Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - November 2010

* Gimme Shelter *

Providing decent accommodation for smokers is an increasingly important factor for pubs

THE SMOKING BAN has now been in force for over three years, but it its early days few pubs seemed to make much effort to provide covered shelters for smokers. Perhaps they imagined all the smokers would just give up, or that they would be replaced by crowds of antismokers who had previously shunned pubs. But, now that things have settled down, the more enterprising pubs have begun to realise that they need to cater for all their customers, and I’ve noticed quite a lot of investment going on in provision for smokers.

While obviously they are only two examples out of a growing number in the local area, the Railway at Rose Hill now has a very smart elevated, covered area of wooden decking at the rear, while the beer garden at the Armoury in Edgeley, once little more than a patch of grass, now has two substantial separate shelters and bears a distinct resemblance to a grotto. More and more pubs now have a sign outside advertising, amongst other facilities, “Covered, heated smoking patio,” while another proclaims “Plasma Screen TV for smokers” – so it’s becoming an important point of differentiation.

Although undoubtedly the smoking ban has put many smokers off visiting pubs, and made others visit less often, surveys have shown that smokers are still more likely to visit pubs than non-smokers, so it stands to reason that pubs should do what they can within the law to accommodate them. If you are a smoker, it is very clear which pubs extend a welcome to you, and which can’t be bothered, and that is obviously likely to influence where you take your custom, and indeed that of your non-smoking friends as well.

Marketers are always looking for that key factor which will determine which pub a group will go to, because one or two members will insist they won’t go anywhere that doesn’t have it. In the past, this has often been said of cask beer, but now it’s equally likely you will also hear someone say “I’m not going there, there’s nowhere to have a smoke”.

* Problem, What Problem? *

Britain doesn’t drink too much, but too often drinks unwisely

IF YOU BELIEVED the media, you could be forgiven for thinking that Britain was in the grip of an unprecedented wave of alcohol-related health problems and disorder, and that consumption was shooting through the roof. Indeed, it’s not uncommon to hear representatives of the anti-drink lobby claiming precisely that. However, once you look at the facts, the reality is entirely different. Average alcohol consumption has been falling steadily year-on-year since 2004, and in 2009 dropped by the sharpest rate since 1948, falling by 6% in a year. We are now drinking 13% less than in 2004, and our alcohol consumption is below the EU average.

It seems that people are really taking all the anti-drink messages to heart and curbing their intake. However, it doesn’t apply evenly across the board – those who wish to be responsible and health-conscious are reducing what is already often a very modest level of consumption, while problem drinkers of all kinds carry on regardless. In the process, drinking becomes increasingly denormalised and seen as something socially unacceptable, which is obviously bad news for the pub trade. Britain’s drink problem – if it has one at all – is not that we consume too much as a society, but that it is distributed too unevenly. What we need are more responsible, regular, moderate drinkers, but sadly the tide of anti-drink hysteria is driving us in the opposite direction.

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