Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Great British Pub battles for survival

I'm now sat in a restaurant/pub/cafe called Bar thr3 that until a few years back was more your traditional British pub.
Wetherby used to have ten traditional pubs, but one outside town closed a while back, and another underwent a similar transformation to a restaurant where through the week, you can get two meals for a fiver.
Why am I in this pub as opposed to any other? What has made me pay £3.20 for a pint of Guinness. It's not that I love Michael Buble, who is playing somewhat loudly in the background.
No, it's because they have free wireless internet for customers!
Apart from meals, and I recall from last year they were pretty good, this is how Bar thr3 is battling for survival.
Indeed, life is tough for the publicans. Several times in the past few weeks, I have seen something you would have never seen before. Big banners outside an hostelry advertising the tenancy is available. In one pub yesterday, the gents had adverts saying the pub chain had many vacancies available as pub managers, paying upto £20,000 a year.
Commentary such as this from the Journal in Newcastle explains the reasons why pubs are in trouble.
Similar anti-smoking laws to New Zealand is blamed, high alcohol taxes, as well as cheap booze in the supermarkets. Tougher drink-driving laws and patrols are an added factor for rural pubs.
And it looks set to get worse as the deepening recession tightens belts further.
Indeed, can anyone afford buying several pints a night, even if they try cheaper brands at cheaper pubs?
Then. there's the cost of food as well.
Just as the supermarkets are blamed for cheap booze and cheap petrol (causing the closure of gas stations too) ; the supermarkets with their growing range of convenience/ ready meals are hitting here too.
My favourite Marks and Spencer often has deals such as 'Dinner for 2' featuring restaurant quality meals for two with veges, a dessert and a bottle of wine for ten quid. Quite often Ten quid a head would be going rate for a meal.
On New Year's Eve, we paid £45 for three mains and two drinks apiece and the food was only standard fare, nothing fancy.
Years back, this particular pub was noted for its steaks, and the place would be packed out, but on Wednesday night it was pretty quiet and judging by the mediocre quality of the food, in this village location, 10-15kms from the nearest town, my dad doubted the place would survive for long.
Yesterday, we were in Scarborough , a North Yorkshire seaside town, and called in at a Wetherspoon, a mass-market pub chain, a Countdown or Pak'N'Save of the pub world. The large pub was like a supermarket of sorts, a barn even, and the food was pretty poor. Value okay, but let me say, I won't want to go to one. But the place was busy and seeking staff like managers!
And on Christmas Eve, we were at another place, also noted for food, and one offering coupons for January, three roasts and a bottle of wine for £20 to make the most of those bleak winter Sundays.
In the village, there are two pubs. One down at heel with cheap beer that seems to do ok, the other dearer and upmarket and serving food, but noticeably quiet the times I have been in this winter.
It featured free copies of the local CAMRA newsletter calling on the government to introduce minimum prices for units of alcohol so the supermarkets would not undercut pub prices by too much.
In the next village, one pub by the main road is a big house, and the carpark now has townhouses.
So life is indeed tough in the pub world.
So what can we or anyone do to help save the British pub? Or indeed the pubs of New Zealand, who naturally will be suffering the same trends and issues.
I doubt there is a role for government, except perhaps to look at alcohol taxes.
The rest is obviously down to the publicans themselves.
Keep your prices down if you can, and serve more and better food, something different and better, to set you apart from others.
I guess it all boils down to competition and the ever intense competition for our dwindling pound or dollar. There is no easy answer.
But free wi-fi will also help. I see a couple of other drinkers and their kids here with their laptops too!


Barnsley Bill said...


JC said...

At the end of the day pubs have to offer the public something more than staying at home with good home entertainment of TV, DVDs, the Internet and so on, having a good meal and safe drinking at supermarket prices.

That's a big ask except for occasions.


KG said...

Russian strippers.

Barnsley Bill said...

female russian strippers

KG said...


showmethetaxcut said...


I am heading to the UK for a month in May/June this year to play golf at St Andrews and various other places like Bournemouth. I will in between times be spending time in London and other UK cities and especially at at good pubs/real ale houses and some of the better restaurants particularly in London.

I remember my OE in the UK in 1981/82 when the place was undoubtedly at its absolute post WWII decline prior to redevelopments like Docklands in London. Shit hole.

In 2006 I made my seventh trip to the UK when the place seemed to be at the height of its optimism under NuLabour. London was a very much cleaned up city and the place was buzzing. The wine bar is in the ascendency over the pub and good restaurants were everywhere with London now undoubtedly one of the restaurant capitals of the world (the food in general in 1981 was absolute crap with the exception of Indian and Italian).

I look forward to seeing what difference three years has made to the mood and circumstances of the UK.

I might even make some comments on an appropriate Nominister post on my return to NZ.

showmethetaxcut said...


Strippers - Russian or otherwise will not save the British pub.

These days for a few pounds more, you can have the EE girl lock stock and barrell for an hour or more to yourself.

Oswald Bastable said...

Here is where the punters are going!

Anonymous said...

I doubt there is a role for government, except perhaps to look at alcohol taxes.

Crap. The damage is done by govt and the damage can be undone by govt.

Remove booze and petrol taxes. Remove anti-smoking and pointless drink-drive legislation.

Those two changes alone would be enough to restart many pubs, country pubs especially.

I look forward to seeing what difference three years has made to the mood and circumstances of the UK.

Complete and utter despair - thank you Labour.


Wetherspoon today has hit back with 99p pints, to the consternation of anti-drink health groups; and £2-99 meals.
The Angel in Wetherby, which was pictured in a post of mine on Christmas Eve, has launched a January Sale with pints at £1-55.
It does 2 meals for a tenner.
Now, as it's Sunday and my parents have gone out, I've come to Bar Thr3 again.
But rather than eat here and pay £7-95 for Sunday roast, I went to a lovely little cafe in the High Street where I had roast beef and veges with a glass of wine for £5-50. As I was still hungry I had chocolate fudge cake and cream to finish for another £2-50. Very nice and much, much better than Wetherspoon. The cafe also allows BYO which is not that common in England.

Showme thetaxcut, I am sure there will still be plenty of nice pubs for you and many will be offering good deals, being so desperate for business.

BB, you don't get strippers in Wetherby, of either sort as it is such a respectable town.
I was shocked to see a place in Scarborough offering such adult entertainment and it was just off the main drag too and a few doors down from Pizza hut!!

Adolf Fiinkensein said...

Shit, oh dear, Fairfacts. Strippers within 100 yards of Pizza Hut? What next? The place is buggered.

Still, look at all those job opportunities for a young man just returned to Blighty. I can just see you behind the bar, calling 'Time Gentlemen' for 20,000 quid a year.

Heine said...

Damn you beat me to it, Wetherspoons are doing Green King IPA and bottles of San Miguel for 99p... bargain!

Pity it aint that good to drink!

My local Wetherspoons aleady has hot Polish barstaff although my actual local seems to have a revolving door of hotter staff each time I visit. The annual CAMRA beer festival in London always bring up the smoking ban and its effects on the good old British boozer. Sad.

Loving the weather back home, but back to London next week!

Barnsley Bill said...

That would be Greene King with an E.
If it was their Abbott Ale brew and not IPA, I would be home on the next plane.


The Yorkshire Evening Post in Leeds reported last night that has pub is serving Tetleys Smooth for 98p a pint.

Clint, I would love to join you for a pint or three in your London local sometime this month.
I haven't been to 'the smoke' for about 5 years and am saving up my newspaper tokens so I can go on the train for eight quid each way.

Clunking Fist said...

"eight quid each way"

What is "normal" Fare these days?