The Teetotallers Guide to the Need for More Pubs…

It’s odd to think that teetotallers and pub crawlers could have similar objectives but I wish to illustrate that they have similar goals if we consider the drinks trade more holistically rather than narrowly.

First of all allow me to say that I understand fine and well the various reasons for being teetotal and I’d even say they are correct, many of us would be better off financially and physically if we abstained from the Devil’s buttermilk.

However, reality must be acknowledged and regardless of the merits of alcohol abstinence, we must admit that most people ignore this sound advice.

So let us start at the pub, the traditional Irish/Ulster (delete as applicable) pub.

At once the darling of postcards who romanticise it and developers who want to build overall that yummy land out the back and destroy the character pertained to by said postcard.

Once upon a time, there were loads of them. Loads. They were small, people would visit at all hours of the day and night (hence the famous Irish spirit grocers where people could by a pint with their groceries) and not necessarily bankrupt themselves. (though I’m sure many did, alcoholism is not a new thing).

Now there are not loads of them.

Where once every hamlet had one and you were potentially never more than a 3 mile walk from one you’ll now only find them in bigger villages or hamlets with a cohesive community.

From the teetotallers point of view this is probably seen as progress, “less people on the lash, less money being wasted, less violence, healthier, better for everyone”

A fair enough sentiment except for one small detail.

It is wrong.

Very wrong.

“Does not compute!” one might robotically cry.

Well it does compute. Very much so.

Why has this has come about and why we should concentrate on reviving the small pub?


ACT I – The Dawn of the Cheap Off Sales and the Dusk of the Cheap Pint

While no one expects the price of on-sales (i.e. ‘pub sales’) beverages to remain in a time warp like the Rover’s Return in Coronation Street it is fair to say that the price of an on-sales pint has risen much more sharply than many other household items (roughly a 340% increase between 1982 and 2012 according to this article: )

And combine this with the decline of off sales alcohol and you have yourself an instant vacuum & vacuum filler, it’s a no-brainer that people will buy more off sales to take the sting off the relentlessly and perpetually increasing price of pub pints, here’s a handy graph to chart the differing trends:

It shows how the price of off sales beverages has decreased while on-sales increases

So, aside from casual observation and interrogating the proverbial dogs on the street there is some research into the matter that arrives at a similar conclusion; cheap off-sales vs increasingly expensive on-sales means an increase in the former.

“So what?!” I hear some of you cry.


Act II – The transformation of occasions into habit

Inevitably society’s culture adapts to the new reign and as such habits change.

Where once upon a time bringing home a six-pack may have been met with a raised eyebrow it could now be very easily be seen as part of the visit to the market.

And fair enough, just because you have a six pack in the fridge doesn’t oblige you to tan it instantly.

And let’s assume you don’t, let’s assume that you’ve just swapped the setting for your consumption of two beers; instead of the local pub with a familiar face or two around you now have instead the setting of your living room and the TV/laptop instead of punters to swap stories with.

So far, so good.

But then this habit spreads to others, the aforementioned punters also desert the pub as a setting for a casual pint on account of it being now expensive and bereft of company.

So, the first victim here is the pub itself and the landlord’s livelihood (more on that later) and in too many cases they pull the pin on the whole enterprise altogether and sell up.

Well, now that Jimmy Mac’s is gone you think about what a pain it’d be to go the extra mile or two to the next pub (if you’re rural) or go to the bother of ‘changing local’, quite the task for some people.

So, “sod it”, you think, “I’ll just stay in on Friday and buy a few extra beers and watch the telly”, plus “the town is full of young one’s on the weekend getttin’ up to all manner a badness, would do my head in….and ye can’t hear yourself think with the loud music….”

Ok, hardly an extreme sport to be concerned about.

But then this becomes your ‘thing’ over the years and before you know it you’re more familiar with the narrators on weekend TV than you are with the locals and it becomes more and more difficult to feel ‘good’.

“maybe a few more beers, actually, a wee nip of something, that’ll perk me up” and lo and behold the heavyweight drinks have entered the room.

Unlike the pub you don’t have strict measures and you don’t have a landlord to tell you to take some water or to slow it down a wee bit.

And you’re still not talking to people, you’re still not laughing out loud at something awful or listening to gossip & scuttlebutt, things are still on your chest and in your head, they have been for a while now. “sod it! Another dram!” and so on and so forth.

Though not a guaranteed spiral this would nonetheless be familiar to many of us who have witnessed the migration from pub to living room and it is the perfect environment to foster the beginnings of depression and mental health issues.


Act III – The Fall-Out of the Aforementioned and Other Factors

Now the habit of sitting in and drinking has been set and in all likelihood, it’s hardly likely to rigidly stick to one day a week, drinking could now find itself permeating into other days of the week.

Where does this leave us?

1/ We have an increase in alcohol consumption overall

2/ We have an increase in drinking in non-regulated environments

3/ We have all the ingredients for the beginning of mental health issues (never underestimate what an evening of laughter can do for one’s wellbeing, a good barman is more than just a pint puller)

4/ A breakdown in social cohesion

5/ Job losses – A bar would take a number of staff to pull 500 pints over the course of an evening, by contrast, a solitary check-out operator, in theory, could sell the equivalent in an hour (when pressed,  approx. 83 x 6-packs ). Once a pub closes down and home drinking becomes the default then it is the checkout operator who takes up the slack

6/ A concentration of ‘super-pubs’; as smaller local pubs close down then those of the clientele that do seek another watering hole are forced to use the remaining choices and increasingly the only ones that can survive the onslaught of high licence fees, stupidly high rates and a declining sales are the bigger super-pubs, these pubs are the ones that provide most of traits that the anti-drink lobby detest;

Fighting, noise, the concentration of drunken people, the encouragement of late-night eating establishments etc etc

7/ The consolidation of the drinks market; as the super-pubs and chains take over it becomes harder for local breweries and drinks merchants to get their foot in the door (perhaps Wetherspoons could be an exception but I’d be surprised if they didn’t demand their pound of flesh), at least with local pubs there could be a local connection and a friendly face that could be utilised to showcase local products

In summary, how does the teetotaller benefit from this scenario of cheaper off-sales booze compared to on-sales?

There is NOT less drinking, if anything, there is more.

All the things that the anti-pub axis dislike are potentially compounded and made worse.

There is a potential for an increase in mental health problems throughout the land which the state has to tackle (which needs tax money).

There is a loss of businesses and employment, the burden of which again needs to be borne by the taxpayer.

From what I can see (as subjective as that is) things are presently the wrong way around and off-sales alcohol prices should be increased and on-sales should be SIMULTANEOUSLY reduced to get people back in the bars and away from the living room & fridge, I feel that we’ve been targeting the wrong people.

We need licensing law reform, pricing reform, licensing reform and the acceptance that the closure of pubs does not rid the land of the evils that people had hoped for, if anything it is compounding them.


Photo by Christian_Birkholz is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA

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