There was an interesting piece on the BBC’s website by Home Affairs editor Mark Easton the other day, pondering the question of whether pubs in the UK are actually going bust – as various trade bodies claim – or whether they’re evolving.
Stories about pubs closing have abounded in recent years, often in connection with the effects of the smoking bans imposed by the various administrations around the country – and the level of tax on beer compared with wines, spirits and alco-pops. A favourite angle (one deployed by the BBC from time to time, it should be said) is the disastrous effect a pub closure has on a small village community.
But it seems that a certain amount of wool is being pulled over our eyes. Easton’s piece suggests that many of the pubs that are being “lost” aren’t actually closing; they’re shifting the scope of their activities. And yet they may be doing virtually exactly the same as they were before.
It’s just a question of whether they sell food, and how much of it they sell. Once they sell more than a certain number of meals, they’re no longer a pub, but a restaurant.
The BBC story isn’t altogether clear on what the real statistics are, and in fairness that’s probably far more down to the market analysis company than it is to Easton. (And that in turn is probably a result of the brewery companies asking for the figures that best support their case. If they can present a convincing picture of an industry in crisis, then they’re far more likely to gain MPs’ support for lower taxes.)
But it does seem clear that the number of traditional boozers supplying nothing more than drink, fags and bar snacks is declining, while the number of bars supplying meals of one kind or another is on the up.
In principle, that may be a good thing – although sometimes it’s nice to be able to go out for a drink without feeling that you’re taking up one of the establishment’s dining tables.
But if this is a shift in the UK’s social habits, then let’s hope that consumer expectations bring about a change for the better in pub grub. We’ve had some great meals in pubs. But we’ve had far too many shockers along the way too!