Sunday, 18 October 2020

Death of the swift pint

When the new restrictions on how pubs could operate were imposed in the middle of September, many people expressed the view that their combined effect would largely destroy the spontaneous pleasure of just popping into the pub.

This theme has been echoed in an excellent article in Retail Insider by Glynn Davis entitled Extra restrictions kill the swift pint option…

Many times over the past couple of weeks at the end of the day I’ve thought about popping out to the pub for a quick pint while I read the paper. But I’ve then changed my mind and instead cracked open a can of beer or poured a glass of wine at home. Once lock-down ended, I reckon I was more excited than the majority of people at the ability to again simply go for a drink in a convivial atmosphere that wasn’t my own garden or house. But what has transpired has not been particularly appealing because of the growing number of steps you have to go through before you get to the point of having a glass in your hand...

...But when you then throw in the 10pm curfew, the situation becomes dire for businesses and customers. After its introduction, like-for-like sales fell 21.2% compared with the week before it was brought in. With this, food fell 19.1% while drinks declined 23.2%, according to S4labour. I’m clearly not alone in finding the creep of extra restrictions limiting the appetite for socialising. According to a CGA Consumer Pulse Survey conducted on 22 September, two in five (40%) of people stated they would go out less often as a result of the measures. This compares with a much more modest 14% who intend to go out more often.

I had said the same a few days before that, while the pubs are mostly still open, the experience just isn’t the same. I’ve always found the fact that nobody questions what you’re doing in a pub, or really cares, to be a major attraction. And another Twitter commenter said much the same in response to Glynn Davis’ article. It’s not one single thing, but the cumulative effect of the several different measures put together. As Tim Martin of Wetherspoon’s said, customers “find it too much of a faff.” Previously, it didn’t seem too onerous to give your name and phone number to a member of staff, or write them on a slip of paper, but expecting people to check in using the NHS app adds another layer of formality, and anyone unable to use it is marked out as a little odd. Plus, many people seem to have difficulty connecting with it, leading to queues developing on entry.

The queues are exacerbated by table service, which means that everybody has to be allocated to a table before taking a seat. And then there can be a long wait to actually get someone to serve you. A ten or fifteen minute wait makes that swift pint not so swift, and as for asking for a refill...

While many people have become inured to wearing masks, it still seems a ludicrous charade to be expected to put one on for a minute or two when entering a pub or going to the toilet, and this must represent a significant psychological deterrent. And, if you have a medical exemption, you will need to steel yourself for a potential confrontation with officious door staff, and run the risk of barracking from other customers when going to the toilet.

While I’m not personally too concerned about the 10 pm curfew, I know for many people a couple of sociable pints towards the end of the evening is their favoured regular routine.

The pubs themselves are not to blame for this, as it’s something that has been imposed on them from above, although it has to be said that some don’t exactly help themselves in their approach to implementing the regulations. If people have a compelling reason to go to the pub, then they may still be willing to jump through the hoops, although of course now across large swathes of the country you can’t even meet up with anyone outside your own household. But that swift pint on spec – forget it. Plus the arbitrary restrictions over and above the official regulations which I referred to in the post linked above make going to any pubs beyond your regular haunts a complete lottery as you have no idea what kind of welcome you will receive.

It’s all very well saying that people should support pubs, but if the experience has been turned from something pleasurable to a grim rigmarole it becomes increasingly hard to see the attraction. And most ordinary people go to pubs because they enjoy it, not out of a sense of duty.

I recognise that not everyone will see things in the same way, but it’s a common fallacy to believe that your own perceptions are representative of the whole, and from what I’ve seen on social media there are plenty of previously regular pubgoers whose reaction has been the same.

21 comments:

  1. I think that's very much right throughout, but it is difficult for pubs to get the right balance (as everyone else) in the current situation- not all will succeed in that balance. However, we've little alternative at present & it will only be temporary, if a long temporary,so it won't be the death of the swift one at all,merely the suspension for a time in most circumstances.

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    1. Oh, as I said, I'm certainly not blaming pubs, apart from the minority who deliberately go over and above what is expected of them. They are having to deal with ever-changing restrictions at short notice at the same time as being under severe financial pressure.

      But people may well get out of the habit of going for a swift pint, or never get into it in the first place. Johnson has said that all social distancing restrictions will be lifted by next September at the latest, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if that doesn't happen.

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  2. I haven't downloaded the NHS app, and have no intention of doing so.

    I have visited quite a few pubs recently, and all have been quite happy to record my details using pen and paper. If using a pub becomes conditional on using the app, then I will take my custom elsewhere.

    Those of us who grew up in the sixties, will remember the immortal words from the cult TV-series, The Prisoner. "I am not a number, I am a free man!"

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    1. And it's being reported this morning that details of people instructed to self-isolate are being passed on to the police, which is hardly going to instil confidence.

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    2. Yes, just seen confirmation of that on BBC News. The march of the police state continues!

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    3. -no and although it doesn't apply to me I am hearing reports of healthcare workers in retail having their apps warnings going off left right & centre- and there's no way all them can go home and isolate,services have to run for the public good,unless certain categories have an exemption from 'a pinging app'which opens up a massive can of worms. I've not read all the caveats etc with the app though to be honest- and of course I wonder how many studious citizens out there will have found time to either. That said the app has certainly to be more use than no use,especially in low prevalence areas,where I can see it being of great value.

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    4. You can always use a generic QR code scanner on your phone to scan the NHS code, then enter whatever details you see fit to.

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    5. What have we come to when people are spoofing a QR code reader just to get in a pub?

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    6. Indeed. It’s becoming normal for huge numbers of people. Thing is though, I’ve not scanned in or had my details taken anywhere for months - I’m only going where the staff and management are mates or at least where I know them well enough for them to have have my phone number or can message on Facebook so if there is a problem they can get in touch quick enough.

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    7. IrishseaDave, my wife works in our local general hospital, where all the staff have been told to download the app, but to switch off their phones and and preferably lock them away when they at work. (The logic is that as they all wear appropriate PPE in the workplace, proximity to a Covid-19 sufferer should not result in viral transmission, though it sounds to me like it's a convenient cop-out!)

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  3. I'm off to York today after reading on Twitter about how some of the pubs were deserted yesterday. Why am I going - well, it feels like someone has to. You could call it a sense of duty.

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    1. Thanks for the approbation. You can read what happened here: http://forums.pubsgalore.co.uk/showthread.php?31998-How-was-it-for-you/page11 (#107 ff)

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    2. Well done for making the effort, but those experiences underline why many people will be steering clear of casual pubgoing for the time being. Especially the Golden Ball - that young lady really did have the Little Hitler mentality.

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    3. Interested to read Sheffield Hatter's reports. Like him, I'm tending to drink just pints now, as it seems daft investing so much time in a transaction for a half I tend to finish in a minute.

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  4. "it’s a common fallacy to believe that your own perceptions are representative of the whole"

    Here's an alternative perception. Every time I go to the local shops - which is a couple of times a week - I pass my favourite pub; if the weather's fine and the tables outside aren't all taken, I stop for a drink on the way home. The pub doesn't bother with check-ins for people sitting outside (reasonably enough), and the (previously bar-bound) staff are constantly on the move, both inside the pub and outside - I've never had to wait longer than a couple of minutes, for a first drink or a refill. I hate poor service and I'm a bit of a hypochondriac at the best of times, but since that pub reopened I've always felt both safe and well looked-after. The swift pint is alive and well (if a bit parky these days).

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    1. A comment that perfectly illustrates my point :P

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    2. Professor Pie-Tin18 October 2020 at 15:57

      Breaking news - woke up this morning nursing a fearful hangover after a beer garden gallon in the local ( for those in the know ) watching the rugger final yesterday. Consoled myself this morning that it will be the last piss-up for a while as lockdowns loom.
      A government minister confirms on the lunchtime news that Level 5 lockdown arrives tomorrow which will mean all pubs close.
      Shortly followed by a text from the guvnor of the local saying " Lads,side door open at 5pm.Definitely positively the last time before lockdown. "
      Well, all things considered, it would be rude not too.
      I shall call it the last hair of the dog for a while.

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  5. I suppose a swallow would be out of the question?
    Or in local patois - a wee swallay.

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