There is a scene in the film ‘Educating Rita’ which I’ve always remembered. Rita is asked to write an essay about how best to stage a production of Ibsen’s ‘Peer Gynt’. Her essay consists of five words: “Do it on the radio”. Always makes me laugh.
Every year I get contacted by university students who are about to embark on their final year hospitality degree course. They’ve usually tracked me down through the Cask Marque website and want an opinion from an industry organisation to add to their studies. Their thesis usually has uplifting titles like “The Demise of the British Pub” or “The Death of the Beer Industry in Britain”. Quite honestly, I wish one of them would ask me how well the industry is surviving, and some recommendations on what we could do to make pubs better, rather than analyse how horribly wrong it has all gone, as though it were a study of the Third Reich.
So I was reminded of Rita a few weeks ago when I was asked to respond to the following question: “Does the pub have a future in British society?” I sat there, chewed my pen, gazed into space, ate a biscuit whilst I tried to think of a really well balanced intellectual response. However, I got so fed up I decided to go to the pub for a couple of beers to cheer myself up.
And it was then the lightbulb went on in my head. Of course the pub has a future, ESPECIALLY in British society, more so than any other nation on earth.
Yes, the pub industry has had a really tough time. Rising beer prices, the smoking ban, high rents and low wages. Everyone’s had a tough time, whatever business they’re in. But through this crippling, exhausting recession, there are pubs who have survived. There are breweries who have survived. And much of it has been because they have looked at our changing society and drinking culture, taken a step back and said “Actually, we need a rethink. We need to do things differently”.
Customers won’t put up with poor service, or bad food, or a dirty environment. Beer drinkers won’t put up with bland, tasteless, shoddy quality beer. So pubs have changed to give customers what they want, rather than what they think they want.
I probably won’t give these students what they want. They want me to supply a controversial quote, stating that all pubs in the future will be museums that we visit with our grandchildren. The grandchildren will gaze up at us, wide eyed in astonishment as we tell them how we used to gather together and drink beer in – wait for it – public! Do we want our pubs, and our breweries to be viewed as a dying industry by the future intellectuals of this country?
But I’m an optimist, a glass half full type of girl, and I’ve never, ever entertained the thought that the British pub – or British beer – won’t be here in the future. I haven’t responded to the student yet. But I’m so tempted to be a ‘Rita’ and send a five word response. I’ll let you decide your own response…