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09-11-2012, 12:40
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A point I’ve made in the past (http://pubcurmudgeon.blogspot.co.uk/2009/05/location-location.html) is that “a problem with understanding why pubs succeed or fail is that everyone tends to assume that other people’s patterns of pubgoing are much the same as their own, whereas in fact they will in many cases be radically different.”
There was an example of this recently where one commenter was struggling to understand what trade there would be for suburban pubs on weekday lunchtimes. While lunchtimes are never going to be as busy as weekend evenings, in the past many pubs did a healthy lunchtime trade. Food obviously is an important element, and would appeal to retired people (many of whom have a healthy disposable income), parties from offices and other workplaces, “ladies who lunch” and even (bites lip), “yummy mummies” and their offspring. Plus, on any given day, many working people will be off work but not away on holiday, and so might fancy a bite to eat down the pub too. Suburban shops aren’t deserted during the day on weekdays, far from it, so why should pubs be? There are plenty of people out and about for a huge variety of reasons.
There was also historically a significant wet trade from most of the above categories, especially the retired. In the years immediately after the introduction of all-day opening, some pubs could be like a pensioners’ social club in the afternoons. It has often been remarked how daytime drinking appeals much more to the over-65s than the evenings do. Many suburban pubs adjoin local shopping centres, so people would call in for a pint or two on the way back from buying their loaf of bread and pint of milk. Some pubs, especially those near betting shops, attract an audience for televised racing. And, when prices were not as steep as they are now, it was far from unknown for the unemployed to spend a fair bit of time in pubs.
Often, you could encounter a very congenial atmosphere, with the pub ticking over nicely, a good mix of drinkers and diners and a wide variety of people coming and going throughout the session. Most lunchtime pubgoers have tacked their visit on to something else rather than just going to the pub as an end in itself. Far more interesting from the peoplewatching point of view than the evening session.
Clearly, with the increasing reluctance to mix even very light alcohol consumption with work, and the general rise of political correctness and anti-drink sentiment (not to mention that big grey thing in the corner), this kind of trade has noticeably diminished over the past couple of decades. But it’s still there to some extent – many overtly food-led pubs continue to do good business, and if you went in a suburban Wetherspoons like the Wilfred Wood in Hazel Grove on a Tuesday lunchtime you would find it reasonably busy with a mix of customers. Even today it’s an eyebrow-raiser (http://pubcurmudgeon.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/empty-rooms.html) to find a well-situated pub with an apparently reasonable food offer totally devoid of customers. However, you’ll now find far fewer wholly wet-led pubs opening at lunchtimes (at least Monday to Thursday) outside of town and city centres.
While it is referring to pubs in or near the City Centre, it is also interesting that a Central Manchester pub guide I have from the early 1970s comments on the fact that many pubs were busier at lunchtimes than in the evenings.
(Pictured is the Nursery, Heaton Norris, Stockport, CAMRA’s National Pub of the Year in 2001, a quintessential suburban pub that in fact opens all day, every day)

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