Wednesday 22 July 2009

A changing market

The recent news report highlights just how much the pub industry is changing. The point of the piece is not to detail that the industry is changing but to lament the rapid closures of pubs. But can we really do anything about this? I'd argue that the answer is "NO". OK, some would say that restricting the tie system in some way might help. Some would say that overturning the smoking ban would help. Personally, I think that it's inevitability. I know this goes against some things I've written in the past, but perhaps I can change my mind.

Our socialising culture is changing. It's been changing for years. Pubs that hang on to the spit and sawdust, old fashioned model of a pub are finding that it no longer works. Depending on volume sales of ubiquitous brands, except where there is a volume market to be had by default, will almost certainly result in poor trading.

We wonder why so many pubs are turning their style over to restaurant format, or apparently becoming "Gastro pubs", perhaps we miss the point that this is where the money is, and it's been going that way for some time. The bistro, trendy, modern bar that serves a combination of progressive cask ales and more individual continental beers are becoming all the more successful. This might well be at the distress of some traditionalists, but this is the way it goes.

Additionally to this, although the consumption of alcohol might be reducing, and more over might be reducing more in "community pubs" this does not account for the apparent overall reduction in pubs. What I believe is having a greater effect is the move to larger, more efficient pubs, the likes of Wetherspoons, that can clearly manage to achieve economies of scale that smaller community pubs cannot. One large Wetherspoons for instance, will probably manage to turnover the same money as up to 10 ordinary, small, community pubs put together. If Wetherspoons is the thing that people want, perhaps this is what we should accept.

The remainder of the market is going to be the more trendy, restaurant style pub or the specialist beer bar. The style of business where spends per head can be maximised. The remote, small rural pubs are going to find it more and more difficult to survive and the industry would, in my view, would be better off accepting this.

There are a couple of good posts that look directly at the BBPA assertion that 52 pubs per week are closing. One on Jeffo's blog and one on Southport Drinkers blog. The comment threads are worth looking at.

Update: As I was writing this it seems a post from Tandleman and a post from Curmudgeon have also been written at a similar time. Just for completeness, and to prove I do take notice.


Curmudgeon said...

It may be inevitable (and I don't really dispute that) but that doesn't make it any less sad, to see a pattern of life that I grew up with and which I felt was a key part of my identity disappear before my eyes.

I thought this post by Raedwald summed it up rather well.

Cooking Lager said...

A thoughtful and intelligent piece. People get what they both want and deserve, and are free to spend their money in the establishments they like. Good that the Spoons get a mention, and worth a note that they are expanding, in the declining market. Evidence possibly that whilst the industry and punters in London may think beer is worth £3 a pint, the wider society thinks £2 a pint is more like it? At least for standard fare in a competitive market. There are always those looking for something different, with money burning a hole in their pockets, as well as pubs enjoying the monopoly of an obscure region. People are free to lament the loss of something they like, I was inconsolable when Castlemaine xxxx was withdrawn, but progress is progress. In natural history metaphor, a cull of the weak assists the survival of the strong.

BigMalc said...

Progress is indeed progress, but lamentable all the same for those of us that enjoyed traditional pubs. But the fact is that from figs I have seen total alcohol drinking is on the decline in the UK and with supermarket trade on the increase, the math for the on trade is depressing.
The reason so many pubs are closing, is that there are too many for the amount of time and money 'we' want/have to spend in them. Instead of daily sessions after hard manual labour, most of the UK population that work are more intellectually challenged and slaking the thirst with three or four after work is no longer the done thing. (and my Dr and liver are glad, even if I am not!)
Pubs have to evolve and those publicans that do will survive. Sadly some premises do not permit even the most progressive public to adapt, especially if faced with no external areas, declining populations and limited employment, and for those 'tied' into thier units with little chance of parole, the future is indeed bleak.

That said, I am looking forward to seeing a decent individual characterful pub next week as I am up in the Lakes only a short walk away from t'Woolpack!

Unknown said...

Curmudgeon and BigMalc, lamentable indeed, I have no disagreement there.

But, as Cooking says, a cull of the week would benefit the strong.

Anonymous said...

The spit and sawdust community pub in the West Midlands I frequent is just about hanging on because of the quality of its beer (Enville Ales). Nevertheless the evil buggers at Punch Taverns have put it up for sale so the future is uncertain.

I know the smoking ban is only one factor (and we are stuck with it). However what does annoy me is what has happened to all the non-smoking fascisti who claimed that their ilk would come flocking to the pubs once the ban was in place. All that seems to have happened is the smokers have given up the ghost to be replaced with precisely no one.

I would imagine you'll find smokers are more likely to drink more as we are more blase about our long-term health. In fact Dave I will endeavour to prove this four weeks from today. Built that shelter yet? ;-)


Benj said...

Your post points out the change taking place in pubs and the British social landscape. To me, it raises an overall philosophical issue, though: are these changes a result of the changing habits of people or more a result of changes in government, taxation, public policy, etc. In other words, are the people changing the scene or is the change being forced upon them? It is probably a combination of both, but the comments to your post suggest that the change is unwelcome rather than intentional.

Unknown said...

Washy, you are at least correct on that one. Check out Pub Curmudgeon to see somebody who very much agrees with you on this. It's true that the non smokers have not replaced the smokers. But sorry, can't afford the smoking shelter. You'll just have to huddle illegally in the porch and I'll pretend I can't see you.

Benj, which is cause and which is effect I think is down to some debate, however I think they both fuel each other.