Running the numbers: is it a pub?

The Meaning of Pub

One of the most frequently asked questions about #EveryPubInBristol is how we define a pub. This is hard to answer beyond ‘We know one when we see one’.

But we thought we might try to be a bit more sci­en­tif­ic and come up with a scor­ing sys­tem.

As a start­ing point, we took CAMRA’s guide­lines, most recent­ly updat­ed in May 2019:

The licensed premis­es must:

[1] be open to and wel­come the gen­er­al pub­lic with­out requir­ing mem­ber­ship or res­i­den­cy and with­out charg­ing for admis­sion (a);

[2] serve at least one draught beer or cider (b);

[3] allow drink­ing with­out requir­ing food to be con­sumed, and have at least one indoor area not laid out for meals; and

[4] allow cus­tomers to buy drinks at a bar © with­out rely­ing on table ser­vice.’

[a] except when enter­tain­ment is pro­vid­ed on lim­it­ed occa­sions, when an entry charge may apply.

[b] includes cask or keg beer or cider. Ref­er­ences to ‘cider’ should be read as ‘cider and per­ry’.

[c] includes ser­vice from a hatch or spe­cif­ic ser­vice point.

This offers a help­ful base­line, effec­tive­ly weed­ing out clubs, ded­i­cat­ed music venues and restau­rants.

How­ev­er, under this def­i­n­i­tion, some­thing which we would instinc­tive­ly call a cafe would com­fort­ably fit and, indeed, venues of this type do make it into the Good Beer Guide from time to time.

Bris­tol is par­tic­u­lar­ly blessed with cafes that are open until well into the evening, serv­ing draught beer, includ­ing real ale, so it’s not out­ra­geous but, still… They’re not pubs.

We sourced some more ideas on Twit­ter (months ago – this real­ly has tak­en a long time to digest) and then con­struct­ed a spread­sheet for scor­ing.

It includes things like car­pet, whether there are table­cloths, the his­to­ry of the build­ing, whether it’s part of a chain, and so on, amount­ing to 24 cri­te­ria in total.

Next, we test­ed it by feed­ing in a few pubs we know are def­i­nite­ly pubs, a hand­ful of estab­lish­ments that def­i­nite­ly aren’t, and every­thing in between.

What we’ve end­ed up with is a scor­ing sys­tem that offers four out­comes:

  • Not a pub | 19 or less
  • Pos­si­bly a pub | 20 to 39
  • Prob­a­bly a pub | 40 to 59
  • Def­i­nite­ly a pub | 60 or more

A max­i­mum score of 100 is pos­si­ble.

For #Every­Pu­bIn­Bris­tol, we’re tick­ing def­i­nitelys and prob­a­blys, but won’t go out of our way for pos­si­blys.

It’s impor­tant to note that the scores are not about the qual­i­ty of a pub, or intend­ed as crit­i­cisms of places that aren’t pubs – it’s fine to be a bar. It’s just an attempt to eval­u­ate the essence of pub­bi­ness.

In par­tic­u­lar, we’re try­ing to work out what typ­i­cal pubs have that typ­i­cal cafes don’t, such as fruit machines, a mix­ture of stand­ing and sit­ting, and so on.

And we’re doing this for our own ben­e­fit, pri­mar­i­ly – do we need to trek to the far end of the oppo­site cor­ner to vis­it this place, or can we get away with­out the hour-long bus ride?

We should also point out that we have only designed this with the Eng­lish pub in mind, and our weight­ings may not be right for pubs else­where in the UK, let alone pub-type estab­lish­ments in the rest of the world.

We, like CAMRA, have a fair­ly low bar for entry: some­where serv­ing draught beer in pints from a counter is already across the ‘pos­si­bly a pub’ mark (unless it has tra­di­tion­al cafe open­ing hours, for exam­ple), and cask ale and the right name or decor will tip it into the ‘prob­a­bly’ zone.

When we shared a ver­sion of this post with our Patre­on sub­scribers last week, there was a gen­tle chal­lenge on car­pet. That’s a good exam­ple of a mar­gin­al indi­ca­tor of pub­bi­ness to which we’ve giv­en low weight­ing in the scor­ing sys­tem. On its own, car­pet prob­a­bly won’t rule out most pubs, or tip non-pubs over the line.

How­ev­er, we’re sure there are fur­ther tweaks that can be made.

So, with that in mind, have a play with this Google Docs spread­sheet and let us know how well it works with pubs in your town.

You’ll have to make a copy (Sign in to Google > File > Make a copy) but then you’ll be free to play around as much as you like, adding or remov­ing cri­te­ria, or chang­ing the weight­ing to your lik­ing.

Try to break the scor­ing sys­tem – find a place you know is a pub that our scor­ing sys­tem does­n’t rank, or a place that def­i­nite­ly isn’t a pub (a cur­ry house with cask ale, a cafe) that does.

If you don’t have a Google account or don’t want to use a spread­sheet, here’s a text ver­sion so you can tot it up how­ev­er you pre­fer.

Is it part of a chain?
Some or com­plete chain brand­ing; name of chain promi­nent­ly dis­played on sig­nage. Pub­cos and brew­eries are not chains for this pur­pose.
If yes, ‑5 points

Table­cloths
On some or all tables
If yes, ‑5 points

Cakes on the bar
If yes, ‑5 points

Pri­ma­ry pur­pose of estab­lish­ment is some­thing else
E.g. hotel, bowl­ing alley, music club
If yes, ‑5 points

Closed at least one day a week
If yes, ‑5 points

Bar and bar ser­vice
Or ser­vice hatch
If yes, +10 points

Mix­ture of stand­ing and seat­ing
If yes, +10 points

Tra­di­tion­al pub name
Assessor’s judge­ment
If yes, +5 points

In a his­tor­i­cal pub build­ing
If yes, +5 points

Has one or more guv’nors
I.e. some­one who owns it or man­ages it close­ly – you know their names
If yes, +10 points

Has locals/regulars
Reg­u­lar cus­tomers who know each oth­er only via the pub
If yes, +10 points

Car­pet
Par­tial or through­out
If yes, +2 points

Mixed fur­ni­ture
I.e. chairs don’t all match
If yes, +4 points

Bric-a-brac
If yes, +4 points

Beer­mats
If yes, +5 points

At least one of Dart­board, pool table or fruit machine
If yes, +5 points

Pre-pack­aged snacks
Crisps, nuts, pork scratch­ings, Scampi Fries, or sim­i­lar; not cakes
If yes, +5 points

Draught beer
If yes, +5 points

Cask ale
If yes, +10 points

Serves pints
If yes, +10 points

Eat­ing com­pul­so­ry
If yes, imme­di­ate dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tion

Need to be a mem­ber to enter
If yes, imme­di­ate dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tion

No alco­holic drinks
If yes, imme­di­ate dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tion

19 thoughts on “Running the numbers: is it a pub?”

  1. I’m lik­ing this scor­ing sys­tem a lot! I’ve just tried it with the very tra­di­tion­al wet-only Tynemouth Lodge Hotel which scored 91. Com­pared with the newish Tyne Bank Brew­ery Tap which scored 74. Tynemouth CIU club – a new GBG entry – which recent­ly obtained a pub premis­es licence to allow non-mem­bers unre­strict­ed entry, scored a decent 86. All scores seem an accu­rate mea­sure of pub­bi­ness to me.

  2. It would be inter­est­ing to see one or two exam­ples of places you believe are bor­der­line cas­es.

    Recent­ly we had a sit­u­a­tion in the Arden Arms in Stock­port, which in most respects is extreme­ly pub­by, but where all seat­ing was reserved for din­ers dur­ing food serv­ing times, although you could still stand at the bar and drink. Still a pub, but a major caveat against its pub­bi­ness. Now for­tu­nate­ly changed under new licensees.

    1. One exam­ple near us would be ‘Ground­ed’. It’s billed as a cafe but sells beer and has a hard­core of reg­u­lars who only go there to drink. It scores 35 (though we had to guess on a cou­ple of the answers) so ‘Pos­si­bly a pub’, which feels about right. If a cou­ple of things changed, it could go up or down.

  3. Not entire­ly con­vinced about includ­ing car­pet­ing as a cri­te­ri­on. I know what you’re get­ting at (and I’d agree with you) but, as Mac­cles­field CAMRA has point­ed out on Twit­ter, some of the most utter­ly tra­di­tion­al pubs have flagged or tiled floors.

    Also not sure about mis­matched fur­ni­ture, as that’s a key part of the mod­ern gas­trop­ub tool­box, while a clas­sic pub from the Edwar­dian or inter-wars peri­od could still have its orig­i­nal pur­pose-designed match­ing loose tables and chairs.

    One thing I would def­i­nite­ly add is the pres­ence of at least some fixed bench seat­ing, which to my mind is an impor­tant aspect of mak­ing inte­ri­ors feel more pub­by – and is con­spic­u­ous by its absence in most Wether­spoons.

    A juke­box must also be worth a cou­ple of points.

    1. Right, so, our think­ing is this:

      1. If it’s so super pub­by that it’s all flag­stones and boards, being docked points for lack of car­pet prob­a­bly won’t do any harm.

      2. But bars rarely have car­pet, so it’s a way of knock­ing them down a peg.

      And to clar­i­fy, the aim isn’t to score 100 – it’s not a com­pe­ti­tion to find the pub­bi­est pubs, just to broad­ly decide if a place is or isn’t.

  4. This is a great idea and works well! I tried it with some local pubs and the only odd­i­ty is a pub that miss­es out on a per­fect score owing only to its lack of ‘dart­board, pool table or games machine’, which I’m not sure would make all pubs more ‘pub­by’ although I get the sen­ti­ment.

    Any­way, maybe bonus points, say for ‘at least one beer requires fetch­ing from the cel­lar in a jug’, bench seat­ing (dou­ble points for set­tle, triple if used for pitch pen­ny), open fire in win­ter, writ­ten his­to­ry of the pub &/or b&w pho­tos vis­i­ble, etc?

  5. Hi, Luke from the Bag here. I like the idea of this sort of thing, but I think that you can prob­a­bly strip it down to just three sim­ple ques­tions. Does the beer come from the beer cel­lar ? Is there cask beer avail­able. Were you charged mon­ey to enter ? If the answer is yes to either of the first two ques­tions is yes and no was the answer to the third ques­tion then you are almost cer­tain­ly in a pub, not a bar or a café or a gig venue.
    Most night­clubs would pass as pubs by your stan­dards here get­ting 40 points or more.

    1. Luke – see, the beer at The Drap­ers does­n’t come from a cel­lar, and that’s def­i­nite­ly a pub. And we reck­on night­clubs will be ruled out by the ‘pri­ma­ry pur­pose’ test, the pri­ma­ry pur­pose there being dancing/pulling.

      1. But the answer to the sec­ond ques­tion regard­ing the Drap­ers is, Yes they do, which makes them a pub. If you are drink­ing cask beer and have not been charged to enter, then it is very like­ly that you are in a pub. I can’t real­ly think of any obvi­ous excep­tions to this.

    2. I think peo­ple are mis­read­ing Luke’s com­ment – the full for­mu­la is
      (cask beer OR draught beer from the cel­lar) AND (you don’t have to pay to get in).

      If you added AND (you don’t have to be eat­ing) to it then I think that’d actu­al­ly have a fair­ly high rate of accu­ra­cy – a cafe might serve draught beer but it’s most like­ly small pack from a fridge or keg from a thing under the counter rather than a prop­er cel­lar, where­as a microp­ub may not have a cel­lar but will serve cask, and a keg-only pub will prob­a­bly still have a cel­lar.

      I feel like this might still include a few places that are “a bar, not a pub”, though.

  6. I very much enjoyed this top­ic. I’m on a sim­i­lar yet slight­ly longer chal­lenge and I use What­Pub to assist but know that many places list­ed in there are not pubs.

    I set some sim­i­lar cri­te­ria as your­selves how­ev­er nev­er thought of the scor­ing sys­tem. I might have to ‘bor­row’ and tweak that and see if it helps in set­tling what is and isn’t a pub for the chal­lenge. Even though clear­ly you can tell just by walk­ing into a place whether it’s a pub or not…

    Only con­cern I have is brew­ery taps. Open one or two days a week and clear­ly not pubs but for my pur­pos­es am doing them. Will prob­a­bly add on a clause say­ing or brew­ery tap room.

    1. I def­i­nite­ly find some places tricky to decide upon; for instance, most hotel bars in the Mid­lands where I live are clear­ly not pubs, but in Scot­land, (or in rur­al Eng­land) espe­cial­ly as you get to the less pop­u­lat­ed areas, the hotel is often the only place, and the bar is the local’s pub too, so it becomes a judge­ment call.
      You’re right though, I’m lov­ing the dis­cus­sion.

      1. My rule with hotels tends to be if they have a direct entrance in from the street then it counts. If you have to go through a lob­by or oth­er parts of hotel to enter than its a hotel bar.

        I’m strug­gling to think of any High­land hotel pubs that I’ve gone into that fall foul of this (but I bet there’s some). But again it can just be but anoth­er ele­ment to add to the equa­tion.

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