The latest on trade beer figures make grim reading indeed, but are not really news, though they do highlight what appears to be a rush away from pub drinking. It is forecast that home drinking will overtake drinking in the pub, perhaps as soon as the next 18 months. This was once unthinkable. If you want to read a good article on this subject I recommend Robert Sayles' one in The Publican's blogs section. My readers will know I'm a dedicated pub man and though it pains me to say so, it is difficult to gainsay his conclusion that the figures show that the decline in on trade drinking is part of a long term trend.
The Pub Curmudgeon also explores this subject and of course squeezes in a reference to the smoking ban. While undoubtedly there is some effect from this, there seems little doubt that there are more complex social reasons in play. It is not an original thought to say that once the pub was, for many, a refuge from a grim home environment, while now it has to offer something special to drag you away from home comforts that surpass the pub in so many ways, at a faction of the cost. Price is undoubtedly an issue, especially for those drinking commodity beers, as is choice and quality. The overall indebtedness of the pub industry, the lack of good career landlords and the avaricious PubCos, make this a particularly thick jungle to hack through. The situation is undoubtedly complex, but there is little doubt though that whatever the reason or reasons, there is a distinct and lasting swing away from the pub.
I for one have never argued that all pubs can survive and indeed many of the pubs that have gone were appalling in the extreme and at the bottom end of the market, doomed by selling beers that could be bought at home more cheaply and by their mainly smoking clientèle. They might well be missed by a few, but in truth were on borrowed time anyway. It is not all doom and gloom though. Many pubs continue to do well and it is to them that we must look for the answers, though I continue to argue with force that all pubs need to up their quality game to have a chance of survival. The pursuit of quality, service and choice has never been more important. It is worrying in the extreme that the offer in so many pubs is inferior, the customer service ethos non existent, the prices exorbitant and the beer quality poor.
Of course the pub will survive, but there is more pain to come before things stabilise though we have to face it that the glory days of a full pub on every corner are behind us. For those pubs that still aspire to a prosperous future, we need to see much better from them or they'll disappear too. Nobody wants to pay top dollar for a warm pint, frozen chips and not so much as a warm smile or greeting.
A bit of a CV. Tandleman is a veteran beer lover, local CAMRA Chairman and activist, beer writer, beer reviewer and pursuer of all things good in beer. He lives in the North West of England and London. Despite his CAMRA membership, he does not limit himself to cask conditioned beer, though he believes that cask conditioning, when done correctly and appropriately, brings a quality to beer that is hard to equal by any other kind of presentation. He is a strong supporter of Northern methods of beer dispense and avidly detests poorly presented beer and dislikes pasteurisation. He regularly visits Germany, has conducted corporate British and German beer tastings for CAMRA at the Great British Beer Festival where he has worked for years on Biere Sans Frontieres and was Deputy Organiser at CAMRA's very successful National Winter Ales Festival in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 and at the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival from 2013 to date. He admires good brewers wherever they are and has travelled extensively in pursuit of good beer to drink.
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