Pubs in the UK are closing down at a rate of 18 per week. They have been doing so for a while and the rate is increasing. Are the reasons purely economical or is there some social commentary in the dying of this cherished culture?
The reasons for the challenging UK pub environment include the high duties on alcoholic beverages. Adding to this, The Drinks Business quotes Camra that “a triple threat of higher beer duties, rising business rates and VAT is continuing to force pubs out of business, with a third of the cost of a pint now made up of tax.” It purely becomes too expensive to have a pint or two after work each day, something that was the trend for many years. Combine this with the promotion-driven retail culture where, despite duties, drinks can be purchased for much less than in the on-trade, it makes sense to rather go home to have your supermarket-bought wine or beer. A report by thetakeout.com agrees that this is exactly what happens with Millennials in the US.
A more health-conscious community might be another reason. Millennials are drinking less, they say, and perhaps they go for Pilates in the park, rather than meeting their friends or colleagues in the local down the street. According to The Guardian drinking rates among British adults have plunged to their lowest in 18 years and those who drank alcohol at least once a week declined from 64.2% to 56.9% last year. It is particularly the trend among younger people as about a quarter of 16-to-24-year-olds abstain from alcohol.
Many blamed the ban on smoking in pubs when it was introduced some years ago. And while many has adjusted and have seen an increase in food sales and female visitors, many especially “wet-led” pubs have not been able to recover financially. (Read more)
And even though The Drinks Business suggests alcohol consumption to rise in the following years, the road ahead for pubs will stay a challenging one and I think, it has less to do with the alcohol and more to do with the need for community. It has always been cheaper to drink at home. We visited pubs to get together with our friends, for a quick catch-up or congratulations. Perhaps the reason for the dwindling pub trade lies in here?
Social media has changed the way we socialise. We do not need to go anywhere, we have our community on our phone. It makes sense to opt for the comfort of your own home, on your couch, drinking the more affordable option from the supermarket and mingling with different circles of friends and family via Facebook or Whatsapp or whatever platform you prefer. You can even chat to them all at once using different platforms.
Why is this not also true for coffee? Why is the coffee shop culture thriving? Visiting a coffee shop happens mainly during the day, you use free Wi-Fi and no one thinks it strange if you sit by yourself, using your phone. Even when pubs offer free Wi-Fi, it is still slightly frowned upon to sit on your own in the evening, enjoying a drink. And while coffee shops might be performing well, have you noticed the popularity of take-away coffee? Saving time and money, rather take your coffee on the go, because you do not need to sit down and chat to anyone, you can do that on your mobile.
I think this brings another interpretation to the situation and call me old-school, but I do find it sad: the loss of community in real-life. We often surround ourselves on social media with people who think like us. We follow those who post things we enjoy or agree with. But is a real sense of community not in being exposed to other ways of thinking and meeting people with different ideas? Perhaps even though we can communicate easily across country borders and time zones, our worlds are not really getting bigger as we increasingly surround ourselves with like-minded people who reinforces the way we think.
When pubs struggle, it is an indication of a bigger problem. Yes, it indicates a challenge for the wine trade to fill the gap between fine dining wine lists and retail promotions, but it is about more than the drinks industry, it is also about how we live as a community.