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The Caterer

Pubs should beware of passing fads

10 May 2007
Pubs should beware of passing fads

Beer writer and marketing consultant Pete Brown warns against discarding a worthy tradition

Surveys show that one of the first things foreign visitors do when they come to the UK is go for a traditional British beer in a traditional English pub. Sounds straightforward - but increasingly it's not - and nowadays even native Brits seem to have a bit of a downer on our most enduring national institution.

Even among those who still serve food and drink, it seems many are ashamed to admit that what they're running is a simple boozer. Town centre watering holes are rebranding as bars or "venues", while your local gastropub - aware that the G word is now a bit passé - is probably dubbing itself an "eating house" or a "bar and dining rooms".

Often these new establishments love the imagery of the pub. They'll happily polish up the old exterior signage advertising long-dead real ale brands even as they rip out the remaining hand-pulls from the bar. But a simple hour spent savouring a decent pint in an environment where you feel comfortable rather than on display is just not aspirational any more.

Pubs have survived for so long because they evolve as society evolves - if they're becoming more flash and pretentious, that's because the great British public is, too. But for every social and cultural trend there's usually a counter-trend working, and pubs should beware of backing the wrong horse.

As the world moves faster, there's a growing need to slow down occasionally. As we talk online to people in different continents we start to like the idea of putting down roots in our local area. And as brands become bigger and more uniform, we start to seek out the small and artisanal.

I've been to a handful of pubs recently that pride themselves on being pubs, that serve a wide selection of real ales, and have bar snacks that hark back to the 1930s: a pork pie, sardines on toast, a bowl of soup. And these pubs are not just busy they're winning awards.

After all, an idea that's been around for a thousand years has to be a good one.

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