Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - January/February 2019
After ripping out all the internal walls, compartmentalised pubs are coming back into fashion
SIXTY years ago, most pubs in the UK had a compartmentalised interior layout. Typically, they would have the standard demarcation between public bar and “best room” – the term “lounge” was not yet in general use. Some had a three-level division between public, saloon and lounge, with subtle gradations in clientele and ambiance between the three. Plus, there could be a whole variety of other rooms such as news rooms, tea rooms, games rooms and, at the time, ladies’ rooms.
But, since then, pretty much all this has been swept away by knocking pubs through into a single-bar layout. The main reason always given for this was that it reflected a more democratic and egalitarian society in which the old class divisions no longer applied, and there’s certainly some truth in that. But it also made pubs easier to manage and supervise, plus in the 1960s and early 70s there was the factor that public bar prices were subject to government price control, which could be circumvented by turning the entire pub into a lounge.
However, it didn’t always work out quite as intended. In many cases, rather than everyone happily mixing together in the same pub, the class division moved from one between different bars to one between different pubs. The middle classes used one pub, the working classes another. But, according to a recent report, a growing number of pub operators are realising that there is a need to cater for different audiences within a single venue, and are thus returning to the concept of pub “zoning”. It’s all too easy if you’re not careful for one aspect of a pub to take over the whole place and alienate many potential customers.
There are two obvious divisions between different customer groups that often rankle in pubs today. One is showing big-screen TV sport, which brings in a specific crowd who may well put a lot of money across the bar, but deters those who just want a quiet drink. And allowing children, while key to the concept of family dining, is something that that those who prefer an adults-only environment feel uncomfortable with. Plus, if legislation permitted, there would be a strong argument for a division between smoking and non-smoking areas.
There are dangers in the rush to relegate cash to history
A GROWING trickle of pubs and bars are deciding to go entirely cashless and stop accepting any payments in cash. Cashless payments are a growing feature of the financial landscape, and obviously it makes business sense for many pubs to accept them. But to refuse to take cash entirely is something entirely different, and comes across as an attempt to practice social selection of your clientele.
This may not be a problem in a rural gastropub, but in inner-city boozers it’s a common sight to see the pound coins being counted out on to the bar to pay for a pint. It is estimated that there are 1.6 million unbanked workers in the UK, and there must be many more pensioners and benefit claimants, not to mention people who simply prefer to avoid using cards for routine transactions. It’s effectively saying that you’re not interested in the business of the poor or the old.
There are other reasons to be wary of adopting cashless payments. They make budgeting more difficult and make you vulnerable to power cuts and computer failures. You are also putting yourself in the hands of corporations that may not have your best interests at heart. And someone is able to track exactly where you have been and what you have spent your money on. By all means use cashless payments where they are convenient, and allow them in your pubs, but there are dangers in the headlong rush to relegate cash to history.