Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - June 2007

* High and Dry *

The smoking ban will leave small landlocked pubs stranded and devoid of customers

IT WAS RICHLY ironic that a recent issue of “Opening Times” carried the front-page headline “Use Them or Lose Them!” referring to recent pub closures, while at the same including a full-page advertisement promoting the forthcoming smoking ban. Presumably next month “Turkey Weekly” will carry an ad advocating an early Christmas. It is highly likely that the prospect of the smoking ban has already led to the closure of several marginal pubs in the area – who would want to take on the lease of an already struggling non-food pub in the knowledge that at least a quarter of its customers were going to disappear come July?

I recently heard a radio interview with the licensee of an estate pub, who said that 80% of her customers were smokers, and all the rest either came in with smokers or socialised with them. This must be typical of thousands of pubs the length and breadth of the country. Following the ban, it is impossible to imagine that those customers, if they continue to come at all, won’t call in less often, and won’t stay for a shorter time. This has certainly been the case in Scotland, where over half of pubs have reported fewer visits from regulars since the ban. And it is absurd to believe that an establishment like that in a working-class area will suddenly be inundated with a new breed of customers who never came in before, and will happily sip Chardonnay and nibble at ciabattas in a smoke-free atmosphere.

There are quite a few smaller local pubs in the Stockport & South Manchester area that have no outside facilities apart from the street, where no food is served or demanded, where well over half the customers are smokers, and nobody else minds. Following the ban, if people are meeting up in mixed groups of smokers and non-smokers, they will obviously choose pubs that can offer reasonable outside smoking facilities, and those which can’t will be left high and dry. It’s therefore very likely that a a lot more of these small, “landlocked” establish­ments will be forced to close down over the next two or three years.

Now of course the smoking ban won’t mean the overnight death of the English pub, and no doubt the exponents of the ban will in their usual dishonest fashion produce figures showing little or no effect on the total licensed trade, which of course includes restaurants as well as pubs, and food sales as well as drink. But it will change the character of the English pub forever and the traditional drink and chat community pub will be increasingly marginalised. It will also leave an abiding legacy of bitterness amongst disenfranchised pubgoers, non-smokers as well as smokers.

* Shell Shocked *

So where will those pistachio shells go?

EVEN IF you don’t smoke, ashtrays are very convenient things in pubs. You can put all your crumpled-up crisp and nut packets in them. Most importantly you can discard all the shells from your pistachio nuts. So what are you supposed to do following the smoking ban? Leave them on the table? Throw them on the floor? And will the sale of pistachio nuts in pubs be forever banned, despite apparently being better for your health than most other nuts? Surely ashtrays should be kept and simply renamed “litter bins”. If not, pub tables and floors will be swamped by a wave of detritus.

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