In recent years there have been major changes in the pattern of footfall in pubs in the wake of liberalised opening hours. It’s been widely noted that many pubs see an upsurge of trade in the week at around 4 pm, when many tradespeople finish work, while in town and city centres trade often builds up in the late afternoon after a quiet lunchtime, especially on Saturdays. Yet, before 1988, these were times when all pubs were firmly shut, and indeed on Saturdays many delayed their evening opening until 7 pm.
In the first few years after 1988, although all-day opening was permitted, very few pubs took it up. I remember it being virtually impossible to find anywhere open in the centres of Manchester or Stockport. But, driven by the rise of Wetherspoon’s and other High Street chains, things started to change, and by the end of the century all-day opening was pretty common. And, slowly but surely, the pattern of trade followed, with late afternoon often becoming a busy time. Pubs found that they were losing trade to their competitors if they shut at 3 and, just as importantly, finding that the early bird had caught the worm if they didn’t open until 7 pm.
The pre-1988 pattern of standardised opening hours allowed for morning opening as early as 10 am in some areas. Nowadays, that rather comes across as “tell the kids that, and they won’t believe you”, but at one time it was recognised that there was a demand for it. However, early opening was steadily eroded over the succeeding years, and by the current century it became relatively rare for pubs to open before noon, if indeed they opened at all at lunchtimes.
However, the introduction of so-called “flexible” hours from 2005 onwards allowed pubs the freedom to open earlier if they wanted to. This was enthusiastically taken up by Wetherspoon’s, pretty much all of whose pubs in England and Wales now start serving alcohol at 9 am. And, while they aren’t crowded then, they have attracted a distinct clientele who prefer drinking at that time, as I wrote back in 2019. It’s very easy to sneer at these people, but surely the whole point of flexible hours is that people can drink at a time that suits them, rather than a narrow window distated by the law and social conformity.
As I said, I fully understand the cost pressures that are currently leading pubs to trim their hours. But those are two examples of how being able to open at times when they previously weren’t able to has unlocked a seam of trade that conventional wisdom said didn’t exist.
I started drinking in pubs as a teenager in the late eighties so just about remember afternoon closing, which as you say continued unofficially in most pubs for a few years after the law had been relaxed. I think a big part of it is the switch to dining in pubs, and people expecting to be able do so throughout the day, not just in the evening: I was in my suburban local the other afternoon and was surprised by how many people were eating between three and five o'clock, and not just retired folk but young couples with kids coming in after school as well (I suspect the increase in working from home has got something to do with that, the same reason that many city centre pubs are now quiet at dinnertime and early evenings in the week).ReplyDelete
Late afternoon on Sundays is another time when food-led pubs at least now do good business when previously they weren't allowed to open at all. I used to visit my parents regularly on Sundays and when driving home passed several family dining pubs where the car parks were full between 6 and 7 pm.Delete
This started even before all-day opening was permitted on Sundays. Dining pubs were able to stay open all afternoon if they classed themselves as restaurants and only did table service with meals. Not sure if this was a change in the law in 1988 or if it applied before that but they simply didn't take advantage of it.
We at the Campaign for 9am Smooth Bitter drinking are pleased to have made progress not only in increasing the number of places it is possible to drink smooth bitter at 9am but also firmly establishing the social acceptability of the practice.ReplyDelete
Since the invention of smooth bitter in in the early the early 90s, those that liked to start the day with a refresher of delicious smooth bitter were considered outcasts and had to practice our socially harmless activities in private, with cans of widget bitter, at home. I used to keep a can by the bed ready for morning.
Now, thankfully, I feel we are socially accepted and not outcasts anymore. I feel part of a society that welcomes me for who I am.
The more of us that drink smooth bitter in public at 9am, the more accepted it becomes. Please consider joining us and if any of you want to know the secret of why we often buy 2 pints at a time, just ask a 9am smoother.
Here in our wee Scottish town some pubs also sell good coffee and open early.ReplyDelete
The ones near the station or bus stop do well.
Thank you for your blog.
As someone who regularly works nights, any pubs offering early drinking opportunities are welcome, a few spoons offer alcohol from 8am, with over 8 million workers classed as night workers in the UK , pubs are just one sector that is missing a trick, by not opening early to capitalise on the obvious opportunity to increase their customer base.ReplyDelete
Night work is an excellent suggestion for anyone struggling with getting a pint down them at the crack of dawn. Get a job with this work pattern and you'll soon adjust. The habit will stick long after you are sacked for gross negligence and you'll find a pub near the job centre that'll be open for a early stiffener. Once you are in the groove of 9am smooth, you are in it for life.Delete
Surely people do not drink alcohol so early in the morning. That cannot be right. Mornings are for fried breakfast and good old English tea. Is this campaign for smooth part of Camra like the cider stuff. I hope not or I will be reviewing my membership.Delete
Be careful leaving CAMRA. It's like the scientologists. They stalk you.Delete
Better to keep paying the subs and go buy your none CAMRA widget cans in another town and don't unpack them from your car boot with an open garage door. Drink with the curtains closed.
Anon: What about people coming off a night shift? Don't they deserve a pint or five?Delete
Ex Camra - I know people who have left Camra and it is fine. They are not a terrorist organization, a sort of Ale Queda with tasting notes and beards. We should try and keep the 'beer family' together and not splinter off into separate groups. The Wood boys are doing that already.Delete
9am Smooth - Have you given the name of your organization much thought? It sounds like a breakfast radio show.
Paul - No!
If by "Wood boys" you mean SPBW then they date from 1963 and so pre-date CAMRA.Delete
We already splintered. There's the CampaignFor10amSmooth, which are not bad lads really. I wish we could make it up to them, but we had an ill advised modernisation review and bridges were burned and they went off with their 10am campaign. I still think a 9 or 10 joint campaign would be okay. But it wpn't happen now.Delete
Steer clear of the CampaignFor8amSmooth, they're utter b***ards though. Utter utter b***ards.
There is a lot of advice online regarding leaving a cult. Just remember, this is a cult that doesn't let go. Be careful, pal.Delete
Spoons are the best known, but Stonegate and a few others also cater for the (late) morning drinker, and in Maesteg yesterday the Federation bar was doing good trade just after 10 (pints of Rhymney at £2.70 a pint !).
In the original post I linked to there was a reference to a non-Spoons pub in Great Yarmouth which was open from 9 am and producing a convivia; atmosphere. And, as Cookie will know, several of the pubs on Castle Street, Edgeley, such as the Pineapple and the Bobby Peel, are open from 10 am.Delete
A hobby horse of mine but...ReplyDelete
Pubs trimming their hours is a nuisance but an acceptable one if they told you that they were doing it.
But so many pubs like to keep their opening hours secret. They don't alter their web site to show the reduced hours, nor do they post an "opening times" notice at the door.
I know of no other business that treats its customers in such a caviller fashion. If I need the supermarket I know that it opens from 0800 to 2200. If it needs to vary those hours it puts up a notice a few days before.
There still seems to be lingering sense of entitlement among a lot of publicans who think that they are doing you a great favour by selling you beer. That might have been justified when the pub was the only place to get booze but now it merely makes people drink at home.
Quite agree. The WhatPub website is actually pretty good at posting opening hours. but of course it depends on drinkers and publicans report any changes.Delete
I used to go very early and finish early, now on Fridays some places start opening 2-3pm. This Friday it was very quiet in the pubs in Durham except in Victoria which was packed and heaving. In the places I visited (Colpits, Station House, Holy Grale, Victoria) cask ale was very good, no complaints from me. It was sad to see the big Spoons dark and closed, times must be hard because that place always seemed busy and I didn't expect it to be on the list.ReplyDelete
I completely agree that the older you get, the earlier you like to drink!ReplyDelete