Things can only get better, perhaps

The pubs are opening…hurrah. The pubs will have a higher cost base and less customers…boo.

I have no doubt there’ll be a surge in pub going on 4th July and good luck to the pubs and their customers. My suspicion is it’ll be the equivalent of a New Year’s Eve occasion with a January dip to follow.

Despite the initial enthusiasm, there will be regular pub goers who will be reticent to join the fray and there will be pub locations that will lose their trade into 2021. In many pubs, it’s a core of regulars that keep them going. Can they be relied on? There’s surely a big question mark over who’s going to hold back amongst consumers in the rest of 2020. As if the lower numbers due to social distancing measures aren’t enough of a problem.


Who’ll hold back?

Whilst some may say sod it I’m off to assert my god-given right to go to the pub, others may be unwilling to cross the threshold. Those with health conditions and with carer responsibilities may be obvious but there will be others. The lockdown pub alternatives may be the way forward for some. For others, rising unemployment may crush their pub-going spirit.

The Zoom and craft beer at home lifestyle, becoming used to drinking cheaper beer at home, or meeting up in the park may take some shifting as new consumer habits take root. Under the government’s guidance, pubs may no longer offer the social setting pub-goers crave. There are now other routes to drinking that folks see as the new norm. And by the middle of July, family and friends’ back-garden BBQs may be the preferred option.

There will no doubt be more market research going on to look at who is prepared to go back to the pub. In terms of current information, the consumer profile of the post-COVID pub-goers may be very different to what came before. Analysis (1/5/20) by Ipsos MORI reports that 6/10 of us would be uncomfortable in going to pubs and restaurants.

Of course these worries may have eased somewhat over time, but for me the main finding is that the young (36% of 18-34 year olds) are more willing to go back to the pub than the old (22% of 55-75s). If the relative percentages of pub-going concern persist I suspect that’s not good news for cask ale and wet-led pubs.

Which places will lose their trade? 

Off to the match   

In The Athletic online sports paper, Andy Mitten looks at the problems of the pandemic for the match-day economy around Old Trafford. In particular the Wetherspoons’ Bishop Blaize pub.

“We’re full to our 600 capacity hours before kick-off,” explains Ben Plunkett, 38, who has managed the Bishop Blaize pub for 11 years…”I just hope that fans can come back to matches as soon as possible. I’m doubtful that will be in 2020, and it’s that uncertainty which worries me most — we just can’t plan.”

It’s not just match-day business for the Blaize, “We’re busy the day before and the day after. Fans start arriving from Ireland or Scandinavia the day before a weekend game and this will be their home from home.

“We’re also packed when there’s a big cricket game or concert at the other Old Trafford over the road…We can also get pretty full before a concert at the Victoria Warehouse.”

Whilst not many have the long-distance pulling power of Manchester United, the loss of the match-day economy will have repercussions for pubs across the UK, particularly if the return for supporters is home fans only. Even in the lower leagues of football, pubs are an important part of the day’s events for home and away fans.

Will TV sport be part of their salvation? Back to the manager of the Bishop Blaize pub…

“Pubs are set to open on July 4. United are at home (to Bournemouth) that day and it could be perfect for us.”

For many pub owners their social distancing plans may well be challenged if they push the opportunity to watch matches in the pub. The scientists will be concerned about the consequences and the police will be very wary of groups gathering near football grounds.

Time will tell. A few pints of Bass for me at the Stretton Social Club before a match at the Pirelli Stadium seems a long way off.

What’s happened to our students?

Whilst students might not be the big pub spenders they once were, I fear for some of the pubs in our cities. In places such as Leeds and Sheffield, where the student population has dominated many areas, pubs will surely suffer from the knock-on effect of the move to online teaching. I can see little point in expensive student accommodation if there’s no face-to-face experience at the university. It’s a ‘bad news, good news’ story for parents.

Staying local?

Others have mentioned that punters will make their own decisions as to whether a pub is ‘safe’ and worth a visit in terms of their social offer. Will that lead to people staying local and sticking with the pubs they know?

If so, that’s another nail in the coffin of rural pubs dependent on visitors and the tourist dollar unless they can up their online information and presence. Travelling pub-goers will want to know what to expect when they get to a pub. Given that some operators struggle to provide information on opening hours, it’s going to be a challenge to let visitors know what they can expect in terms of their safety at the pub.


Will opening in July be the easy bit? I think it’s what comes after that will test many pubs to the limit. I wish them well.



BarBarrick views on Bass

This a guest post by Richard Barrick sharing his memories of Bass, Burton and the brewing world.

“As a lifelong ‘Bass man’, (Dad worked for Bass North 1972-86 and quickly learned Draught Bass was ‘the Rolls Royce’ of beers), it’s absolutely brilliant to discover I wasn’t the only one who appears to care about the existence of this ale and brand!

I first drank Draught Bass at a free house on the A19 south of Selby in 1979/80. Bass at that time was still fermented in the Burton Unions within the then No 2 Brewery on Station Street. I still believe that that the ale I got to know, love and be constantly amazed by until it began changing in the mid 1980s, was the finest beer I’ve ever had. I don’t think today’s version is in the same class (my opinion) but I do think it’s got better and better in more recent years at Marston’s. And love it still I do but as I say to everyone, a bit of it is ‘drinking from memory’!

Bass flyer

I spent 20 years in advertising creative departments, including writing the print/poster campaign for Ind Coope Burton Ale in 1989.  but following and creating trends as part of the job could run counter to what I thought really mattered. In this way, as a reaction against the cyclic pattern of ‘foreign bottled lagers’, I began nuancing the company Christmas parties by bringing in cask ales and regional British foods of the sort that I feared, big budget ad spends could advertise out of existence. Dubbed ‘BarBarrick’ the parties introduced many an amazed ad executive to the delights of cask English beer, pork pies, black pudding etc etc!

In around 2010, I got to know the owner of a then Bass outlet, The Ship in central London. A former Wenlock house, his father had built it into quite a temple to Bass and it was their only cask ale. With his blessing I organised the arrival of cask Worthington ‘E’ and a firkin of P2 (both recreated by Steve Wellington in Burton) for a famous night where all three were on sale, hand pulled, in a central London pub! ”

Mr Barricks Pies

Note: Richard runs Mr Barrick’s Pies, producing the only pork pies with a steam hole offering the glory of a red triangle. Hopefully when National Bass Day takes place sometime in the next few months, Richard’s pies will be gracing the bar of the Derby Inn in Burton.