Future pub special

Seeking 2020 pub vision

By Rob Willock

- Last updated on GMT

An artist's impression of PMA editor Rob Willock in 2020
An artist's impression of PMA editor Rob Willock in 2020

Related tags: Future pub conference, Future, Prediction, Futurology

The pioneering car maker Henry Ford was reported once to have said: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

And that’s the problem with predicting the future. We base our visions for tomorrow on our experience of yesterday and today. That’s why sci-fi movies date so quickly. Their creators fail accurately to imagine the technology and social attitudes that will shape the next decades. And only with the benefit of hindsight can we see where those predictions go wrong.

So our efforts to go all ‘Tomorrow’s World’ with this week’s issue could be futile — and we may look back at our archive in a few years’ time and laugh at our naivety as traditional, wet-led pubs enjoy a massive resurgence, pub food fails to catch on, and mobile devices are ultimately rejected in favour of face-to-face communication. But somehow I doubt it.

Interestingly, the micropub movement, which is in strong growth, provides exactly that beer focused, ‘eating is cheating’, anti-electronics environment for customers for whom the world is moving too fast. But I fear the demographic of its target audience will limit its prospects.

The pub/coffee shop/restaurant hybrid is one of the subsectors of the on-trade in strongest growth, with an offer to suit all day parts, and that may point to the next phase of market evolution. But here I am doing exactly what I’ve just cautioned against — extrapolating present trends to forecast future development.


“The empires of the future are the empires of the mind,” said Winston Churchill, which suggests that the pub of the future will develop from the intellectual capital of the sector’s leading lights — whether entrepreneurial licensees, head-office whizz-kids or bold pubco chief executives.

The pubs of 2020 and beyond will be built on traditional foundations, only in the literal sense, but will probably be rather different from what we can currently imagine (otherwise we’d be doing it now).

More than 120 talented and inquisitive pub professionals joined us last week for our Future Pub conference to hear from speakers prepared to look into their crystal balls and tell our fortunes. There were insights into some of the more wacky innovations and cutting-edge technologies already being tested, but if we were hoping for waitresses on hoverboards, robot pub dogs or everlasting pork scratchings, we were disappointed... for now.

However, we finished the day with an excellent panel session featuring some of the sector’s rising stars — identified via a competition in our sister title M&C Report.

These bright young things spoke passionately about their priorities, and how we can all work smarter to make sure pubs remain relevant and interesting for an increasingly demanding consumer, who has exponentially improving home entertainment, and a broader-than-ever choice of other leisure activities at their disposal.

They know that the pub industry’s future success will be founded on its ability to create and innovate to take advantage of opportunities and to solve problems that don’t even exist yet. And we know — more than anything else — that will require us to attract, recruit and retain the best and brightest people into the pub sector.

Related topics: Beer

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