Efforts to boost the pub trade often focus on nagging those who already go to go more often, and to more pubs, and drink more while they’re there. This seems misguided to us.
We go to the pub several times a week — more often than most of our friends and family — but sometimes feel under pressure from the collective weight of pub campaigners, messages from the trade, and fellow enthusiasts, to pull a bit more weight. Don’t ask us for specific examples — this is just a sense we’ve picked up over several years drifting about in the conversation.
But we reckon the saving of the pub (if it needs saving — an entirely different conversation) is in making it a normal part of everyday life for more and different people. We have plenty of acquaintances who used to go to the pub, who have a good time at the pub when they do, but just… don’t.
- It’s too far — there are fewer in residential areas than 100 years ago for various reasons.
- It’s too expensive — mostly tax.
- It’s pot luck — if you’ve got a few quid spare and make the trek, you’re not guaranteed a good time.
- Pubs can be cliquey — you too often have to go every night for a year to be welcome by the gang.
- Home is cosy, has a telly, and possibly more interesting drinks.
- Kids, i.e. responsible parenting and the decline of the casual babysitter.
Some of that is beyond the pub trade’s control but there is an opportunity in winning over the hesitant. Not turning them into dedicated pub dwellers, which is unrealistic, but reminding them of the pleasure of popping in for a half before dinner, or on the way home from the station. Of skipping out for an hour on a weekend lunchtime, with kids in tow, or making a quick visit part of the Saturday town centre shopping routine.
We were staying with friends a while ago and went to their local pub which they visit, at most, three times a year. The landlord smiled when they came in and said, ‘Hello again!’ He even made a good stab at remembering their order. Then they moved house. At the pub nearest their new place, the same kind of casual visit prompted the landlord to say, with what seemed like faint menace, ‘You haven’t been in for ages. You should come in more often.’ The other feller was probably thinking that but he didn’t say it. Why on earth would you say it? They haven’t been back to their new local since.
According to recent research carried out on behalf of Carlsberg (PDF) 34 per cent of consumers choose to visit the pub weekly. Imagine if that figure got pushed up to 40 per cent? If everyone who doesn’t currently make the pub part of their routine started going regularly, even if all they do is drink two halves with a packet of crisps?
Side note (or is it?): the same research suggests that only 24 per cent of women are regular pubgoers, so maybe there’s your additional custom, if you can do what needs to be done to make them feel welcome.
We have a feeling Pete Brown has made this point before but can’t find where. We’ll add a link if we dig it up.