Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - December 2016
Pubs need to respect customers’ desire for privacy, if that’s what they want
PUBS ARE typically viewed as places of raucous ribaldry, or at least of cheerful conviviality. However, there is another side to them, as wooden wombs, a third space where people – couples and groups as well as individuals – can seek temporary refuge from the stresses of home, work or just life in general.
A pub is, of course, a “public house”, a hybrid of the two where anyone can walk in off the street and spend some time there provided they put a bit of money across the bar. If you behave yourself, nobody will question your purpose or your right to be there. It’s generally accepted that it’s up to you whether you engage with other customers or not, and the only people who break that principle are those like Archie the pub bore from the “Fast Show” with his catchphrase “Hardest game in the world”. This applies even in pretty small and cosy pubs.
However, that kind of privacy is difficult to achieve in the new generation of micropubs, where everyone is put together into a small common space and intimacy is inescapable. Many customers will welcome that atmosphere of companionship, but others may feel it’s something they prefer to avoid. And there’s sometimes the feeling of intruding into a private clique.
Obviously strangers do talk to each other in pubs, and often it’s something you welcome. But, if customers don’t want to get involved, you leave them alone. There’s also an art to making conversation without appearing unduly inquisitive or prying. “What are you doing here today?” or “Where have you come from?” are questions that I see as my own business unless I choose to open up about them. And, of course, Wetherspoons, although often criticised for being impersonal, are amongst the best places for maintaining anonymity.
Increasingly limited and bizarre opening hours can’t do the pub trade any good
OVER THE past year, I’ve greatly enjoyed reading the adventures of bloggers Martin Taylor and Simon Everitt, who are both, in their different ways, aiming to visit every pub in the Good Beer Guide. One of the problems they frequently encounter is pubs opening very limited and strange hours, which can make it difficult to plan a visit.
It’s common now to find pubs that don’t open at lunchtime from Monday to Friday, although a fair number do open at 3 or 4 pm, when in the past pubs would have been shutting. But many go further than this, with plenty no longer bothering to open at lunchtimes at all, even at weekends. It’s very common in rural areas to find pretty much all the pubs outside town centres closed on Mondays. One well-known Cheshire dining pub is closed on both Mondays and Tuesdays, and doesn’t open until 5 pm on any other day. And it gets even weirder, with one Hertfordshire pub only open on Mondays between 3 and 6 in the afternoon, the traditional period of closure.
If you are going to open odd or restricted hours, surely it makes sense to tell potential customers exactly when those hours are, both outside the door and on your own website if you have one. You should also try to make sure that the correct hours are display on third-party sites such as CAMRA’s WhatPub? Even one case of someone turning up when they thought you were open, only to find the door firmly shut, can generate a lot of negative word-of-mouth. And, if you do open strange hours, it rather suggests you’re not very interested in attracting casual customers in the first place.