Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - July 2002
The increase in drunken disorder is a direct result of stigmatising moderate drinking
In an attempt to reduce the recent tide of public order problems caused by so-called binge drinking, the Portman Group, the industry-funded body that aims to promote the responsible use of alcohol, has launched a campaign under the slogan "If You Do Drink, Don't Do Drunk". Fair enough, but it completely misses the point that a key reason for “doing drunk” is that the opportunities for people to “do drink” have been steadily whittled away, so it’s hardly surprising they want to cut loose when they do get the chance.
Employers increasingly frown on their workers enjoying even a single drink at lunchtimes, but it goes far beyond that to the extent that the combination of any quantity of alcohol with responsible activity is deemed unacceptable. Regular, moderate drinking is stigmatised, while gross drunkenness is seen as a legitimate leisure pursuit. The office worker who ostentatiously sips bottled water during the day, but then goes out and has ten pints of Stella on Friday night, is regarded much more positively than his colleague who has a couple of pints of bitter in the pub round the corner each lunchtime. “Work hard and play hard”, not “moderation in all things”, is the motto for our times.
Obviously no official publicity campaign extolling the virtues of the swift half, or saying “the world’s a better place after a couple of pints”, is likely to be forthcoming. All we can look for is that social changes will over time reduce the attractiveness of heavy drinking to the young, as the talkies did in the 1930s, and rock’n’roll and coffee bars in the 1950s, and hope that process will not drag down many traditional pubs in its wake.
Pubs do themselves no favours by being coy about what is on offer inside
Walking around a popular tourist town, I was struck by the way many pubs sell themselves short in trying to attract customers. They may have looked welcoming enough, but there was nothing at all to indicate what kind of food and drink they sold.
In the past, when most pubs belonged to specific breweries, their ownership gave them a clear identity. Not only did you know what beer was on offer inside, but you also had a good idea about what kind of pub to expect, as most brewers had a distinctive house style that ran through their estates. Now that so many are in the hands of faceless pub companies, there’s nothing outside to tell one from another. While it would be a waste of time to display “Punch Taverns” or “Enterprise Inns”, a listing of the major beer brands on offer would surely be extremely useful.
Pubs also fall down in failing to display menus outside, particularly when there is plenty of passing trade on foot. Many people don’t appreciate the wide range of good value food on offer in pubs, and seeing a particular dish on a menu may make the difference between crossing the threshold and going elsewhere. When traditional pubs face such strong competition from branded bar and restaurant chains, they really should not be hiding their light under a bushel.