The end of an era, the start of another

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Smoking, Evidence, Scotland

Well, D-Day has finally arrived and I'm sure many publicans breathed a huge sigh of relief at lunchtime on Sunday July 1 when they opened their doors...

Well, D-Day has finally arrived and I'm sure many publicans breathed a huge sigh of relief at lunchtime on Sunday July 1 when they opened their doors at the start of a new era.

The planning is over and all the hard work of the last 12 months in improving outside areas with portable heating, better furniture, canopies and awnings should start to have an impact as Britain's drinkers and diners adapt to a new way of life.

Analysts are divided as to the long-term effects of the ban. Some argue that we could see up to 10 per cent of Britain's 60,000 pubs closing in the next couple of years, others are more bullish about the opportunities that exist going forward.

Anecdotal evidence from Scotland and hard data from Ireland make an interesting comparison. In Ireland, while trade suffered initially (down approximately 10 per cent) and volumes are still down approximately five per cent, the sales mix has changed to higher margin products such as wines and soft drinks. 

In Scotland, sales of food, wine and soft drinks are up while draught beer and spirit sales are down (with a decline of up to 33 per cent in draught beer sales in some sites).

Other evidence in the region also suggests that gaming machine takings are down significantly. Tobacco sales in Scotland in the first year of the smoking ban are also down two per cent - sales across bars and through vending machines have been hit the hardest.

A few city centre pubs - typically landlocked sites with no outside areas, no food trade and formerly just a drinking and smoking place - have suffered, and some sites have closed down.

However, anecdotal evidence from operators in Scotland reveals that a relatively mild winter has helped the cause for many. One chief executive I spoke to last week was keen to point out that in Scotland food sales across his estate are up from 10 to 16 per cent of the mix as a result of the ban, and that there was more growth to come.

Food is clearly going to be the winner and those operators with a good food offer could certainly make hay - if the sun ever shines!

One Midlands licensee reported last week that he had done 160 covers at lunchtime compared to his usual 100. Interestingly, there were a lot of new faces, there perhaps out of curiosity, or perhaps as a sign of things to come.

This is all very well, but what will the harsh reality be across England in the next 12 months? Assuming that we actually get a summer this year I expect the smokers among us will be quite happy outside until October. The real test comes with the winter - after all, who in their right mind really wants to step outside for a cigarette when it is cold, wet and windy?

Then we have other issues - who is going to clean up all the cigarette ends from outside and what happens when people take their drinks outside onto the pavement? Some councils are already onto this and others will no doubt be sending the litter police out in force and issuing on the spot fines.

And how does it work in nightclubs? It is difficult to see how you can police a 3,000 capacity venue on a Saturday night if people are constantly wanting to step outside for a cigarette.

The ban has been welcomed by the majority, but it has left some unanswered questions that will, I am sure, be resolved over the coming months.

Geoff Newton is relationship director, UK licensed trade, Barclays

Related topics: Legislation

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