What is it about pubs that makes them particularly suitable for socialising and ‘hanging out’, compared to cafes and restaurants?
Earlier this week we wrote about a board game cafe which seemed to have many of the characteristics of a pub.
Most crucially, it was busy (it had atmosphere) and relaxed, with no particular pressure to buy anything once you’d taken a table.
We found an echo of this – including a mention of games – in Ernest Selley’s 1927 book The English Public House As It Is:
The public house is a place where people tarry for social intercourse as well as for refreshment. There are, of course, other shops which sell refreshment, i.e., dairies and tea-shops, but one rarely sees a crowd of people congregate in a dairy or tea-shop in quite the same way as people meet in public houses. It is true that people meet in tea-shops and take refreshment and enjoy social intercourse, and also at times play games such as draughts, and dominoes; but the number of people who, for instance, make a habit of spending a whole evening in a tea-shop is small enough to be left out of account. Besides, tea-shops are not nearly so ubiquitous as public houses, except perhaps in the office areas of some of our larger towns and cities.
On that point of ubiquity, things have changed, at least if we substitute ‘coffee’ for ‘tea’.
In 20th Century Pub we wrote in passing about the arrival of the espresso machine in Britain in the 1950s and the threat it was seen to pose to the traditional pub.
Zooming forward half a century, and just picking one chain, there were 41 branches of Costa Coffee in 1995. Now there are more than 2,000.
And the number of pubs has, of course, severely declined since 1927.
But, still, if you wanted to meet a friend, hang out for a couple of hours, without eating a full meal, wouldn’t you still default to a pub?
Well, of course you would – but would a majority of people?
We think the answer is still “Yes” but with a shift definitely underway.
As well as the aforementioned board game cafes, we’ve also noticed in Bristol a growing number of (a) video game bars or grown-up amusement arcades and (b) dessert cafes.
The video game places are interesting. In both of those we’ve visited there was draught beer but you were absolutely free to ignore it. You were paying your way by paying to play games with drinks as an additional amenity.
And the desert cafes will sell you a disgustingly huge plate of ice cream and waffles, or whatever, and then let you and several friends spend hours picking at it. In Bristol, they’re notably popular with young Asian people, who perhaps feel less comfortable hanging out around booze.
Much as we love pubs and enjoy drinking beer, the prospect of a hospitality landscape that includes hangover-free options doesn’t displease us.
As we hinted in our previous post, perhaps what pub operators need to focus on is how they can make people who don’t want to drink feel welcome, and welcome to stay. And think about what they can sell them other than alcoholic drinks.
Of course, you can file that under “Oh, yeah, I hadn’t thought of that”.