Monday 10 April 2023

A touch of grey

We live in an ageing society, with an ever-increasing ratio of older people compared with younger ones. However, you would never guess this from the media, who seem obsessed with the youth market. Scarcely a week goes by that we do not hear of some presenter or columnist being put out to grass in the interest of “bringing in new blood”.

This can be a dangerous attitude to carry across into the business world, where companies often seem preoccupied with attracting a diminishing and fickle youth audience while loyal older customers are ignored. This article identifies this misapprehension as one of the factors behind the fall of Silicon Valley Bank:

When releasing its annual State of the Wine Industry report for 2023 (as well as lending to tech start-ups, it also had a premium wine lending arm), it came to the conclusion that the future of the wine sector depended on bringing a new generation of young drinkers into the category.

This was the wrong decision again by SVB. The reality is that great swathes of young people don’t touch wine, and they never have done. Consider that as many as 35% of people in their 20s don’t drink vino at all, whereas in contrast, the majority of wine is consumed by the over-40s. What actually happens is that many of these younger drinkers ultimately move over into the wine-drinking camp as they get older, and possibly more discerning with their alcohol choices.

The same seems to happen on a regular cycle with trying to attract younger drinkers to cask beer. However, the main thrust of Glynn Davis’ article is how this attitude applies to the pub trade. Increasingly, the over-45s are the people with both the time and money to spend in pubs, but when they do cross the threshold they encounter a variety of factors that make them feel ill at ease.

Meanwhile, 25% of the population is sitting pretty. These are aged over 45, largely mortgage-free and living rather comfortably, with plenty of disposable income. But they have moderated their behaviour in line with the rest of the country and reduced their frequency of visits to pubs, bars and restaurants.

Drawing these people out of their homes more often must surely represent a major opportunity for the hospitality industry? They need to be given more confidence, and reasons, to get spending again, and this could involve some really simple things like increasing the print size of menus, adjusting the lighting and addressing one of the biggest bugbears of older customers – the high volume of music in many venues.

The volume of music in pubs is a perennial complaint. Regardless of what genre it is, if it’s too loud to sustain a conversation many people are simply not going to want to stay. I remember on our trip to Shifnal in 2019 going in the Crown in mid-afternoon and being regaled by the greatest hits of Pink at absolutely earsplitting volume. There were very few other customers, none of them particularly young, and I’m really not sure for whose benefit it was being played. As I said, “It wasn’t surprising that this was by some way the least busy of all the pubs we visited.”

The choice of music is also an important factor. It has to be remembered that the older generation are people who have lived through the Summer of Love, punk and rave culture, and so don’t necessarily want to be given the musical equivalent of a pipe and slippers. They are people who will still put School’s Out, Back in Black and Smells Like Teen Spirit on the jukebox. There is a tendency to believe a pub appealing to a more mature clientele should offer a mixture of bland easy listening and songs from the shows, which can be very wide of the mark.

From the Beatles to the Britpop era, the popular music of the day was part of the general public consciousness. But, in the present century, the fragmentation of media and the growth of streaming has greatly undermined this, and so if a pub plays contemporary pop it will to a large extent fall on deaf ears. And a crucial factor is that music should always be selected to suit the tastes of the customers, not the bar staff.

Edit: I ran this Twitter poll which underlines the point. Only 13% of respondents said they made any effort to keep up with the current charts, including a slightly lower proportion of under-50s:

Pub seating is another important aspect. If customers aren’t comfortable, they’ll go elsewhere. A particular offender is the growing trend towards high-level posing tables. A couple of years ago, Holt’s refurbished the Cat & Lion at Stretton, a prosperous and genteel suburb just south of Warrington. Yet the bulk of the seating in the main bar area consists of posing tables, as pictured. You have to wonder where all the fit young customers are going to come from who will find that appealing. Another type of seating that is very offputting to older people is long forms with no backs, as often seen in craft bars.

Other factors that could be added are:

  • Low lighting, making reading impossible.

  • Bare wood floors, which echo and amplify noise rather than soaking it up.

  • Long flights of stairs to reach the toilets. There is a huge territory covered by “not disabled, but not as sprightly as I once was”. Wetherspoon’s do well on most of these points, but not on this one.

  • Putting your entire menu on a blackboard – maybe OK for daily specials, but regular items should on a printed menu with font of a legible size and which makes it clear how to order and exactly what comes with what.

  • Allowing noisy children a free run of the pub.

Obviously if a pub deliberately markets itself as being targeted at the older generation it is likely to have a negative effect – oldies do not want to be reminded of the fact. But it shouldn’t be too difficult for pub operators to take a few simple steps to avoid being offputting to older customers without deterring anyone else. And, at a time when younger people seem to be increasingly avoiding alcohol entirely, and preferring burying themselves in social media to actual physical socialising, it makes good business sense.

It’s easy to say “you need to catch them young”, but it has been extensively demonstrated over the years that there are many things in life that people just grow into. An excessive focus on youth is likely to prove counter-productive.


  1. Often the music is just for the benefit of the barely adult employees who are there mostly to have fun and socialise with their fellow employees.

    1. Spot on. And repeated artificially created bass chink-chink, just drives me striaght out, usually in a very bad mood. They are keen on that in London particularly.

  2. CAMRA is also guilty of fetishing youth with its promotional materials showing an age (not to mention race and gender) demographic completely unrepresentative of its actual membership, a pointless exercise as those (clearly very few) taken in by it would realise they'd been duped as soon as they turned up to a meeting or event.

    1. CAMRA is very guilty of this, with its promotional material, which seems to depict an idyll put around by the PR company, rather than the actual reality.

    2. CAMRA are not the only organisation to do this.
      The current UK P&O television commercial doesn't feature a single white face when in reality as anyone who has ever cruised will tell you the only persons of colour on board are normally serving you lunch.

      I'm all for inclusivity provided it's based on reality but that trans-feller who's the new face of NIKE was also paid $10,000 to advertise tampons - I wonder where he/she/they shoved them ?

    3. Professor Pie-Tin12 April 2023 at 17:47

      It is funny to watch CAMRA and their serried ranks of beer blogging admirers hitching up their underskirts and twittering in disgust at a local branch for not alerting them to a pub's prized collection of golliwogs.
      Perhaps none of the local branch was offended or didn't think it even worth mentioning as they'd been in situ for a decade without anyone giving a stuff.
      It only appears to be the usual virtue-signallers masturbating themselves into a frenzy.
      Your regular reminder if ever you needed one that Twitter is not real life.
      Personally I don't mind much either way because Essex folk have always been a bit strange but perhaps a quiet word from Plod rather than five of the doughnut-munchers doing the big I am might have been a better option if there really had been a genuine objection. They surely must have more pressing matters on their hands like rainbow-painting their helmets or cooking up some tofu and couscous for Swampy and his mates on the gantry of the Dartford Crossing.
      But you can always rely on CAMRA being utter pompous twats about it.

    4. Professor Pie-Tin16 April 2023 at 21:00

      The White Hart Inn's pub windows smashed and slogans painted on the outside walls.
      Chapter 2 of the woke mob's playbook.
      Hound people online first then follow up with the physical intimidation.
      I'm guessing a demo next.Worthy Guardian feature articles defending the mob.
      But the dam is broken and once the teeth-grinders start waving pitchforks and preparing the ducking stool it's all over.The owners will bail out after considering their lives are not worth a few toy dolls.
      Then we'll be back to reading beer bloggers' Twitter feeds bemoaning pub closures.
      The same ones who are up in arms now about a few toy dolls.

  3. Raise the drinking age to 30 or 40.
    That would ensure only sensible people mature enough to appreciate real ale and real pubs could drink.

  4. Professor Pie-Tin10 April 2023 at 15:35

    Loud music really gets on my tits.
    The wife knows we walk straight out of a pub if it's too oppresive. Period, as the Yanks say.
    And the second rule is that if a polite request for music to be turned down is met with a shrug and/or look of disdain this entitles the enquirer to be as rude as they like when supping up and leaving the place.
    Fuck 'em.
    I once sat in a Yorkshire coastal pub on my own at lunchtime, with just the landlord and his ancient farting dog, listening to Test Match Special as we tupped the Aussies.
    Now that's music to my ears.
    Happy days.

    1. Loud music in pubs and restaurants was the real reason Pipedown, the Campaign for Freedom from Piped Music years ago. It is still going strong, despite the current idiotic obsession with the 'youf' market,

  5. Can't knock any of your points(being of an age), I don't mind music in pubs as long as it suits my general playlist but time and place is very much a factor. As for high level seating it's been around a long time now and doesn't bother me, Screaming out of control kids is a very big NO.

  6. I don't think it's the aging as such but rather those for whom going to the pub is a habit. Went to the pub to see my mate (55, I 40) the other night - as you do - and it wasn't much short of 50 quid/head. We can keep affording this but I suspect others wouldn't justify such expense on the strength of a "Pub?" text alone.

  7. Aren't they all just in Sam Smith's pubs, and Wethers early weekday afternoons?

  8. An annoying feature mainly affecting Wetherspoons is the plethora of advertising material taking up much of the tables. At least locally, none is a full menu, for which you have to kmow to trek back to the right corner of the bar where they are displayed. Incidentally, I reckon a normal session there comes to about £10 a head for beer, £6 each way for minicab (no buses there from near where I live) although my friend does have convenient buses and uses his pass.

  9. Even worse than loud music in a pub is loud music in a pub played by a DJ, with the DJ interjecting all the time. The DJ's voice is always unintelligible, too loud and too close to the microphone.

    1. That's slightly different, as it's specifically putting entertainment on (which you might expect to be pretty loud) as opposed to randomly playing earsplitting music in the ,middle of the day to an audience of codgers.

  10. Same people who want loud thumping music in a pub look for "discovery" and "storytelling" in craft beer. I'm willing to tolerate classical music and hard bop jazz from the early 60's if played at low volume.

  11. I had you down as a big Pink fan Mudgie!!!!!

  12. Oh for the days of the juke box, when you could shove in a sixpence and get a silent record!

    I did once hear a softly playing piece in a pub in Marden, and didn't recognise it. Daughter whipped out an iPhone the size of a small television, showed it to the loudspeaker, and there on her screen was the title, the lyrics, the album and even the inside-leg measurement of the bass playet!

    My favourite pub piece was The Yardbirds singing 'Shapes of things', but that was overtaken by The Who and 'My generation'...

    'Duke of Marlborough', East Hill, Ashford - R.I.P.

    Can't take any music in pubs these days, and neither can Senora O'Blene...


Comments, especially on older posts, may require prior approval by the blog owner. See here for details of my comment policy.

Please register an account to comment. Unregistered comments will generally be rejected unless I recognise the author. If you want to comment using an unregistered ID, you will need to tell me something about yourself.