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    Monday, 15 December 2008

    Are There Too Many Pubs?

    We are constantly hearing about the high volumes of pubs which are closing. Obviously the economic downturn or whatever we are calling it this week is not helping, but other excuses such as the smoking ban, the weather and England's recent sporting failures are also blamed. I wonder though whether there are just too many pubs, and it's merely a case of getting to a more realistic number and that 'survival of the fittest' is happening.

    Closing pubs is far from a new phenomenon. When I first moved to Northampton, and was old enough to realise what a pub is, there was one on every other corner on the Wellingborough Road which is one of the main drags into town. Now there are about three quarters that number.

    Similarly, the village I moved to at the age of ten or eleven had three pubs. It now has two; once upon a time it had five or six.

    It's often a shame when a pub closes; more so when it's the only pub in a village, but there's always a reason for it beyond those stated at the start of this piece. With enough regular loyal custom the pub could survive. But you need to know your customers, and give them what they want and do it well.

    There is a place out there for all types of pubs; be they theme bar type pubs, community locals, rough estate pubs, food pubs, real ale pubs and so on. But they have to know what they are trying to do, and focus. I suspect most of the pubs closing down are what I now refer to as "Woolworths Pubs". That is a pub which tries to be all things, and doesn't do any of them particularly well. A little bit more specialism in the pub world may be exactly what is needed.


    Paul Garrard said...

    I totally agree with what you are saying and yes there probably are too many pubs. Any good business will survive, and pubs are businesses after all. Whatever you do don't tell Protzy and the gang as they just don't get it!

    Anonymous said...

    I don't think there are too many pubs, although in certain areas there are obviously are, just as in others there are too few (aka as none).

    Once there were too many pubs (think of all those books called "A pub on Every Corner" but they were different times.

    There was an article in the Observer a week or so ago that French cafes (their pubs) are closing fast too.

    I think this is a real threat that Camra and such like, although acknowledging, don't really seem to be fully aware of.

    We all know the reasons (from credit crunch to smoking ban to greedy pubcos) but I fear that pubs could close at an alarming rate. Who in their right mind would want to run a pub today?

    There will always be city centre pubs (especially in London) there will always be village pubs (as long as it is a big village and only one pub), there will always be JDWs, there will always be Harvesters and gastro-pubs. As for the rest?

    Incidentally I think the picture of Northampton is unduly pessimistic. Over the years it has lost pubs (mainly to development) but gained others (as you would expect in a town "developed" in the 1970s).

    As for Wellingborough Road I can't think of any closures in many years but I can think of 2 new(ish) pubs that used to be shops.

    Tyson said...

    I also don't think there are too many pubs. That is just too simplitisc an approach. The reasons for pubs closing are complex and numerous. If it were just "survival of the fittest," then you would expect the poorer pubs to close. And yet locally, I've seen many good pubs go whilst poorer ones continue. Make of that what you will.

    Bailey said...

    I think there are too many pubs in some areas, so that a handful of customers are spread too thinly. In those areas, pubs don't make much money and rarely have much atmosphere. Miserable. I was in a village pub in Somerset on a Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago which was so depressing, cold and empty that I thought: "No wonder people are staying at home. At least there's an atmosphere there." That'll be one of them vicious circles, then.

    In our bit of London, the really crappy pubs (dangerous/dirty/smelly) have closed, leaving a couple of decent ones and a couple of adolescent world-lager and Bacardi breezer soaked pulling halls. I think, on the whole, that it's better -- quality over quantity, and room in the market for another decent pub to open in the future.

    Anonymous said...

    I think it's a bit more complex than there simply being too many pubs.

    While its true that people aren't going to pubs as often as they used to, I think this is partly down to policies which are seemingly designed to either discourage people from going to the pub (smoking ban, large duty rises etc) or to make it difficult to run a pub (licensing laws, waste disposal rules etc).


    Bailey said...

    I don't know if those rules make much difference to customers, to be honest. If you watch a film like Saturday Night and Sunday Morning from 1960, the pubs in that look bloody awful -- maybe we're just getting fussier and more 'aspirational'? I'm sure lack of atmosphere/customer service/choice are the things that are keeping people away from pubs.

    Tandleman said...

    I've been thinking a lot about this. The answer is yes and no. There are too many poor pubs, not too many pubs. Good pubs though can close too as Tyson says. Depends who is running them - or bleeding them dry! It is complex. I'm still churning it over in my mind.

    Paul Garrard said...

    There are too many pubs, be they good or bad. Too many for the current level of custom. They either need to get more bums on seats or close. I'm not saying it's a good thing just the way it is. There aren't any easy answers and the reasons for their woes are varied and complex. I don't have the answers but as a punter I know what I want from a pub. It's healthy that we are having this debate. Pubs will survive but many will need to change.

    Woolpack Dave said...

    I agree with Paul, sorry, but there ARE too many pubs. One reason poor pubs are so bad is because our expectations have increased and they can't keep up, can't make enough money to keep up and so get into a downward spiral. If demand was there for good pubs the market would provide them.