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The Pub is Dead – Long Live the Hybrid Venue

In July of 2015 The Guardian was reporting a pub closure rate in the UK of as much as 29 a week, with London being hit the hardest.

This rate is likely to have dropped this year as we run out of pubs to close, but you cannot have failed to notice local pubs disappearing no matter where you live. Some pubs you may be glad to see the back of, but in general it does not feel like a good thing to see these local social venues disappearing – options are being closed off to us.

Closed PubThe reasons are reasonably well known. Beginning with the smoking ban a few years ago which is credited with starting a slide that has been exacerbated by aggressive supermarket discounting, high duties and that little recession thing that has been hanging around since 2008.

As if those things were not enough to convince the hard pressed licensee to throw in the beer towel, the recent announcement from the Chief Medical Officer of further reductions in the recommended daily alcohol limits and charity campaigns pushing ‘dry January’ fundraising efforts have made things worse.

Perhaps last, but by no means least, despite endless images in the news media of young people falling about in the street insanely drunk, young people are actually drinking less in general. There is no clear reason for this overall,  but there is a decent chance that social media is allowing young people to have more regular social interaction without having to physically meet in the pub.

There is, however, hope and like so many things this hope comes from invention driven by necessity.

The pub has in fact been in transition for the last 20 years, or so. Beginning with a government initiative to prise pubs away from the dead hand of the large chains that dominated in the 1980s and 1990s, pubs have introduced more food, child friendly areas and specialist beers from (often local) micro breweries.   Together with improved hygiene both behind and in front of the bar, the end result has been the creation of much more female friendly (ie friendly) environments. Many, but not all,  of the pubs that have fallen by the wayside in recent years are those that have ignored this trend. But clearly making these moves alone is not enough, as the closure trend continues.

The pubs that are succeeding are the ones that fully employ the idea that they are a social venue rather than just a drinking den. Because of the high duty on drinks in the UK, food or dry sales, can often be more profitable than the drinks, or wet sales. But the really successful venues have gone much further.

JD Wetherspoon, the discount pub chain runs a breakfast club, with a full English breakfast, tea, coffee, etc. Other more specialist ideas include things like:

  • Adding a butcher’s shop to the premises to offer meat and game provided by local farmers and hunters.
  • Having a dual venue in the same location being a coffee, cake and sandwich shop during the day and a wine bar by night
  • Running a market garden to grow fruit and vegetables for the pub menu and offsales through a shop attached to the pub
  • Using the catering side of the business to supply local primary schools with hot meals for the children during the school day
  • Conversion of a room in the pub to a post office

An example of the last item on the above list is the Badger Hounds, Hinderwell, North Yorkshire. Hinderwell is a small community of just 2000 people and as such can benefit greatly from the social hub that the local community pub can offer. As such, it is worth going that extra mile to keep the pub alive by developing additional revenue streams and creating alternative reasons to visit.

The refit of the pub’s old pool room was part funded by the Pub is The Hub Community Services Grant. Originally inspired by Prince Charles in 2001, Pub is The Hub is a ‘not-for-profit’ organisation aimed at providing advice and support to licensees of rural pubs, or communities considering the options for acquiring their local pub which is perhaps faced with imminent closure. This excellent initiative encourages innovative ideas to keep pubs alive, especially in small communities.

Innovation can come from any direction of course and a business we have on our business for sale listings this month is another great example of one of the above ideas. The venue is perfect for a coffee, tea, sandwich and cake shop during the day being centrally located with high passing footfall. By night the central location also works as a wine bar, extending greatly the use of the premises into the evening and providing services to a significantly different clientele.

Surely this mixed use hybrid venue is the way forward as fixed costs are spread over a much longer trading period in the day and the different uses provide the flexibility to adjust to market trends and deliver the type of venue people want to visit. It is certainly nice to have a coffee shop available that is not part of an international chain and which has its own unique identity and offerings. Equally, a wine bar is distinctive on the high street and surely of our time when more wine is being drunk than ever before – by both sexes.

The death of the pub may have been greatly exaggerated, but not by much. Evolution is at play here and we are seeing, over time, the development of a new beast that provides a social drinking venue alongside many other things. Really, calling this new entity a hybrid venue does not exactly set the pulse racing. In future it may well be called ‘the pub’, but in our minds it will then mean something quite different from what it has meant in the past.


If you would like more information about the innovative cafe/wine bar venue mentioned above, please get in touch for a no obligation initial discussion.


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