20th Century Pub pubs

What is a pub? Running the numbers

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 (c) 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

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

Partial or throughout
If yes, +2 points

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

If yes, +4 points

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 replies on “What is a pub? Running the numbers”

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

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.

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.

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.

I like that a lot. I blog all the pubs I visit, and occasionally struggle as to whether somewhere is pubby enough. I’ll try this against a few!

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.

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.

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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