Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - August 2009

* With Friends Like These... *

The professed sympathy of anti-drink groups for pubs is just weasel words

WITH THE pub trade under so much pressure nowadays, you could be forgiven for thinking that pubs would welcome any friend they could get. So step forward Don Shenker, chief executive of anti-drink pressure group and fake charity Alcohol Concern. He says he wants to work alongside CAMRA to look at ways of helping well-run pubs to survive. Unbelievably, he says Alcohol Concern is “not an anti-pub organisation. What we are in favour of is responsible drinking, retailing and selling of alcohol.”

He went on to say “We share the concern around the high degree of pub closures in the country and want to see protection for pubs that are well run. I really want to support the community pubs. It’s important to support a pub where alcohol is being regulated; the problem with drinking at home is it isn’t regulated.”

This is all a bit rich coming from an organisation that has opposed every liberalisation of licensing laws over the past three decades, championed every piece of anti-drink and anti-pub legislation going and consistently campaigned for higher alcohol taxes and prices and a drastic reduction in overall alcohol consumption. You have to wonder whether he choked on his sarsaparilla as he said this.

Even in the best-run community pub, you will routinely see people drinking enough alcohol to qualify as a “binge” in the government’s description, some of whom will end up getting boisterous, or even a bit “worse for wear”. It is hard to see how this conforms to Shenker’s view of “responsible retailing”. And if every customer stuck to Alcohol Concern’s recommended maximum of a pint and a half per sitting it is difficult to imagine many pubs staying in business.

Of course, the real nature of his agenda was exposed when he went on urge pubs to offer smaller servings of drinks, and to lower the alcohol content of drinks so people can consume the same volume but take less alcohol. I'm sure people will be flocking down to the Dog & Duck to drink thimblefuls of watered-down beer.

In reality, Shenker loathes pubs and all they stand for with every fabric of his being. He would like to see as many as possible closed down and the few that remained turned into anodyne, emasculated eating houses. Anyone seriously concerned about the future of pubs should avoid at all costs being seduced by his weasel words.

* Never on a Saturday *

Why are pubs so quiet at a prime leisure time?

THE PROPORTION of people who work from Monday to Friday and have the weekend off is a declining one, but it’s still a majority of the working population, and includes me. So I often like to relax over a couple of pints on Saturday lunchtime, but I'm struck by how quiet pubs are then. Apart from those right in town and city centres, most do a very thin trade, and many are virtually empty, including ones in prominent, busy locations offering extensive food menus, and others only a stone’s throw from busy shopping streets.

I've remarked in the past how people don't go in pubs like they used to, and certainly not at lunchtimes, but even so, this still applies to establishments that are heaving on Friday and Sunday lunch. The only conclusion must be that people tend to be out and about doing various bits of business on Saturdays, and look upon Sundays much more as a day for relaxing. And Sunday lunchtime is often quieter than it used to be, too…

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