Decline of the British Pub

Back in the 1970s more than 90% of all beer consumed in Britain was bought from the “on trade” – pubs and clubs.

According to the British Beer & Pub Association this ratio had fallen to 51% from pubs and 49% from supermarkets at the end of last year. “It will cross over in the near future,” said a spokesman, possibly as soon as this Christmas.

This would be a watershed moment for Britain’s beer industry, a culmination of long-standing change in consumers’ drinking habits as well as confirmation that the recession has caused people to stay at home more.

The figure came as a report from the GMB union highlighted how the high price of beer has caused the destruction of thousands of neighborhood pubs, in turn damaging many working class communities. It said that local pubs, many of which had survived the Blitz and the great depression of the 1930s, were now being destroyed by the recession.

Pub closures hit a record rate of 53 a week at the height of the recession. Last year, 26 a week closed their doors, leaving just 52,500 pubs in Britain, nearly half of the level at its peak before the World War II.

The Beer & Pub Association blamed competition from the supermarkets, which often sell beer as a “loss leader” to drive customers into their stores, and above-inflation increases to beer duty. The GMB blamed large pub companies putting up their prices because they were struggling with too many debts.

Comments

  1. Phil says

    Having grown up in a pub, a very successful one – family owned for 21 years, I’ve seen the slow demise of the hospitality/catering and pub trade; just that the first two with the advent of celebrity chefs etc, have brought British Food out of the dark ages, but there was margin to make a go of it.

    Alas, this isn’t the same with beer. Being a wet lead pub in the UK is a small chance of success and you need to carve a niche for yourself. The success, locally to me in Kent, of the Micro Pub – borne of the Butchers Arms, Conqueror and more, show that there is still life and demand for a wet lead – talking shop, but at a size and footprint that is cost effective. Which is where the large old british pubs are dying on their ass; rents, rates and costs of running a large building cannot be supported by locals drinking a few pints of mild. The whole essence of what a pub is “providing a better level of comfort than the homes of your customers” isn’t there any more; Sky TV, Xbox etc all feature as home entertainment far more, (than I believe is healthy). The old idea of going to the pub and joining in a comunity of your near local residents and building on that is hopefully not forgotten – and equally I worry that the new wave of “beer outlets” specialising in hardcore beer-geek-isms equally detach from what a Public House is, but I would never stop people from approaching that market place – it’s great to have Trappist, Beer Revolution, Blind Tiger, BrickStore, Ebeneezers, Moeders, 420, A-Tuta Fe et al.

    The local governments need to look at rate relief (which isn’t going to happen, as their incomes are falling), the government need to cap the ammount of indiviual units that a pub-co can opperate (possible restricition of trade?), we need to kill the tie and let pub land lords buy beer at the best price, supermarkets cannot be allowed to sell booze as a loss leader. We also need to work to attract skill full, talented and passionate people into the pub trade, who can earn a full working wage – rather than it be seen as a part time, extra money trade; and we need to think out side the box – reflect our local space and attract people to the business not just by price, but the added comunity that the “space” should interact with.

    *climbs down of the soap box*

  2. Baldrick says

    Phil wrote: we need to kill the tie and let pub land lords buy beer at the best price,

    Absolutely.

    Phil wrote: supermarkets cannot be allowed to sell booze as a loss leader.

    That doesn’t happen in here in Ontario as the minimum price of beer is regulated (and can’t be sold in supermarkets anyway) but the pubs here don’t do themselves any favours selling pints of crappy over-gassed lager for $9 and up.

    Phil wrote: We also need to work to attract skill full, talented and passionate people into the pub trade, who can earn a full working wage – rather than it be seen as a part time, extra money trade;

    Ok, sure, but that’s not really what’s at issue here – the point is that people earn less money (in real adjusted currency) and the pubs charge more due to market realities – the price of beer, tariffs, excise taxes, regulatory fees, insurance (there’s a biggie right there), rent, heat, electricity, etc, etc and people just can’t afford to go to pubs every day of the week to hang out with their neighbours when their grocery bills, rent, fuel, mortgages etc are stretched the way they are. So the next best thing – buy beer at the supermarket – cheaper than the pub and take it home to drink.

    Phil wrote: and we need to think out side the box – reflect our local space and attract people to the business not just by price, but the added comunity that the “space” should interact with.

    We’re all open to suggestions, but in this day and age everything is motivated by price. If it costs too much people won’t go for it. I submit that the average wage earner makes far too little these days.

    *climbs down of the soap box*

  3. liammckenna says

    Sadly, people don’t appreciate the value of these institutions until they are largely gone.

    Liam