Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - November 2000

* Afternoon Delight *

More pubs than ever now open in the afternoon - but might you want to avoid the customers?

Earlier this year, the Beer Monster pointed out that many pubs that stay open all day are very quiet during the afternoon, and some of the people who go in them at that time are ones you'd prefer to avoid. However, the very fact that so many pubs are open in the afternoon represents a complete turnaround from the situation shortly after all-day opening was first permitted. A lot of pubs took the opportunity actually to open shorter hours, taking the view that if there was hardly anyone in between 2.30 and 3, or 5.30 and 7, there wasn't much point in opening then at all. Indeed, I remember writing a piece complaining that it was hard to find anywhere open in central Manchester or Stockport during the afternoon, especially on Saturdays.

This has steadily changed, as licensees found that, while there might not be much trade in the afternoon, in areas where there was a lot of competition they were losing business at other times by not being open. Even if you only found a pub shut on one occasion when you wanted to go there, it would damage the its reputation and make you less likely to call there again. This process has been accelerated by the opening of more and more outlets of the “superpub” chains, which all open all day. In fact, in a lot of town centre pubs, there's now a strong trade throughout the day, and the ones which are slack are those on the fringes that are more dependent on lunchtime trade from offices and don't have the pedestrian traffic past the door all day long.

When all-day opening was first introduced, there was a widespread fear that groups of hard-drinking men would go on all-day benders and end up causing mayhem. In practice, this just doesn’t happen, apart perhaps in a few out-of-the-way social clubs and estate pubs. The ritual is to go out on Saturday night for a skinful, and not to spoil it by drinking too much earlier in the day. All-day opening has, overall, led to a more civilised drinking culture, with many pubs doing good business in the late afternoon, in a relaxed and non-threatening atmosphere, and no evidence of large numbers of drunks staggering around in the early evening. The handful of people who do end up in that state would, even before, have been in the pub until 3 pm and queueing up outside at 5.30, and probably now drink no more than they used to. Oddly, being drunk in public may be socially acceptable at midnight, but it certainly isn’t at 6 pm.

* Goodbye Portwood? *

The transformation of Stockport’s “East End” has done nothing for the area’s pubs

I was sorry to hear that the Brinnington Inn, one of Stockport's unsung decent locals, had been sold to retail developers. This is yet another pub to close in the Portwood area, following in the footsteps of the Stanley Arms and the Coach & Horses, with a large question mark hanging over the Railway and, presumably, the Old King and the Queens too. Within a generation the area has been transformed from one of Stockport's most vibrant industrial and residential zones to what is basically a giant retail park.

But, by the mid-eighties, the area was run-down and largely derelict. While you may not be a fan of retail developments like the Peel Centre, they are undeniably popular. So the question must be asked whether it would really be better for Stockport if these shops were in an out-of-town location like Handforth Dean, rather than next door to the town centre where they can potentially bring more trade to the existing shops and pubs.

And I wonder whether a pub that catered more for the demands of visitors to the Peel Centre, offering all-day dining and family facilities, might actually do good business on that site. Towns have to move with the times, and so does the licensed trade.

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