The latest beer sales figures make grim reading as volumes, particularly in the on trade continue to decline. It is a horrible picture. Of course beer sales are just part of most pub's portfolio these days, so don't present a total overview of how pubs are performing, but nonetheless it is depressing. The Pub Curmudgeon has covered this in his blog and foresees that we will have no pubs left soon, though cheeringly, it is unlikely he'll have popped his clogs before the last one goes in 2037. I know he jests, but if the arithmetic doesn't change, he will be right. There is already huge swathes of poorer areas that no longer have pubs at all and rural pubs who have been suffering badly for years are also badly affected, as are most other types. Yes a lot of bottom end pubs have closed, but it isn't just them. The serious point is that the decline in on trade beer drinking, seems inexorable and the closure of more pubs inevitable. We haven't reached the bottom yet and have no idea when we will.
It is also informative to read that the fall off in on trade drinking started before the smoking ban and has continued, grindingly, ever since, though indeed as Mudgie points out, it peaked just after the smoking ban. That alone doesn't explain the drop in pub going, though "the ban" (and please, this is not a debate about the smoking ban, so don't chip in on that basis alone) has certainly had an effect, but it is clearly not the only factor in this sorry tale.
Society is changing in ways we could never have predicted. The web, social networking, time shifting multi channel TV, more comfortable homes, price, health awareness, recession, job insecurity, generational attitude shifts and more, dictate that a pub will never again be on every street corner, bursting at the seams and the only place to go for an entertaining interlude. While the pub trade asks government to alter beer taxes, to give preferential duty rates, to curb the supermarkets and to tilt the balance back into their favour by administrative means, they are mostly wasting their time. That would likely make little difference as the changes in public attitude seem to be as much a factor as price. There's a mountain to climb. Nonetheless, the pub trade still refuses as a whole to face up to this and the fact that to attract customers and keep them, it has to be better. It has to offer a smile, a warm welcome (that just means a "hello" or a "thanks"), good surroundings, decent food and an experience that is attractive and competitive against other offerings. It has to offer good service and a wide range of beers that people actually want to drink, rather than the ones they can buy cheaply and sell dear. Pubs need to fully compete against each other to attract those customers that are left and to gain potential new ones. They need to drive up standards, which in far too many instances are still firmly mired in the 1970's. The trade, rather than whine about taxation and "unfairness" - even if it exists - ought give as much, if not more emphasis to good old fashioned customer service and value for money. It can rant and rave about unfairness, or just get on with doing something about the things that are within their control.
There are still well over 50,000 pubs in the UK, so let's not give up hope yet. At the end of the day, as in all retailing, it's all about the offer. For a lot of people, there are too many cheaper and better options. Make the offer tempting and the experience a good one and people will (probably) still come to pubs. Get it wrong and they certainly wont.
The pub shown is in Oldham. You will see that demographics are a factor too. Picture source: Adam Brierley
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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