Friday, 26 August 2016

Decline of the swift half

Earlier this week, Boak & Bailey did a very stimulating blogpost entitled Pubs Need Casuals, Not Stakhanovite Drinkers, in which they ask whether a major reason for the decline of pubs is that people are visiting them much less just for the occasional pint or two.

This is a point I have often made myself in the past in posts such as Whatever happened to pubs?, Socially unacceptable supping and, from the very early days of this blog in 2008, Demise of the casual drinker.

The reasons behind this can be broken down into a number of categories, but basically it boils down to one issue. Whereas once it was seen as normal for moderate drinking to be woven into the fabric of everyday life, we have become increasingly censorious about it, and it is now seen as something that has to be ringfenced from all responsible activity. “What? You’ve had a lunchtime pint? You’ll have to write off the rest of the day, then!” As I said in one of the linked posts:

Overall, we as a society drink a bit more (maybe around 10%) than we did in the late 70s, but our relationship with alcohol has changed. It is no longer something to be enjoyed in moderation (and often with a vague sense of naughtiness) as part of everyday life, but something to be consumed more deliberately when other responsibilities can be set aside. People place far more emphasis on not touching a drop in “normal” situations than they used to. Just “going to the pub”, without involving a meal, is no longer an acceptable leisure pursuit in polite society.
Realistically, this is not going to change until general social attitudes change. Nothing lasts forever, but I can’t see much chance of that happening in the near future. It certainly isn’t a question of pubs trying to make themselves more appealing – they were far busier in the past when in many respects they were much less appealing.

There’s an implicit question in Boak & Bailey’s piece that “if people say they like pubs, why don’t they visit them more?” but that’s rather missing the point. Many people would say they like local post offices and bank branches, and traditional butchers, but they’re not going to visit them just for the sake of it if they haven’t got a valid reason to do so. Boak & Bailey are pub enthusiasts who see going to pubs in itself as an interesting leisure activity. So am I, and bloggers such as Martin Taylor and Simon Everitt. But the vast majority of potential pubgoers don’t see it that way. As I said in the comments, a lot of pubgoing revolves around ritual and routine. Take that away, and many will no longer see any point.

11 comments:

  1. Where do people socialise if they don't go to the pub? Like if you wanted to meet up with an old friend one evening for a catch up, where would you go, if not the pub? Going round to someone's house is just a bit too full on, especially if its not a very close friend.

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    1. Coffee shops, maybe, if you just want a brief relaxing break?

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    2. Although having multiple drinks in a coffee shop just feels a bit weird, and doesn't seem all common either. In fact I don't think I've ever seen a single person finish their Americano, and queue up again. 'Same again, please'.

      Are there really people who go out for 'a few' coffees in the same way that we'd go out for a few pints?

      (Granted there are the sort of people who buy one small coffee and stay all day in coffee shops on their Macbooks...)

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    3. I don't see the point of going out for coffee. I can make coffee at home. I can't make beer at home (not for immediate consumption anyway) so I go to the pub. If I go with someone who just wants a coffee, that's fine.

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    4. The going out and socialising is the main event, the beer is just an added bonus. I've drunk coffee in pubs before when tired out hungover, and I've drunk beer in coffee shops. Beer is better IMO but different people like different things

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    5. Of course you don’t go out for “a few coffees”, but if you’re already in a town or city centre, a coffee shop will be an easy and safe place to meet up for a quick chat. Even if you don’t really understand the appeal (and they do nothing for me) it can’t be denied that coffee shops have been hugely successful, and at least some of the trade they’re attracting must have come from pubs.

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  2. Exactly, particularly at lunchtimes and for groups of women to whom many pubs remain unappealing.

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  3. I wonder if you plotted coffee shop usage + pub usage together whether the line would go up or down? Are we just seeing a shift in venue for casual socialising?

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    1. There is some element of transfer between the two, but in general I'd say the people who now use coffee shops (or their equivalent of 10-20 years ago) weren't previously using pubs, and the people who no longer use pubs aren't now in coffee shops.

      And of course coffee shops are pretty much entirely an urban phenomenon.

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  4. How impolite of me. I went to the pub last night and drank 4 pints over just less than two hours with my brother and an old friend. Very pleasant. No meals involved. Should I be horsewhipped?

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    1. That's session drinking, not casual drinking. I'm talking of occasions when you have a pint or two and then go on to do something else.

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