A Contribution: Why We Drink at Home When We Drink at Home

Record spinning: 'Sittin on my Sofa' by the Kinks

We’re always rather pleased when a Topic of the Week arises among the beer chatterers. This time it seems to be drinking at home vs. drinking in the pub.

The sub­ject has inspired at least three Twit­ter polls (Beer O’Clock Show, Peter McK­er­ry, The Pub Cur­mud­geon) and so far one sub­stan­tial blog post with the threat of more to come. We respond­ed to the Beer O’Clock Show poll with a com­ment on Twit­ter which we want­ed to expand on a bit.

We split our drink­ing about even­ly between the pub and home, we reck­on, though of course some weeks, or sea­sons even, it might wob­ble one way or the oth­er. But why drink at home at all?

A few years ago when we were try­ing to learn as much about beer as pos­si­ble and were a bit snooti­er (sor­ry about that) we’d have said that beer choice was the main decid­ing fac­tor. If we want­ed to drink much oth­er than bit­ter or gold­en ale near where lived c.2008 home was real­ly the only option. Our local shops and super­mar­kets had more inter­est­ing beer, cheap­er, and at home we could use fan­cy glass­ware and all that stuff that seemed very impor­tant.

Engraved windows, Islington, North London.
Engraved win­dows, Isling­ton, North Lon­don.

But we still went to the pub a lot. If we’d had a tough day at work, if the Tube was bro­ken, if the trains were delayed, if we passed a pub with espe­cial­ly twinkly lights, if we’d heard an inter­est­ing beer was on some­where, if we were sick of the sight of the four front room walls, if we want­ed to see our friends, or hang out with col­leagues – any excuse, real­ly.

A few things have changed. First, we’re not in our twen­ties any more and our capac­i­ty for booze has dimin­ished. We don’t drink every day and, when we do, we drink less per ses­sion.

Sec­ond­ly, most of our friends are (a) sev­er­al hun­dred miles away and/or (b) mar­ried with kids and/or © work­ing every hour of the wak­ing day. Even when they are at hand, the days of pop­ping to the pub for a casu­al pint or six on a Tues­day night have passed.

And, final­ly, we don’t com­mute these days. In oth­er words, the periph­er­al parts of our lives are less stress­ful and chaot­ic, and we have set­tled into a small town rou­tine: work, home, tea, then go out, if at all.

And that’s the point at which we some­times come unstuck. Let’s go to the pub after din­ner, we say, excit­ed­ly. But then din­ner takes a bit longer to pre­pare than expect­ed; a rel­a­tive phones, or needs phon­ing; din­ner makes us drowsy, the sofa is com­fy, and the thought of putting on boots to go out seems sud­den­ly… unap­peal­ing. Espe­cial­ly when there’s a gale shak­ing the win­dow frames.

After all, par­tic­u­lar­ly in win­ter, the chances are that even the pubs we like will be uncom­fort­ably qui­et, and the already lim­it­ed beer range will be fur­ther dimin­ished. At home, on the oth­er hand, we’ve got a cup­board full of gen­uine­ly excit­ing things to drink and, of course, media to con­sume, mind­less drones that we are.

Beer is impor­tant to us but when we’re not indulging that obses­sion, we also like music and films, and have var­i­ous cre­ative hob­bies that don’t work any­where but home.

We don’t feel guilty about this. Well, maybe a lit­tle. But this is nor­mal. When we do go to the pub, it’s because we real­ly want to, and we invari­ably have a good time. As we’ve said so many times now, it shouldn’t be a grim duty.

Would we go to the pub more often if it was cheap­er? Prob­a­bly not, though we do wince at the price of a round some­times. Would we go if there was vari­ety on offer in town? Maybe, a bit, espe­cial­ly if we knew what was on before head­ing out of the door.

No, on bal­ance, the decid­ing fac­tor is con­ve­nience, which leads us back to a thought we’ve expressed before: pubs need to work on find­ing new cus­tomers rather than on turn­ing the ones they’ve already got into sev­en-nights-a-week alco­holics.

14 thoughts on “A Contribution: Why We Drink at Home When We Drink at Home”

  1. If you chart­ed the amount of time peo­ple spend in the pub across their entire lives, I won­der what shape curve it would be. Would it have a sin­gle hump, peak­ing in the 20s, or a sec­ond hump lat­er on after the kids have left for uni?

    The prob­lem pubs have is not that their reg­u­lar cus­tomers aren’t attend­ing enough (although alco­holics do have an unfor­tu­nate habit of dying), its that the new gen­er­a­tion of teenagers and 20-some­things aren’t going to the pub at all.

    1. I don’t think it is quite that sim­ple – I see plen­ty of younger cus­tomers, BUT they tend to only come out in groups and for an ‘occa­sion’ – what you don’t see are any of them just pop­ping in for a pint on their own, sit­ting at the bar or chat­ting to strangers and meet­ing new peo­ple, the inter­net has tak­en over that role.

  2. Re Elm Tree Rob’s point: young peo­ple do go out – to eat, or drink cof­fee. This is the “new nor­mal”. In a way it just wasn’t (round these parts any­way) twen­ty, thir­ty or forty years ago. And they eat a lot more take­aways. And when drink­ing, more wine.

    For me, I can drink a lot bet­ter, a lot cheap­er, at home. I’d pop out if for casu­al pint more often if any of the sev­en pubs with­in a five minute walk gave me a com­pelling rea­son do so – they don’t.

    1. When I was a stu­dent, which real­ly wasn’t that long ago, I went to the pub 5, maybe 6 nights a week, for a vari­ety of activ­i­ties rang­ing from a qui­et pint, to a game of pool/darts, to watch sport or a live band, to do a pub quiz, or (most­ly) to try and chat to some girls.

      That was just what you did. Pret­ty much every­one I knew did the same. The prospect of a few beers, a bit of a laugh with your mates, and chat­ting up a few girls was sig­nif­i­cant­ly more com­pelling an offer than ANYTHING you could find on the inter­net or the tv. I gen­uine­ly strug­gle to see how that could have changed in just 10 years.

    2. Very good points that the pub indus­try has been blind / very slow to react to. When I first took on this pub (9 yrs ago) I was asked by my area man­ag­er what pub was my biggest com­pe­ti­tion – my answer was none, the biggest com­pe­ti­tion would be Cos­ta – every­one thought that was fun­ny and I was a bit mad. Well I see a damn site more full cof­fee shops than full pubs these days.

      Also – yes a pub needs to be and do some­thing spe­cial to make peo­ple want to vis­it, unfor­tu­nate­ly most pubs are so tied to chains there is very lit­tle room to do any­thing dif­fer­ent. You are told what beers / wines / spir­its you can sell, giv­en a fixed food menu, decor is decid­ed for you, you are even told how to inter­act with cus­tomers. This mod­el is fail­ing, but there is no desire from the big com­pa­nies / brew­eries to change, if the pub makes mon­ey they get the rent, if it com­plete­ly fails they sell it and make mon­ey on the land…

    3. I think it sounds like you’re putting the blame on “young peo­ple” a bit there, when I’d say the pubs prob­a­bly aren’t keep­ing up with the times, at least in small­er towns.

      As a rea­son­ably young per­son (still cling­ing to the last of my 20s), I just don’t find much inter­est­ing or invit­ing about the pubs in the town I cur­rent­ly live in. I wouldn’t go out for the beer qual­i­ty or choice (Greene King, or some musty Pedi­gree or Pride if I’m lucky). I don’t want to watch Sky Sports with the old drunks, and the juke­box doesn’t even play the good kind of old music. Some of my friends will have to dri­ve to meet me, which they would do if the pub did decent cof­fee (there’s a rea­son why ‘Spoons is busy even mid­week).

      Unless the pubs up their game I’ll have to con­tin­ue drink­ing from the afford­able and ever widen­ing selec­tion of super­mar­ket beers dur­ing the week, and will make an effort once a week to get a train to the near­est city where I can binge on indus­tri­al estate craft brew­ery taps or inter­est­ing micro pubs. I still make a spe­cial effort to pop in to the more tra­di­tion­al pubs if I know they have a good range of beers, decent music or just some atmos­phere from a mixed and friend­ly crowd. If I lived in a city I’d prob­a­bly go to the pub once or twice mid­week.

      For the record Rob, I used to drink fair­ly fre­quent­ly in The Elm Tree (If you are the Cam­bridge one?) about 9 years ago when I was learn­ing to drink. You are doing it right – inter­est­ing beers, warm atmos­phere.

      Beyond the fact that a lot of pubs are a bit crap, you’ve got a cou­ple of big trends that will prob­a­bly put young peo­ple off pubs. One is the cost of drink­ing; a few mod­er­ate nights in the pub could eas­i­ly cost £50 per week, which is quite a lux­u­ry if you’re pay­ing off a stu­dent loan and sav­ing to buy a house. The sec­ond is health; most peo­ple I know spend many evenings in the gym, which is some­thing that didn’t hap­pen 20/30/40 years ago.

      1. evenings in the gym?
        and we won­der why the sta­tis­tics show that young peo­ple are more mis­er­able, lone­ly and iso­lat­ed than they have ever been in liv­ing mem­o­ry. Its real­ly gen­uine­ly quite trag­ic to watch.

      2. Ben – actu­al­ly I com­plete­ly agree with you, pubs real­ly aren’t offer­ing the right things to attract the younger gen­er­a­tion and very often when they try they get it wrong. Encour­ag­ing large groups of stu­dents to get wast­ed with drinks deals will put mon­ey in the till on Fri­day and Sat nights but the rep­u­ta­tion that comes with that puts every­one else off. As you say a warm safe atmos­phere and an inter­est­ing selec­tion of beers that you can’t find in Tesco works for both the young, old, male, female and indeed any demo­graph­ic. Sad­ly the brew­eries / pub co.‘s don’t see it that way.
        Thank you for the com­pli­ment about The Elm Tree – yes it is the one in Cambs and if you are ever in the area – pop in for a beer, you will be pleased to know it hasn’t changed much – work­ing for a small brew­ery that leaves me alone to run the pub with­out cor­po­rate inter­ven­tion and being blessed with great staff makes a huge dif­fer­ence to what we can do.

  3. The issue isn’t peo­ple like me that don’t like pubs. We are hap­py sat on the sofa.

    The prob­lem is all those that say they like pubs but don’t go in ’em.

  4. Py – I think your com­ment actu­al­ly does agree with mine, or at least over­laps. you said you would go out with your mates to do a spe­cif­ic thing & ‘hope’ to chat up some girls.
    My point was that the younger gen­er­a­tion don’t into a pub on their own and hang out at the bar chat­ting to strangers. The pub was some­where to go alone to chat to peo­ple you’d nev­er met before just as much as it was a place to go with your mates. This has been a very not­i­ca­ble change in pub cul­ture.

  5. Tra­di­tion­al­ly, a lot of pub­go­ing was a mat­ter of habit and rou­tine – you just did it auto­mat­i­cal­ly with­out real­ly think­ing about it. If you have to make a con­scious deci­sion to go to the pub, you’re not going to go as often.

  6. We’re not in our twen­ties any more and our capac­i­ty for booze has dimin­ished.” Wait until you hit your six­ties, then you’ll find your capac­i­ty dimin­ish­ing!

    Jok­ing aside, drink­ing less is no bad thing, and by drink­ing selec­tive­ly you can still enjoy some excel­lent beers and be fit for work the fol­low­ing morn­ing.

    I do the vast major­i­ty of my drink­ing at home; a habit I picked up fol­low­ing the birth of our son, 25 years ago. To com­pen­sate, I got real­ly into home-brew­ing, pro­duc­ing full-mash, whole hop brews on a reg­u­lar basis; so much so that I was self-suf­fi­cient in terms of beer.

    That changed too, 16 years ago when my wife and I took on an off-licence, sell­ing cask-beer. Six years lat­er and I was back in reg­u­lar full-time employ­ment, hav­ing sold the busi­ness. With more mon­ey in my pock­et, and time to start pub­bing again, I found pubs had changed, and not for the bet­ter. How­ev­er, with the open­ing in Ton­bridge this sum­mer of a sis­ter pub, to the excel­lent Fug­gles of Tun­bridge Wells, I may well find myself re-liv­ing my youth and becom­ing a reg­u­lar pub-goer, once again.

  7. My fiance and I have much the same thing going on. By the time we’re home, we’d rather not go back out and have plen­ty of beer on hand.
    We have got­ten back into the habit of a fun Fri­day out with friends for karaoke, at her cousin’s bar(in the US “pub” is just a buzz word) and we do inter­act more and more with the reg­u­lar patrons. It real­ly is great fun, even when you only inter­act with those peo­ple once a week or so. How­ev­er it real­ly does make the place more like a gid­dy, drunk­en, home away. And an atmos­sphere like that turns new faces into reg­u­lars.
    Alas, mak­ing a Tues­day evening of it often is a gru­el­ing prospect. Here, noth­ing is that close and one can’t real­ly pop in for a pint on the way home.
    We do have a grow­ing num­ber of brew­pubs, that entice with their own beers and a more casu­al take your time and vis­it vibe. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, those with good food get treat­ed as restau­rants first “pub” sec­ond. We have though shared our tables with some pleas­ant strangers. A group of bik­ers, a local news anchor, but they were still there for a bite to eat rather than a pint and an easy time at a pub.
    Now I find myself toy­ing with the idea of open­ing the pub that will teach peo­ple what it’s all about, and being all too aware of the min­d­est of the gen­er­al cus­tomer base in Elkhart, Indi­ana USA.….lol

  8. I find it fun­ny the num­ber of posts here bemoan­ing the fact that young’uns pre­fer to spend time on the inter­net than chat­ting at the pub. We are, after all, hav­ing a pub con­ver­sa­tion online.

    I’m not wor­ried about the long term future of pubs. Cask ale is great and not some­thing you can eas­i­ly get at home. Added to that is the fact that there real­ly are quite a lot of pubs – CAMRA moan that there are too many of them clos­ing, but there are still many with­in a con­ve­nient dis­tance of the major­i­ty of the pop­u­lous.

    The Inter­net is great – I can have easy con­ver­sa­tions with peo­ple who already share my views whilst hav­ing an inter­est­ing beer, a role which pubs once played, but we are all social crea­tures. We will always want to spend time phys­i­cal­ly with oth­ers. Local has already become fash­ion­able, and what’s more local than the pub­lic house (almost by def­i­n­i­tion)?

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