this time it really does seem to be different. It suits employers, as they can potentially save a lot on office rents, and it suits employees, as they are able to avoid the daily grind and cost of commuting. The wider implications for how workplaces function are really beyond the remit of this blog, and it does have to be said that successful home working may be reliant to a large extent on the social capital previously built up in offices, and employees are likely eventually to feel isolated and miss the social aspects of office life. But it is likely that many employers will adopt a system of only expecting employees to come into the office for one or two days a week rather than five, which obviously will have a huge impact in the amount of office space required, and the number of people present at any one time in city centres.

This will have profound implications for major policy areas such as land use planning and the expansion of public transport capacity. It will also affect housing demand, as there will be less need to actually live close to your place of work. And it will impact on a wide range of businesses operating in city centres that service the work-based economy – cafés, restaurants, sandwich shops, convenience stores, dry cleaners, hairdressers and all kinds of general retail outlets that workers use in their lunch breaks or on their way to and from the office. Some of this demand will be taken up by businesses closer to where people live – after all, everybody has to eat – but some is likely to disappear entirely. Although written from an American perspective, this is a very relevant article about how the relative attractions of city and small town are changing.

And one area that is likely to be particularly affected is pubs and bars. Nowadays, the centres of large towns and cities are one of the few locations where pubs really thrive. While lunchtime drinking is now much more frowned upon, there remains a strong demand for the after-work pint, with the streets outside central London pubs often being crowded with drinkers in the early evening. Very often, city workers go on directly to evening activities rather than going home first. And pub visits are often prompted by a desire to meet up with colleagues, and people from other workplaces, outside the office environment. If everyone is isolated at home, the attractions of wandering down the local at six o’clock will be much less. That is, if you even have a local, while in city centres there are pubs to suit every taste. So the death, or at least the severe diminution, of office culture is likely to have a seismic, and largely negative, effect on the pub landscape.

Tuesday 21 July 2020

Inching back to normality

It is now just over two weeks since pubs in England were allowed to reopen following the lockdown on July 4th, albeit under restrictions as to how they could operate. On reopening day, there were a handful of reports of minor outbreaks of disorder, but they were probably nothing more than would have happened on a normal Saturday, and were only newsworthy because of the long closure.

The general impression is that trade has been substantially down, with the Morning Advertiser reporting a figure of 40%. That is certainly borne out by my own experience of visiting a number of pubs. Obviously this is not necessarily representative of the overall pattern, but I’d say they varied between doing reasonable business and being extremely quiet.

With one exception, which is a very small place, none were up to their permitted seating capacity. This suggests that those pubs that decided they needed to require bookings for drinkers had been distinctly over-optimistic, apart from perhaps on the first weekend. Each pub has come up with its own interpretation of the guidelines, so you have to pick up the rules on each new visit. You are likely to be greeted with calls to sign a register or form, and to sanitise your hands using the cunningly concealed dispenser that you have just walked straight past.

I have only encountered one put that allocated me to a specific seat, and that was on reopening day – I suspect it may have been dropped since. I have also had no problem in paying with cash in any pub I have visited. I have been surprised that only half the pubs have made any attempt to ask me for contact details, given that so much concern was raised about this aspect beforehand. Maybe this is a good thing, given that evidence is already starting to emerge of contact information being abused.

Two of those that did were Wetherspoon’s, where the contract tracing forms are prominently displayed by the entrance, but customers are not put under any pressure to comp0lete them. In general, Wetherspoon’s seem to have done a good job of complying thoroughly with the guidelines without making their pubs unwelcoming. To my eye, their interiors have been improved and made more intimate by breaking up the wide open spaces through spreading the tables out and putting partitions up between them. Like other pubs, though, they seem to have struggled with organising a queuing system at long bar counters that weren’t designed for it.

One pub I visited had a portable screen that they placed at the bar to enable a customer to stand next to it, which seemed like a slightly tongue-in-cheek way of paying lip service to the rules. In general, the most convivial atmosphere has been in pubs that preserve separate rooms with bench seating around the walls, enabling customers to sit around the edge and carry on a conversation while still maintaining social distancing.

While there is no way of telling people’s relationship with each other, I got the impression that people from different households were meeting up in pubs and sitting together, showing that on the ground they are beginning to ignore the increasingly incomprehensible rules on exactly who can meet whom where and how far they’re supposed to stay apart.

Some pubs continued to provide beermats, either already out on the tables or handed to you individually with your drink, although the majority didn’t. This suggests that doing away with mats falls into the category of “something we can do to show we’re making an effort” rather than having any real justification.

In most cases, access to toilets was unhindered apart from signs reminding people to wash their hands and keep apart from one another. One pub, however, had instituted a single occupancy rule for each of the gents’ and ladies’, and in the gents’ had taped off the urinals, so only the single WC was available for use. You can’t help thinking that this is likely to cause problems if someone needs to use the trap for the purpose for which it was intended!

At least initially, beer quality was good, as you would expect when pubs were all tapping fresh casks, and most seemed to have made efforts to trim their beer ranges to match the expected lower level of demand. However, this is inevitably likely to fall off as the reduced customer numbers take their toll.

The atmosphere in the various pubs I have visited has varied considerably. Personally, I’m quite happy for pubs not to be too busy, and some of them are places I’m happy to spend time in. In others though, it feels as though there’s just a handful of drinkers rattling around in an oversized building, and in one or two certain aspects of their adjustments made me feel less than entirely at ease. Only one, though, was playing piped music at a volume loud enough to require raised voices, which goes against the guidelines.

The fears that restricted capacity due to social distancing requirements would be a major problem have proved largely unfounded, and the real issue is simply the lack of customers itself. I doubt whether many of the reopened pubs can genuinely say yet that they are trading profitably.

The prospects of pubs are very much tied up with wider economy, and until confidence is restored they will continue to struggle. This is especially true in city centres, where the continued high proportion of commuters working from home has led to a sharp fall in demand, not just for pubs, but for a whole range of other ancillary businesses. The government are facing the problem that it is one thing to create a climate of fear that causes people to curb their activities, but something else entirely to unwind it.

Sunday 19 July 2020

Stop all the clocks

CAMRA have stated their intention not to include any information on pub opening hours in the 2021 Good Beer Guide, which is due to be belatedly published at the end of October. The reasoning behind this is that, in the wake of the Covid lockdown, many pubs will be operating different or reduced hours and, given the impossibility of resurveying every pub, the information would thus be extremely unreliable. No details at all are arguably better than incorrect details. This is only planned to be a temporary measure, and the aim is to restore opening hours in the 2022 edition.

However, even inaccurate information does serve a purpose in a negative way by giving an indication of times when you can be pretty sure that a pub will not be open, and thus there is no point in trying to visit. It’s a fair bet that very few pubs will actually be opening longer hours than they did before. There are also many pubs, such as the Wetherspoon’s which make up about 5% of the entries, where the opening hours are firmly established and could be published without any risk of misleading readers. On the other hand, in my experience, the shorter and more unusual the hours that are advertised for a pub, the more likely they are not to adhere to them.

It’s airily said that if you’re concerned about whether a pub might be open, you can easily phone them to check. However, that shows a failure to appreciate the way many people use the Guide in practice. Rather than fixing on a specific pub and planning an expedition to visit it, they are much more likely to browse a range of entries in a town, or along a route, to see which might be worth a visit. If you find yourself in Borchester on a Monday night, you’re not going to phone round nine pubs to check whether they might be open. You’re much more likely just to go to Spoons, which you know will be open. And the information contained on pubs’ own websites and Facebook pages is notoriously inaccurate.

Some have suggested that CAMRA should simply abandon publication of the Guide this year, as the lockdown has brought about such a dramatic change in the pub landscape that it has become more a history book than something of current relevance. However, its unbroken publication over 45 years has become a key symbol of CAMRA’s efforts, and it would seem wrong to simply discard all the effort that has been put into it at ground level. Plus, in the current climate when income from beer festivals has completely dried up, the revenue is important for CAMRA’s finances.

There are cogent reasons why the decision has been taken, but the importance of reasonably accurate information on opening hours should not be understated. It will also inevitably lead some people to decide not to purchase the Guide due to the incompleteness of the information contained in it. And it will make life even more difficult for the dedicated band of tickers of GBG entries.

Maybe it would also make sense to drop the beer listings against each pub, which can be even more inaccurate than the opening hours. But at least it will bring to a temporary halt the interminable debate about whether or not to adopt the 24-hour clock!

Thursday 16 July 2020

Climate of fear

Earlier this week, the government announced, after much speculation, that they were going to require people to wear face coverings in shops in England from a week on Friday. This seems a somewhat bizarre decision, given that the virus has pretty much burnt itself out now, and people have been visiting shops right through the peak of the pandemic without them. In any case, many experts consider that masks are of very limited effectiveness.

The impression is very much that they have done this in response to public opinion, with many opinion polls showing a clear majority in favour of compulsory mask wearing. However, this isn’t borne out by people’s actual behaviour on the ground. From my observation, well below a quarter of supermarket customers are wearing masks. It seems that many people want the government to force them to do something they’re unwilling to do of their own volition. This is rather akin to those wealthy people who call for higher taxes, but never actually write out any cheques to HMRC themselves, which they’re perfectly entitled to do.

It’s important to note that the rules refer to “face coverings” rather than specifically to purpose-made masks, so it’s perfectly possible to use ones made from old scarves or T-shirts. How effective those will be is obviously highly questionable. No specification is given, so no objection could be raised to wearing the plague doctor costume shown above, or to flimsy items which were only intended as decorative costume adornments. On the other hand, the Welsh government has decided that all public transport passengers will be required to wear three-ply masks, which will need considerable skills in needlework if you want to make them yourself.

The way masks are actually worn also leaves much to be desired. In theory, the disposable ones that seem to be most popular are only supposed to be worn once. Take it off, for whatever reason, and you really should put a fresh one on. But how often is that going to be adhered to, especially since many of the mask zealots in the media keep telling us how easy it is to slip them off and on again? And how often are the home-made ones going to be washed in practice? Once a week if you’re lucky. Plus, the actual disposal of all the disposable masks is going to create an enormous waste problem. It’s also noticeable that all of them seem to have been made in China!

Many people have genuine medical reasons for being exempt from wearing a face covering. For example, experts have warned that people with asthma should not wear masks. But it is likely that they will have to endure bullying and harassment, both from staff and other customers, if they turn up at a shop without one. And many deaf people depend on lip-reading to communicate with others, and are going to be made to feel even more isolated.

People may well grudgingly put up with wearing a mask when nipping round the supermarket for essentials. But it makes going out shopping a much less enjoyable experience, and will act as a serious deterrent to more extended expeditions for leisure shopping, especially for clothing. A month after “non-essential” shops were allowed to reopen, High Streets are still seeing greatly reduced trade, and making shoppers wear masks is likely to bring any hopes of revival to a juddering halt.

Fortunately, so far pubs and restaurants have been excluded from the requirement, but what’s to guarantee that this won’t change in the future? After all, it has already happened in some Continental countries. After only just having reopened, and still struggling with reduced capacity, that would to deal a fresh body blow to the pub trade. Going to the pub is supposed to be an enjoyable leisure experience, not something you’re expected to grimly endure. And the blow to town centre shopping will have a further knock-on effect on pubs.

Some have argued that compulsory mask-wearing will encourage retail activity by instilling a greater sense of confidence, but surely human nature suggests it will have precisely the opposite effect. Far from representing any kind of return to normality, it will be an indicator of an ongoing climate of fear and anxiety.

No specific end date has been set for the measure, or any set of criteria against it will be judged. Indeed, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has stated that it may have to continue until a vaccine has been found, which could be never. As the great Milton Friedman said, “nothing is so permanent as a temporary government program”. Remember that the afternoon closure of pubs, brought in as an emergency measure during the First World War, lasted over seventy years, and income tax, originally introduced to finance the Napoleonic Wars, is still with us.

Thursday 9 July 2020

A hike too far?

As pubs and pubgoers emerged blinking into the light after the long, grim months of the lockdown, they were confronted with a landscape that was unfamiliar in many ways. Most obvious were all the new social distancing and hygiene measures that had been introduced, and the widely varying interpretations that had been put on the guidelines.

More subtle were the changes to menus, beer ranges and prices that had been implemented. Wetherspoon’s, for example, seem to have increased beer prices by 10p a pint across the board, although it’s highly likely they would have done that in the Spring anyway. So John Smith’s Extra Smooth and Bud Light have now gone up in my local ones from £1.99 to £2.10, although Ruddles Best is still £1.79.

However, at first I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard what was happening in the Sam Smith’s empire, although this report from Middlesbrough seemed to confirm it. So I had to go along to one of my local ones to check it out on the ground, and in most respects the report proved correct, although I wasn’t expected to wear a face mask at the bar and both ladies’ and gents’ toilets were open as normal. Interestingly, I wasn’t asked for any contact details.

There had indeed been a swingeing increase across the board on beer prices, although it wasn’t a flat rate £1 a pint as some had suggested. The 2.8% beers – light and dark mild and Alpine lager - had increased from £1.40 to £2.20. Old Brewery Bitter had indeed gone up by £1 to £3.00, although they didn’t actually have any as apparently “none had been brewed yet”. Double Four Lager, also 4%, was also £3.00, where it had been £2.08 before. Extra Stout and Taddy Lager were now £3.40 as opposed to £2.30, and the premium Pure Brewed Lager had gone up from £3.00 to £4.20. The barmaid suggested to one or two customers that they could try an Alpine/Taddy split, which works out at 3.75% and sets you back £2.80.

It’s often hard to discern any considered strategy, or indeed sense, on pronouncements emanating from Tadcaster, and this will certainly test the patience and the budgets of many of their regular customers. On a personal level, I’m not particularly bothered, as I go there for the congenial atmosphere – comfortable seats, no piped music, TV sport or screaming kids – rather than the low prices. But if many of the other customers are deterred, much of that atmosphere will be lost, and indeed the future of the pubs themselves may be threatened.

The effect won’t be felt evenly across the board. In some of Sam’s Northern pubs in villages and prosperous suburbs, £2 a pint was effectively giving money away to customers who could comfortably, and willingly, afford more, and there may be little difference in the level of trade. Indeed, in such locations everywhere else nearby will still be considerably pricier. However, in some of their town and city centre pubs, and in some of the back street locals in and around Rochdale that Tandleman has been visiting on and off, there is undoubtedly a strong contingent of value drinkers who are likely to react against the price rises, either by transferring their business to Wetherspoon’s or by not coming out at all. Some town centres also have other value pubs that may see an opportunity.

While Wetherspoon’s are undoubtedly now much cheaper for cask beer and John Smith’s, this isn’t the case across their full beer range. Indeed the company in general succeeds in putting across an image of offering low prices that isn’t always borne out on the ground. For example, one of my local branches charges £3.05 for Carling and Foster’s, although the one nearest to the Sam’s pub is £2.69. Plus in Wetherspoon’s people end up sitting in solitary splendour on isolated tables rather than exchanging banter around a room lined with bench seating, and the management are likely to frown even more than normal on rearranging the furniture.

In general these increases will still leave Sam’s prices on a par with, or just below, those of their nearby competitors. It remains to be seen to what extent customers were there just for the cheapness as opposed to valuing other aspects of what the pubs provided. It’s not impossible that in the long term it may come to be seen as a necessary correction to prices that had become seriously out of kilter with the rest of the market and weren’t really bringing in that much extra trade. Or it could prove to be unhinged commercial suicide. Only time will tell.

It should also be remembered that Sam’s weren’t always known for their cheap prices. Going back a generation, they were on a par with the other family brewers. But a series of policy decisions in the present century have led to them overtaking Holt’s to offer by far the cheapest draught beer in tied houses. It’s certainly what Humphrey’s namesake on “Yes Minister” would call a “bold” experiment, and it will be interesting to see whether the policy holds, or whether there will be a reverse ferret once he finds some of his pubs completely devoid of customers. There is certainly a precedent for this in their backtracking on the Great Pie Fiasco.

(The photo shows a group of probable value drinking codgers in the Olde Blue Bell in Hull).

Edit: Tandleman has, entirely independently of me, discussed the same subject, and reached some of the same conclusions.

Sunday 5 July 2020

Where were you when I needed you?

Last week, I ran a Twitter poll on people’s attitudes to returning to the pub yesterday, the results of which are shown below. What is perhaps surprising, and disappointing, is that as many as 34%, from an audience presumably more favourably inclined towards pubs than the population at large, responded “Not for a long time”.

Now, I would strongly defend everyone’s right to act according to their own conscience. But everyone must recognise that action, or inaction, has consequences. If you’re someone who never much cared for pubs in the first place, you can’t really be criticised for staying away now. But if you have professed support for pubs in the past, and you are under 60 in reasonable general health, you really need to consider your position.

While the death toll from the pandemic has been appalling and tragic, it has overwhelmingly affected the very old and those already in poor health. It has killed just 300 healthy people in the UK under the age of 60. The fatality rate has been 1 in 9,000 for under-65s, but 1 in 250 for over -65s. Now, when the rate of infection is greatly reduced, you are probably more likely to be killed crossing the road on your way to the pub than from contracting Covid-19 when you get there. To still stay away on the grounds that it is not safe represents a warped and exaggerated perception of risk.

The next few months are going to be a very trying time for the pub trade, with reduced capacity from social distancing and a lack of general consumer confidence combining to limit customer numbers. The rush of enthusiasm on reopening day is unlikely to be maintained for very long. Pubs will need all the support they can get. By all means make your own decision, but don’t then complain six months down the line when many of the pubs you used to enjoy are no longer there. More than ever before, “use ‘em or lose ‘em” is a critical message.

Apart from the over-caution, I was taken aback by the wave of rancid snobbery directed on social media at people who had ventured out to the pub. Just look at some of the responses to this tweet from a Manchester Evening News reporter:

Incidentally, the pub in question was the Shiredale in North Manchester. And, while some people said it appeared grim and uninviting, to my eye it very much looks like a Proper Pub. These responses prompted several people to man the barricades in defence of pubgoers, even though it wasn’t something they personally cared for. Many so-called beer enthusiasts who may in the past have given lip service to supporting pubs seem to have gleefully joined in with both of these tendencies. They may well have found they quite enjoyed staying at home during lockdown enjoying supplies of draft craft beer takeouts from their local micro bar, absolved of any need to actually go out and visit any pubs and mix with the dreaded hoi polloi.

Even worse than this were the snarky comments along the lines of “you won’t be saying that in two weeks’ time” which in effect is wishing illness and death on others.

Anyway, on a more pleasant note, the post title gives an excuse for another trip down memory lane with the Bangles. And Susanna Hoffs is five months older than me!

Friday 3 July 2020

Keeping in touch

A week ago last Tuesday, the government confirmed that pubs in England would be allowed to reopen under certain conditions tomorrow, Saturday July 4th. Later in the day they issued the detailed guidance on how this was expected to work. I have deliberately avoided returning to this subject in the meantime because everything is speculation, and we won’t really know how it will turn out until it actually happens.

However, the point that has probably led to most discussion is contained on Page 11, where it says “You should assist this service by keeping a temporary record of your customers and visitors for 21 days, in a way that is manageable for your business, and assist NHS Test and Trace with requests for that data if needed.” Clearly, there is a strong justification for this, but it is something that has never been required of pubs before for walk-in customers, and the trade has spent the following week running around like headless chickens trying to come up with ways to implement it. It also creates serious privacy implications that should not be lightly dismissed.

Eventually, yesterday the official guidance on collecting customer details was produced, which is considerably more straightforward than many people had imagined. The key details are shown below. Note that it states “No additional information should be collected for this purpose”, so pubs will be going too far even to ask for addresses.

This is pretty much what Wetherspoon’s have said they will be doing. If some people write down Donald Cummings or Dominic Duck, so be it, but in reality I’d expect a high level of compliance, as making up a false identity is actually much more hard work than telling the truth. This little pad used by a German restaurant points the way, although even the address field is superfluous.

Compare this with the diktat issued by the Prince Albert pub in Wolverhampton, which goes well over the top. In particular, demanding to see “official” ID, except for purposes of age verification, seems completely unreasonable, as is demanding a temperature check and asking for date of birth. So I think my custom would probably go to the nearby Great Western, which is a far better pub anyway. In any case, I have no current photo ID.

On a related note, the various CAMRA branches in Greater Manchester have got together to produce a very useful one-page listing of which pubs and bars are expected to be open tomorrow and during the coming weeks, which is an extremely praiseworthy effort. You should be able to find somewhere to have a pint in most areas. In particular, local family brewers Joseph Holt are opening all but 13 of their pubs, as listed towards the bottom of this page.