Is this the end of the Great British pub as we know it?
To quote Boris Johnson, to go to the pub is an “ancient, inalienable right of free-born people of the United Kingdom”, so I, like many, am genuinely concerned that part of our cultural heritage is hanging in the balance due to the restrictions enforced by the Covid-19 lockdown rules. Well that, and I think most of us are just desperate for a nice cold pint!
Before the global pandemic hit earlier this year, we should remind ourselves that the number of pubs in the UK was already dwindling, and in particular, the independent smaller pubs were bearing the brunt. Here are a few possible reasons as to why:
- The smoking ban of 2007 saw consumer habits shift from drinking beer to quaffing wine. Peoples palettes then changed again and the likes of gin and flavoured spirits flooded the market. Cue the success of premium mixers such as Fever-Tree tonic, throw in a few Fortnum & Masons peppercorns and you’ve got yourself an ultra-fashionable drink. A far cry from a pint of ale and a packet of pork scratchings.
- In 2018, research showed that 25% of people aged between 16-24 described themselves as ‘non-drinkers’ and many others found it too expensive to go out as general living costs increased. Why spend £5 (or more) on one drink, when you can buy a four-pack from the local shop for the same amount?
- Now, more than ever, there is a real buzz about physical and mental wellbeing. Many people are ditching the drink and hitting the gym.
- Social media allows people to socialise via different apps 24h7, so the idea of popping to ‘the local’ to meet your mates is rapidly becoming a thing of the past.
- It’s all in the ‘experience’. Old-fashioned pubs are being left behind for the more popular ice bars, cocktails served in teapots, crazy golf, pizza, pints and ping-pong tables.
The Great British pub was already on an uphill struggle to try and keep up with the ever-changing requirements of consumers, so the idea of re-opening in the wake of Covid-19 has caused concerns for many struggling publicans.
What will the Great British pub look like going forwards?
- Perspex screens will undoubtedly be erected between bars, tables and standing areas.
- The use of sanitisers is likely to be encouraged.
- Cashless transactions will be the only form of permitted payment.
- Apps to order drink and food might come in to play to minimise social contact between staff and customers.
- Pub gardens or outdoor areas will be used rather than the usual indoor bar areas.
- Social distancing rules will be enforced.
- More takeaway options are likely to become available
There needs to be real thought in to how pubs will (indeed if they can) start to re-open. Not all landlords have a spare £11 million like J D Wetherspoon to invest in safety measures. Take Australia for example. When restrictions were eased, many small independent bar and café owners still refused to open because the cost in turning everything on, paying staff and buying stock massively outweighed the benefits of doing any trade.
The Great British pub has always prided itself on having a warm and friendly atmosphere, ‘where everybody knows your name’ (to quote the US sitcom Cheers). Social distancing measures (although necessary) threaten the social hub provided by these usually old buildings with low beams, mood lighting and a packed bar. The fear is that they will now turn into ‘zombie pubs’, where a pie and a pint will be enjoyed in a sterile setting rather than in a rammed restaurant on a Friday or Saturday night. Many publicans do not have the means to adapt 200 year old buildings to suit the new measures that are likely to come in to play.
It is inevitable that the way we enjoy the ‘local juicer’ (to quote my publican husband) will change forever, whether it be supping our wine under face masks, or keeping up with current trends and introducing the next drink ‘en vogue’, the pub, as we know it, will unlikely be the same again. However, as Winston Churchill once said ‘the gin and tonic has saved more Englishmen’s lives, and minds […]’, so here’s hoping we can all get back to some sort of normality soon.