Cause for Concern

I was in my local on Friday evening and there were empty chairs. Likewise on Saturday. It used to be that Friday and Saturday evenings were the pub’s busiest times (probably for any pub) but, since the post-Covid resumption of trading, numbers have been significantly down.

Most of the “regulars” are there – indeed, on a Monday or Tuesday evening it’s pretty much like old times. The missing customers are for the most part the casual visitors and those who only showed up at weekends. Last night (Saturday) there was just one unfamiliar face among the clientele.

I have in the past written that Friday night is the worst possible time to go to the pub because it’s full of part-time drinkers, and I confess to having made disparaging remarks about such people on the grounds that they tend to be noisy, to obstruct the bar and take up an inordinate amount of the staff’s time with their fancy drink orders. But I have to admit that pubs need them. If it were not for their custom, the pub wouldn’t be there for us regulars to enjoy a quiet few pints on a Monday.

So why are they no longer turning up in droves? Clearly the pub isn’t as important a part of their lives as it is for those of us who are there nearly every day. If they’re still wary of social contact, they may well think a couple of drinks on Friday isn’t worth the risk while the virus is still at large. In which case, they may gradually drift back as things return to normal.

But what if they’ve found other things to do with their time? Or they’ve become accustomed to supermarket booze at half the price* of an over-taxed pub pint? If they’re not coming back, the pubs which managed to survive 18 months of lockdown alternating with severely restricted trading may still be in big trouble.

* That’s no exaggeration, in fact it’s a slight understatement. During lockdown I was buying supermarket beer – and decent stuff at that, like St Austell Proper Job or Adnams’ Ghost Ship – for as little as £1.50 a 500ml bottle (that’s almost a pint). The average pub price locally is around £4 a pint. And it’s not the fault of publicans or brewers. We have the third highest rate of beer duty in Europe – more than ten times the German rate.

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