Tuesday, 13 March 2012

New Statesman and Pete Robinson on pubs

The New Statesman discusses the plight of pubs. It discusses pubcos and then 'other challenges':
Demand is falling. Competition is increasing. Supermarkets are serving a new generation more interested in intoxication than conversation. With beer duty set to go up 10p a pint in the budget on top of VAT rises, there are worries that another wave of pubs will be pushed over edge, and free holders like the Railway are also at risk.
The smoking ban does not even merit mention as a minor contributing factor. Another article referred to in the text of this story does not mention the smoking ban either.

I leave it to Pete Robinson to explain that the smoking ban did enter the equation at some point. From his position with The Publican he was able to see the direction of travel very clearly. The trade was doing very well until mid-2007.
If the Publican was guilty of anything it was blind, unbridled optimism. It's as if there'd been so much good news to report over the previous few years it was unwilling to dwell on the bad.
And bad it was, arse-wipingly bad.
Towards the end of 2007 the industry was clearly in deep trouble. The 'New Breed' of non-smoking drinker had failed to materialise and the long exodus of the pub trade's life blood, its rank-and-file customers, was already underway. Pub insolvencies were already up 600%, a number that would TREBLE in the following year to EIGHTEEN TIMES former rates, while those prized industry shares were nosediving into the cellar. 
Yet at the time you'd never have guessed any of this by reading The Publican. The main consensus was how smoothly and successfully the ban had been implemented. Every 'industry ‘spokesman’ and his dog queued up to insist their business had been totally unaffected by the ban and each was reported in equal, laborious measure.
And The Publican failed to learn from history:
By 2008 the post-ban carnage could no longer be ignored. But as the rapidly plummeting trade stats settled into a terminal spiral of descent the Publican's editorial opinion switched to naively blaming 'bad' pubs which had been unable to evolve.
'Embrace' the smoking ban we were told. Just do food and everything will be okay. Up your game, open a library/post office/cinema in your pub. Set aside a lunchtime for expectant mothers or an evening for transvestite grandads.
Just offer 'excellence' then watch the customers come running.
How do you 'evolve' to a 33% to 80% drop in takings? Even if it were possible for the country to sustain 40-odd-thousand foodie pub-restaurants, for many it was madness to invest a fortune in pricey catering equipment when local competitors were offering £2.99 two-for-one deals.
In truth the customers we've lost don't want excellence. Most pubgoers couldn't give a toss about fine dining, health emporiums, creches, drop-in centres or gymnasiums. They simply want to be treated like adults. They want their old pubs back, warts an' all. 
The Publican magazine has now folded.  

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