The Good Pub Guide has suggested that it is a good thing that 4000 pubs are expected to close this year stating “These are pubs at the bottom of the pecking order, the bad pubs. It’s high time they closed their doors.” I believe this is a naive and misleading statement. Each and every pub services a different element of it’s community or offers a different environment depending on our mood. Sometimes we may want a gourmet meal, other occasions call for good home cooked food or somewhere we can afford to take the whole family. Sometimes we want a good choice of beer, somewhere to watch the football or a refuge from the hustle and bustle of daily life, the after work pint or late evening nightcap. Each of these pubs is different, has different standards, staff and styles of service, none are ‘bad’, just different.
I’m not quite sure what was meant by “bottom of the pecking order”. There may be some pubs who could benefit from small improvements in the standard of their beer, food or service, but leaving them to close and letting people lose their jobs and part of their community is not the answer. Help is. Training, business support, investment, reduced VAT for hospitality businesses or for ‘community assets’, all of these could be supported by breweries, pubcos and the government. Meanwhile it would be especially helpful if the guide which is supposed to champion our pubs could stop berating the struggling ones or charging them £200 a time to be featured in a book where “only the very best pubs make the grade”.
The UK is still recovering from massive global economic problems. VAT is at 20%, employment costs, utilities and beer prices are all rising seemingly above inflation and many are declaring ‘the end is nigh’ for the Great British pub. I believe that rural pubs are particularly badly affected with many villages having lost their pub in recent years. As well as ‘leisure pound’ spending being down and on trade booze sales being far cheaper, rural pubs face difficulties due to their sparsely populated catchment areas, increased awareness of drink driving (thank goodness) and cultural changes in our drinking habits all ultimately resulting in lower footfall and lower turnover.
Whilst I can’t pretend that trading conditions are easy at the moment I am very happy to say it isn’t all doom and gloom. We have had a great summer at The Thatchers and I have witnessed several other rural pubs bucking the trend recently. This is down to hard work, events, different ideas, adapting and changing the offer to suit the customers needs. One notable success was a pub beer festival I just about managed to sneak out to over the busy Bank Holiday weekend.
The Edwardstone White Horse is serviced by a single track road in rural Suffolk. It is not easy to find and not exactly on the way to anywhere either. As well as the essentials, good beer, food and company they have an on-site brewery, where I have brewed with Tom Norton, a campsite with great amenities some rather impressive green credentials. Their Eddyfest is now well established, and well attended by many of our regulars too, but for me this weekend was my first visit.
The makeshift car-parking field was packed, the field next door crammed full of campers and the beer garden and day to day car park transformed for the weekend with a huge beer tent, over 60 beers and two stages for live music. The atmosphere was incredible, happy smiley people everywhere, a buzz of conversation and excitement. The back to back live music using the two stages was brilliant and kept the attention of the crowd. The food offering was better than you may expect from a festival, good quality burgers and a decent chilli to name just two. Putting on events like this is hard work, and can require a reasonable amount of investment. However, pubs don’t have to start big, they can build on the success of each event making it bigger and better month on month or year on year.
The pub trade has changed, long gone are the days of opening the doors and waiting for a flood of drinkers to descend after work before you sit back and count the till at closing time. As our culture and habits change so must the Great British pub. I don’t believe their is a single publican who doesn’t believe this, but perhaps there are some who could do with some help adapting before they are forced to close and lose their homes while we lose another piece of our history forever.