For whom the last orders bell tolls

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Image courtesy of Joe Stokes

Pubs are an undeniable staple of British culture. For generations they have served as social hubs for communities across the nation, adorning our towns and cities as an accessory that the high street would look naked without. But the barrel could be running dry for Britain’s bar scene.

 

Publicans across the nation are in dire straits. From the year 2000 to 2016, the total number of pubs in the UK declined by over 10,000, and while the rate of closures has slowed somewhat, there are still two pubs closing every single day. Trying to identify the solution to this crisis is puzzling lawmakers and pub-goers alike, and it might be time for a drastic change in the way Brits see pubs.

 

The main factor is a change in behavior among Britons; fewer are drinking, and those that do still drink are increasingly choosing supermarket alcohol over a night at the pub. The shift has been blamed on a number of causes, from the smoking ban to the recession to high taxes, all of which have contributed to lower profits for pubs, which is made worse by the fact that pints have become less affordable while alcohol from elsewhere has become relatively cheaper. Demographic shifts are also playing a role: in a 2016 ONS survey, 61.5 percent of white respondents had drank in the past week compared to 25.7 percent of other ethnicities, while 56 percent of non-whites are teetotal compared to 15.7 percent of whites.

 

Another cause is the change in tastes of the British public. Increasingly pub-goers are demanding more than just cheap pints from their locals, with items such as food, speciality gins, and craft beers becoming commonplace. Craft beer, which is defined by the Brewers Association as beer produced by ‘small, independent, and traditional’ breweries, has seen an explosion in popularity over the last few years, due to its emphasis on quality over quantity produced. Craft beer sales increased 1.7% in 2017, while the wider beer market only saw growth of 0.7%, according to the Society of Independent Brewers (Siba). This has the potential to open new opportunities for the declining industry, as around a third of small breweries offer tap-bars, where customers can sample the beer and develop a more intimate relationship with the brewers.

 

Some solutions that have been suggested are that pubs simply adapt to the change in tastes, and embrace the shift to gastropubs, however some, such as the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) argue that in order for pubs to keep their traditional identity the government needs to cut businesses rates. More unorthodox suggestions are to look to our neighbours for guidance, and either imitate Ireland, and ban the sale of alcohol from shops after 10pm, or follow Scotland’s lead and enact minimum pricing on alcohol. In any case it seems tragically clear that if nothing is done the pub may fade into cultural obscurity.