The iconic British pub as we know it is changing. I’m sure that if you showed a punter 50 years ago how their local pub would look today, they’d barely recognise it. In some ways, modern pubs have changed what it means to be a pub. In order to stay operational as a business, pubs have had to change their styles as the years have gone by. A variety of different external pressures have played their part in changing the industry: Supermarkets started selling crates of beer at the same price you’d buy a pint in a pub, the Government increased duty and passed laws that drove smokers away from their locals, and pubs started to shut up shop in huge numbers – 29 a week by some counts. Pubs have also had to contend with changing social trends: per capita consumption of alcohol has declined by 18% since 2004, according to a recent report by think tank The Institute of Economic Affairs.
There was a time where the only food you’d be able to find in a pub were a few soggy sandwiches and a bag of crisps, and now we have a number of pubs with Michelin Stars. Famous chefs such as Heston Blumenthal and Shaun Hill have even taken over a number of pubs, seeing them as the perfect places to serve quality food from.
There are a number of cultural changes that pubs are currently facing. One is that there is less of a community spirit in most places these days. Whereas before places would have a pub as a communal meeting point, now there are so many ways to keep in touch with each other that having a physical place to meet becomes less of a necessity. Additionally, it appears that more people are choosing to socialise at home as these communities become more fragmented. This effect is exaggerated by the availability of extremely cheap alcohol at almost every supermarket chain.
Less of a Thirst for Pubs?
There is also now a general decline in alcohol consumption, particularly amongst the younger generations. This article states that individual alcohol consumption in Britain has declined sharply. In 2013, the average person over 15 consumed 9.4 litres of alcohol, 19% less than 2004. The proportion of young adults who are teetotal increased by 40% between 2005 and 2013 and 80% of adults are making some effort to drink less, according to a new study by consumer trends agency Future Foundation. No wonder that half of all nightclubs have closed in the last decade.
Still Standing Strong
The successful pubs are the ones that have changed what it means to be a pub. They’re no longer that working class establishment and are reaching out to the millennial crowd, marketing themselves more as casual dining venues or taking on additional roles in an effort to remain relevant. Some pubs, particularly in rural areas, are taking on multiple functions such as becoming the village Post Office or behaving more like a café during the day. Many landlords are finding innovative ways of pulling in the punters. Your average city pub will now be open all day, offering coffee, lunch deals, and free Wi-Fi. This means that they’ve increased their audience, attracting all sorts of people in the town, from business networking groups to mother and baby gatherings.
Seeking to attract different audiences, some pubs and bars are also operating as pop up shops while selling things like handmade jewellery or clothing alongside alcohol. This gives a bit of character that is perhaps lacking in your average modern gastro pub. But it’s probably not enough to say that they have brands and products that no-one else has, they need to be served in an engaging way and in an engaging environment.
With the rise of gastro pubs and informal eateries, the pub has become less of the “public house”. For those that wish to keep the general idea of a public house, they should look to retain the notion that the pub is the best house in the area. How many pubs have changed as quickly as people’s homes in terms of technology, entertainment, gardens, and decorations? Even the food people cook and what it’s eaten off has changed. Have the majority of pubs really kept up with this? Some have, and these are successful, but often it seems that some are just playing catch-up.
Something that pubs are still struggling to change is public policy and rising alcohol duty and VAT. Campaign groups like CAMRA are applying what pressure they can, and they’ve already had some success. Whilst there may be a wait ahead of us before these changes start to trickle down to the bottom line, there are lots of changes pubs can be making to ensure they keep serving the public. Any changes should of course be planned with care and landlords must ensure they keep a tight handle on costs, and cashflow. This is where Boost Capital, as pub funding specialists, are often invited to step in to provide cashflow solutions to help pubs overcome modern challenges.