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13-04-2014, 09:10
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We are often told that the British pub is in headlong decline, with a tidal wave of closures and pubgoing increasingly becoming irrelevant to the majority of people. However, our two largest British-owned brewers, Greene King and Marston’s, are bucking this trend by opening large numbers of new-build pubs, which are generally pretty big establishments, not dinky little niche bars. They don’t get the recognition they deserve, though, as they’re family-oriented dining pubs located on retail and leisure parks, and thus far from the CAMRA stereotype of community local or multi-beer alehouse.
My namesake (actually Paul Mudge) writes of one in Stafford on the CAMRA forum (http://camraforum.org.uk/viewtopic.php?f=24&t=2179) (registration required):

At a time when CAMRA quite rightly criticises the loss of pubs for conversion to other uses, such as ‘supermarkets’ ( which are neither ‘super’ nor ‘markets’ ), maybe CAMRA should do more to congratulate those companies whose confidence in the brewing and pub industries extends to building and opening new pubs. I would suggest that the three ‘New National Brewers’ are investing the most in new build pubs and a week ago Greene King opened one 2½ miles from my house. It is just half a mile from the county town’s Market Square and is the first proper pub, rather than a bar as part of a larger development, to be built in the town for nearly thirty years when the then Big Six National Brewers dominated the industry.
This new pub is well designed with plenty of the natural light that is sadly missing from those soulless high street drinking barns cheaply converted from premises such as a redundant Woolworths site, and as a spacious building on a large site it has plenty of room for toilets on the ground floor which many of us appreciate. Three cask beers were on the handpumps including Greene King IPA (winner of the Bitter category and overall runner up at CAMRA's 2004 Champion Beer Of Britain Awards) at just £1.99 a pint which is a good 10% cheaper than would be paid at either of the nearby ‘pubs’ of a chain reputed to offer low prices. It was no surprise that there’s an emphasis on food, much of which I fear will be microwaved, but the menu looked inexpensive, the beer and burger at £4.99 or two meals for £8.49 for example probably indicating the best value pub in town.I have written about the recently-opened local example of the chain here (http://pubcurmudgeon.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/taking-flight.html). I concluded that it was a lot better than you might expect and in a number of respects, such as natural light, bench seating and general quality of materials, a definite cut above your average Wetherspoon’s.
And there’s a very interesting blogpost here (http://www.cpltraining.co.uk/philmellows/post/Lets-not-lose-all-our-little-locals.aspx) from Phil Mellows about the Sycamore Farm in Burnley (pictured).

This represents an important shift in the make-up of the pub market and in consumer behaviour. It suggests that at least once or twice a week there are thousands of families who, rather than cook and eat at home, will go out for a meal. And it's the pub industry that's increasingly providing the kind of relaxed atmosphere and the price-point they need. But he concludes – a point with which I would entirely concur:

So far, so good, but is this really the only future of the pub? I can't help but look beyond the balance-sheet and worry that to help fund its expansion into this new breed of pub-restaurant Marston's will, by the end of 2015, have sold off 500 other pubs, at least 200 of them earmarked for conversion to supermarkets.
Some thought needs to go into what we might be losing here. Much as I can admire the likes of Sycamore Farm as an industry observer, as a pub-goer I'd never go near the place. I have visited its sister pub, the Evenwood Farm in Runcorn, a couple of times for meals with family members. Early doors on Friday evening it was absolutely rammed. But I have to say that on both occasions, while the portions were generous to the point of being overfacing, the food was pretty poor even by the standards of chain pub microwave cooking.
I have sometimes been accused by commenters of wanting all pubs to be the same, but in fact nothing could be further from the truth. I value and celebrate diversity in pubs, but within that I’m quite entitled to say that I prefer one type of pub to another and regret the fact that the sort of pubs I like have steadily declined, while pubs in general tend to increasingly conform to a common stereotype.
These family dining pubs obviously aren’t my kind of pub, and aren’t where I’d choose to go and read the paper on a Sunday lunchtime. But they certainly meet a demand and their success is undeniable. Surely it’s a good thing for the future of the pub trade to get people visiting somewhere that is at least a vague approximation to a pub rather than an establishment that bears no relation to one. Beer enthusiasts sneer at them at their peril.

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