Friday, January 16, 2009

Where have all the customers gone?

I know the period after Christmas is traditionally the slackest time of the year, and many people must be feeling “credit crunched”, but even so I have been struck by the echoing emptiness of several pubs I have visited recently. The amount of food and drink sold can’t have covered the heating bills let alone paid the bar staff’s wages. I know this sounds depressing, but there does seem to have been a downward step-change in the level of custom in pubs away from the normal busy times of Friday and Saturday nights and (for food houses) Sunday lunchtimes. Even on Friday nights I’ve been in what to me are decent enough pubs that are well under half full. If most of the drinking space in pubs is lying unused for 90% of the time they are open, this must call into question their viability.

It also must have a “vicious circle” effect, as drinking in a near-empty pub is rather dispiriting, however good the beer is, and is likely to put people off going the next time. But I don’t think all those former customers are sitting at home at those particular times cracking open cheap cans of Stella, it’s more that social changes mean that for more and more people, visiting a pub is simply no longer part of their normal routine.