Guide editors Alisdair Aird and Fiona Stapley said the pub scene is “finally booming after years of doom and gloom”, because more publicans realise their businesses have to evolve and they have to listen to what customers want.
“The pub scene has changed utterly from the days of decrepit boozers with dull beer and freezer-pack food to a thriving industry that’s now finding ingenious ways of pleasing millions of new customers. And this transformation has taken place against a background of hard economic times that have driven many less-alert pub businesses to the wall,” Aird and Stapley wrote in the guide’s introduction.
Latest figures from the Campaign for Real Ale report that 31 pubs are closing every week, but the authors said many others are being reopened by “visionary and energetic new licensees”.
It is a change in stance from last year’s introduction in which it was declared that between 2,500 and 4,000 pubs would justifiably go out of business in the following year because they were “stuck in the 1980s”.
Stapley said she does not know how many pubs now need to close, but it is “really good news” that some of the pubs doing badly last year have thought of new ideas and “saved themselves”.
“There’s no point trying to compete against cheap supermarket deals so licensees have to be really innovative to think of ways of drawing customers in and then keeping them there — like events, food deals, talks from local brewers, afternoon tea,” Stapley told the Publican’s Morning Advertiser.
“I know it’s hard work, but pubs that are doing this are reaping the rewards. During the past year we’ve spoken to thousands of publicans who say they feel much more optimistic about the future.”
She added that, since the smoking ban, licensees have also started to think much more about appealing to women by improving décor, introducing food and offering a greater choice of drinks, including wines and soft drinks.
Stapley and Aird selected seven “pub superheroes”, who they describe as being at the forefront of key developments in the trade.
- Bill Sharp, founder of Sharp's Brewery — “inspiring a new generation of craft brewers”
- Rooney Anand, chief executive of Greene King — “showing how a national brewer with 1,600 pubs can flourish”
- Jocelyn Ridley, licensee of the Compassess Inn in Chelmsford, Essex — “champion of the unspoilt traditional pub”
- Tim Martin, founder and chairman of JD Wetherspoon — “a powerful voice in giving us good value food and drink”
- Andres Alemany, co-owner and chef at Purefoy Arms in Preston Candover, Hampshire — “top of the new tapas tree”
- Jeremy Brunning and Graham Price, of Brunning & Price — “never satisfied with less than all-round excellence”
Speaking of JD Wetherspoon founder Tim Martin’s inclusion in the list, Stapley said: “They’re cherry, slightly rough-and-ready pubs, with good value beer and food —maybe not the sort of pubs our readers would like — but he has made a tremendous impact.”
The 33rd edition of the guide features more than 5,000 pubs and has 121 new entries.