Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - November 2004

* Blowing Hot and Cold *

Pubs should go with the flow rather than making futile attempts to change the climate

IN THE PAST I’ve complained about pubs being heated to tropical levels in winter. However, very often they seem to err in the other direction and show excessive optimism about the British climate, flinging their doors open at the first sight of sunshine. I’ve seen this on bright spring days where it really wasn’t at all warm out of the sun, and on autumn evenings where Indian summer weather earlier in the day is rapidly being replaced by a frosty chill. Staff working behind the bar don’t seem to realise that a wide open door is likely to leave customers shivering in a freezing draught. Keeping the elements out is the most sensible and economical way of ensuring a comfortable temperature in your pub.

Another rather Quixotic attempt to defy the elements is the growing popularity of “patio burners”. The idea is to make it possible to use outside drinking areas at times when it wouldn’t normally be warm enough. However, they don’t really have the effect of producing constant, all-round warmth. It’s more like sitting next to a bonfire, where you’re toasted on one side and freezing on the other. Also, as they’re basically trying to heat the entire outdoors, they’re extremely wasteful of energy. At a time when gas and electricity prices are shooting up and we are all being urged to conserve power, surely it would make sense for pubs to follow a more sustainable policy. We should simply accept as a fact of life that the British climate is such that there are only a few tens of days each year when it’s comfortable to sit outside until the late evening.

* Minimising Disorder *

Are minimum pricing schemes the answer to drunken disorder?

THE NATIONWIDE epidemic of so-called binge drinking has led a growing number of local authorities to look into imposing minimum pricing schemes on pubs and bars. Typically they are looking at requiring all pints and bottles to be priced at no less than £1.25 or £1.50 – in Aberdeen they’ve even gone as high as £1.75. They are skating on thin legal ice, though, as dictating prices could be seen as an anti-competitive practice and a restraint of trade.

It is certainly true that some forms of promotions, in particular those offering all you can drink for a tenner, are blatantly irresponsible. It’s also questionable whether offers of “buy two large glasses and get the full bottle of wine” can be seen as encouraging a moderate approach to drinking.

However, around here, many Holts and Sam Smiths pubs sell beer for well below £1.50 a pint, and could easily fall foul of a minimum pricing regime. Yet these pubs are often the ones that are least likely to witness late-night disorder. It isn’t pricing as such that is the problem, but the general attitude to drinking encouraged by modern stand-up bars. By all means restrict promotions that give people an incentive to drink more than they otherwise would, but the only restraint on pricing should be that if you want to sell something cheaply you have to do it all the time.

At the same time, when drinkers are often getting tanked up on cheap take-home booze before heading out to the pub, the supermarkets should not be allowed to escape scot-free. Of course you can store take-home drinks and don’t have to consume them all at once, but is “12 cans for the price of 8” at the checkout really all that different from “3 bottles for the price of 2” at the bar?

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