Opinion: a quiet pint and a lesson from the past?

By Sophie Atherton

- Last updated on GMT

Opinion: a quiet pint and a lesson from the past?
Opinion: a quiet pint and a lesson from the past?

Related tags Pub Beer

Sophie Atherton ponders whether peace and quiet could be as big a selling point as perfectly served beer.

One of the world’s biggest lies is, ‘one size fits all’. It’s always got my goat, but it’s only this month I started thinking about how it relates to pubs.

First up, I read a news story about how noisy it can be when you go out for a meal. The charity Action on Hearing Loss found that popular chain restaurants such as Wagamama and Pizza Express had noise levels of around 90 decibels (db) - and the readings were not even taken at the busiest times.

I wondered how noisy pubs might be in comparison, especially as I often find my ears ringing after going somewhere busy. They’d included Wetherspoon in the research and found the pub to be only slightly quieter at around 86 db. (For comparison, normal conversation is around 65 db, rock concerts around 110 db, while prolonged exposure to 85 db can permanently damage hearing).

I can’t tell you how noise at Wetherspoon compares to other pubs, but if they are similarly loud I wonder how many people are put off going? I find noisy places just about the least relaxing situation in which to enjoy a drink, which is why I prefer the pub to a beer festival and a quiet lunchtime or mid-week beer to a weekend outing. I don’t think I’m unusual in this, so maybe it’s time pubs started using quiet as a selling point.

Apparently the craft beer bar type trend for industrial decor – all hard surfaces, high ceilings, and scraping metal chairs is just about the worst interior design for maximising noise. Soft furnishings, thick curtains and putting rubber feet on tables and chairs helps to absorb and reduce noise. I’m thinking of instigating ‘quiet and cosy beer week’. It would celebrate pubs where there’s a genuine escape not just from noise, but perhaps also some respite from the constant digital attention grab. If it’s a success I might follow it up by launching a soft furnishings award for pubs. Then we could try really putting the craft into craft beer bars by encouraging patrons to make cushions, throws and other sound absorbing accessories while they have a beer. Instead of a glass behind the bar with a name on, everyone would have their own cushion!

An emerging theme

I’m being jocular of course, but the issue is a real one. Although one size fits all remains a lie, when I asked around for people’s reasons for going to the pub – and what made them choose somewhere else instead – a theme crept up.

Many people pop into the pub’s big rival, coffee shops, if they need a quiet moment because it’s less noisy (and the coffee is better). When they go to the pub it’s usually to meet friends or for a relaxed evening out with a partner – both occasions where being able to hear your companions is essential. Not only am I sick of ringing ears after simply going out for a beer, I also get fed up with next day croaky voice after shouting to be heard all night.

I’m probably as guilty as the next woman of thinking of the pub in homogeneous terms, as
if there is only one kind of pub. The reality is there’s probably as many different kinds of pub as there are styles of beer. It depends on needs as well as mood, the weather, the occasion
and potentially dozens of other variables for a person to decide what sort of pub they will
want to go to at a given moment.

An interesting range of perfectly served beer will see many punters forgive noise and crap coffee. The bigger question is whether the pub can be all things to all people, or does it need to re-invent itself to get a wider range of customers through the door? I think it might be more a case of learning from history. Many, if not most, pubs used to have saloon/lounge and public bars, maybe a tiny snug too (I was always a fan of hiding away in the cosily quiet snug); a range of different environments to suit different customers and no shortage of punters as a result.

Then again, beer sales are down and people are simply drinking less these days so why waste time worrying about noise levels and interior design? Answer: the range, quality and attitude to beer needs to be modernised, the pub itself could do worse than drawing on the past to draw in the punters.

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