According to Statista since 2000 we have lost 10,000 or about 17%. There are now around 50,000 nationwide. CAMRA claim there are 18 pub closures per week.
Britain and it’s Pubs
The Public House, Inn or Pub has been part of out history since the fourteenth century. There were places to drink before, but this is when pub signs were made compulsory, identifying their distinct purpose. For centuries, our pubs have provided a meeting place in our towns and cities whilst in the countryside, pubs with churches are at villages hearts.
There was an explosion in the number of pubs in the first half of the 19th century, obtaining a license was easy and profits could be made serving the rise in industrial workers. This period also saw the rise of breweries buying up pubs to protect their market and volumes, in the process closing pub breweries and smaller competitors. This so called Tied House system blocked competition, pubs could only sell their breweries products.
During the twentieth century, brewery takeovers led to rationalisation but nothing like the closures we have seen in recent years.
Reasons for Decline
Opinions are varied, down to various reasons, here are some views gleaned from various sources, not all necessarily the opinion of the author.
CAMRA, the organisation promoting traditional beer has been vocal in its condemnation of tax levels, made worse by recent tax hikes to add to the already high levels of duty and VAT. CAMRA claim that a third of the cost of a pint in a pub goes to the treasury.
Beer Orders and Pub Companies
Introduced in the 1980’s to break the near monopoly of pub ownership by national breweries, this change in law opened the door to new smaller breweries being established but also led to the sale of huge pub estates. Pub owning companies bought up many of the pubs on the market and were soon to realise that many had poor returns. Many as a result were closed and the sites sold for redevelopment, a trend continuing today.
Some tenants, locked to buying from the owner, argue that drink prices and rents are uncompetitively high. As a results struggling pubs keep changing hands with no one having time to really rebuild the business. The owners in response argue rents would be higher if drink prices were lower.
Where we work, live and socialise has, and is continuing to change. Attitudes to drinking have changed, in particular to drinking and driving. We are now more likely to go to a restaurant with friends or have a BBQ, than to go with them to a pub.
It hasn’t helped that many pubs suffered from under investment with tired furnishings, smelly toilets and no or poor food on offer. As tastes moved to wine, pubs were often slow to respond.
Pubbing like going to the cinema is no longer a cheap night out. As prices in pubs have risen, supermarkets seem to have managed to keep theirs competitive. Pre-loading, having a drink before you go out and drink less when you’re out has hit turnover and profit.
Introduced in England and Wales in 2007 and Scotland a year earlier, the ban had mixed results. For foodie pubs, the effect was seen as positive, but for “wet” pubs relying heavily on beer sales, it was negative, resulting in falling volumes and profits, tipping some over the edge.
Our town lost three of its traditional pubs to residential development whilst the remaining one continues as a chain restaurant. There are though three new places to enjoy a pint. A new generation of bars is emerging and whilst none are pubs as such, they have their own characters.
We have a popular bar, owned by a micro brewery with little in the way of creature comforts. There are bench seats basic decor but good beers at realistic prices, judging by the crowds at this and other branches, the formula is working. The other two new outlets are modern bars with restaurants welcoming families, diners and drinkers open all day from breakfast to late.
Outside of cities, Food is now a critical component to survive. I hate the term Gastropub, it sounds disgusting, but pubs that serve good food with good service fill up, customers will always travel for a good meal. Smaller chains and independent outlets seem better at getting this right.
Pubs in my opinion do have a future providing they meet the needs of today’s consumer, competition for the leisure spend is fierce so they need to be competitive. There are early indications that the closure rate is falling, hopefully this will continue, it would be very sad to see this icon of British life disappear.