opinion pubs

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 (c) 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 replies on “A Contribution: Why We Drink at Home When We Drink at Home”

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.

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.

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.

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.

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…

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

“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.

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…

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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