THOUSANDS of pubs will go out of business over the next year because they are “bad” and “stuck in the Eighties”, the editors of an industry guide have warned.
Writing in the Good Pubs Guide 2013, editor Fiona Stapley said up to 4,000 UK establishments would be likely to go out of business before the next edition is published in 12 months, due to their landlords’ old-fashioned attitudes and “indifferent” service.
But she said about 1,000 new pubs would be likely to open over the same period, many led by “visionary” new landlords who could turn around failed establishments.
“It sounds dire and of course it’s bad news for their staff and regular customers,” said Ms Stapley, writing in the introduction to the latest guide, published today. “But these are the pubs at the bottom of the pecking order, the bad pubs, which still behave as if we were stuck in the 1980s – happy with indifferent food, drink, service and surroundings. It is high time they closed.”
She added: “In this same coming year, we expect well over 1,000 new pubs to open – often visionary and energetic new licensees bringing fresh life to former pubs which had been shuttered for months or years.”
The guide, regarded as the industry “bible”, said pubs that offer good food and service and a pleasant atmosphere can beat the recession.
“This year, as so often before, we have found poor service is the number one reason for writing off a pub,” added Ms Stapley.
The latest figures from the Campaign for Real Ale showed pubs in Scotland were closing at the rate of two a week, due to a combination of competition from off-sales and lack of confidence in the economy.
Paul Waterson, chief executive of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, insisted both good and bad pubs had struggled in recent years.
“Things like the smoking ban and cheap alcohol in off-sales have undoubtedly had a great impact on pubs,” he said. “There are a lot of good operators who have unfortunately had to close.
“We are going through a hard time where pubs have shut and we are hoping to come out of the other end of that with a smaller but better estate.”
One successful landlord featured in the guide claimed no pub that offered good service to the right market should fail.
“There are probably still far too many pubs in the wrong place and often chasing the wrong market,” said the landlord, who did not want to be named.
“The bad pubs are still being culled, just like lions pick off the slowest of the herd. It makes the pub industry more robust and far better-placed for the future. I do not know of one single good pub that has got into trouble in recent years, despite our harsh economy, unsupportive banks and horrible weather.”
The guide also branded Scotland’s beer as generally “expensive”, ranking it alongside pricey areas of southern England. Only London and Surrey were said to have more expensive beer, falling into the “rip-off” category.
Patrick Browne, chief executive of the Scottish Beer and Pubs Association, said some of Scotland’s traditional pubs had a long way to go if they are to modernise enough to survive.
“I think there is probably an element of truth in what they [The Good Pubs Guide] say,” he said. “The usual reason blamed for the closure of pubs is probably exhausted now – the smoking ban was in 2006.
“Scotland still has some issues. Pubs here may be less forward- thinking than in other parts of the country and are increasingly having to raise their game as there is more competition for the leisure pound.
“The days of traditional pubs being able to tick over are gone.”