Scott Reid: Raise a glass to a new breed of pub

Scott Reid. Picture: TSPL
Scott Reid. Picture: TSPL
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THE great British pub is dying on its feet, or so we are repeatedly told.

Campaigners warn that communities the length and breadth of the land are losing their watering holes at a record rate, with a host of factors cited for their demise, from smoking bans to high rents and taxes.

Recent figures from the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra) suggest that the axe is falling at the rate of 28 pubs a week across the UK, up from 26 at the start of last year. Last month’s decision in the Budget to trim the rate of beer duty by a penny looks unlikely to stem the rot.

Clearly, with supermarkets and corner shops offering alcohol at a fraction of the price, the at-home drinking challenge for Britain’s publicans is immense. Any move to introduce minimum unit pricing may narrow that gap, but for many picking up a six pack and heading for the sofa will remain the preferred choice.

All too often pubs have been slow to adapt to societal change. They remain stuck in a Coronation Street era of warm ale, dominos and darts.

Step forward the edge-of-town pub/restaurant operator, offering a modern, spacious and family-friendly setting a million miles away from the traditional neighbourhood boozer.This alternative model has been booming in recent years and shows little sign of slowing down.

Marston’s is the latest name looking to grab a slice of the market north of the Border, setting out its stall yesterday to take on rivals such as Brewers Fayre and Greene King’s Eating Inn division.

The Midlands brewer set up shop in Scotland a year ago but has plans to open dozens, perhaps scores, of sites. It is scouring the land for suitable locations, with an emphasis on retail schemes, business parks and larger residential developments. A number of sites will also feature an adjoining hotel.

The rollout is ambitious but not unrealistic, given the inroads the firm has made into its home market south of the Border. It will also lead to the creation of some 200 jobs per year over the next decade or so. Not highly-skilled, highly-paid jobs, but jobs none the less.

Marston’s is not alone. Hotel operator Premier Inn is also in expansion mode and most of its sites will be accompanied by a bar/eatery. JD Wetherspoon recently vowed to open up to 50 pubs this year, adding to a 900-strong estate, with most in more typical town centre locations, often where a retailer or bank has pulled out.

Food is a key driver – an area frequently neglected by the old-fashioned drinking den – with two-for-one and loyalty offers helping to drive trade during the quieter weekday evenings.

The industry is undergoing rapid change and there is likely to be further fall-out for established operators, mirroring population shifts and altering lifestyles, but providing ampleopportunity for others to grow.

Car maker BMW firing on all cylinders

A TALE of two car makers yesterday. While Toyota was issuing a recall for millions of vehicles over airbag concerns, BMW was cheering record sales numbers.

For the first time in the company’s history, more than 200,000 BMWs, Minis and Rolls-Royces were delivered to customers in a single month during March.

Across the first quarter, sales of British-built Rollers were up 40 per cent to 897, while Mini has reported bumper orders for its latest model. Two more reasons to cheer the UK’s resurgent motor industry.