The ‘wet house’ — gone for ever?

As we pass through a difficult licensing renewal time, a recent survey of licensees in Scotland shows similar levels of despondency about a future in the licensed trade as is palpably the case here.

The research, conducted on behalf of Molson Coors Scotland, indicates that business is drifting away from the on-trade there too.

What I find particularly interesting is that of the 201 publicans interviewed, the problem appears to be ‘out there’ rather than in their own individual outlets – only a miniscule one per cent felt that customers had gone from their own outlets to other pubs or bars. By contrast 22 per cent reported people choosing to drink at home, 13 per cent that people were ‘going out less’.

This appears to be particularly acute in rural areas with 50 per cent reporting that customers stay at home to drink.

Contrast this with the view from the Scots consumer – where 19 out of 20 feel that the entertainment is better in the pub than at home – and we can identify a definite disconnect.

So what’s stopping them coming to the pub if their considered view is that entertainment value is much higher there?

It certainly can’t all be put down to ‘lifestyle change’ either. Scottish off-sales continue at comparatively high levels too thanks to the extremely low price in the supermarkets. So they’re still purchasing considerable amounts of alcohol.

Both the Scots and Irish societies could easily be described as ‘pub cultures’ yet both trades are in trouble.

Transportation difficulties over drink-driving spring more readily to mind, of course, but let’s accept that the government(s) are unlikely to risk public outcry over any softening of attitude on the limit. Sooner or later, this transportation nettle will have to be grasped firmly by the on-trade in search of a solution rather continue to try and draw from such a narrowed profit pool of just 50ml per 100ml – let’s just say no alcohol whatsoever and have done with it.

The whole profile of the Irish pub and what it offers must change and change quickly. Is the day of the ‘wet house’ gone for ever? Regrettably, I think so.

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