Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - October 2001
Dining pubs that deter the casual drinker risk losing their distinctive appeal
Thirty years ago, serving food in pubs was widely regarded as a regrettable trend that distracted pubgoers from the serious business of drinking. It was often said dismissively of a particular pub that "it's gone over to food." Nowadays, for a variety of reasons, the situation has changed completely, and apart from neighbourhood locals most pubs have to sell meals to survive.
But often today the trend has gone too far in the opposite direction, with a growing number of pubs giving a clear impression that anyone who only wants a drink isn't welcome. I recently called into a pub that had been converted into one of Bass's "Vintage Inns" and was snootily asked by the landlady "Will you be dining with us today, Sir?"
In a Peak District pub I bought my pint and wandered into the lounge, which had been laid out with place-settings, prompting the landlord to suggest I might be better off in the public bar. As it happened, I did order a meal, but in the time I was there nobody else came into the lounge, indicating that maybe the pub didn't have its priorities quite right.
Even if pubs do most of their business with diners, surely they should still set aside a little space, and a little courtesy, for customers who just want a drink. If pubs go too far down the road of becoming purely restaurants they risk losing what it was that attracted people to them in the first place. Diners are likely to feel that a place has more character and atmosphere with a few regulars chatting at the bar.
There may be method in the madness of dress restrictions in pubs
A perennial subject of complaint in "Opening Times" is pubs applying ludicrous door policies that exclude responsible citizens while giving admission to yobboes and troublemakers. On the face of it, these policies seem to be completely counter-productive. But the people who run pubs are not totally stupid, and surely the point is that these restrictions have a hidden agenda, to enhance the image of these drinking establishments by admitting the sharply-dressed young, but keeping out the tubby middle-aged in their out-of-fashion casuals.
"Door control" may appear to be an insurance against trouble, but in practice it is often a sign that trouble is likely. And, if a pub or bar does apply daft dress restrictions, then it's a clear indication that it doesn't deserve your custom anyway. There's scarcely any area around here where there isn't a choice of decent, welcoming pubs that don't have these obnoxious policies, and where the chances of being attacked or robbed are much less.
It would also be interesting to know whether pubs are still maintaining bans on jeans when they have become such a popular fashion item, particularly for the female sex, in the past year.