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The value of pubs is worth talking about

By Sophie Atherton

- Last updated on GMT

Small talk is a big issue: social media has convinced everyone we are closer than ever, but we rarely meet face to face
Small talk is a big issue: social media has convinced everyone we are closer than ever, but we rarely meet face to face
As Valentine’s Day comes around again, Sophie Atherton considers why lovers are shunning the pub

The first date I went on with the man who is now my husband was at the pub. It was a hot September day so we sat in the garden and got to know each other over beer and sandwiches.

There was an end-of-date kiss, but mostly the occasion was about talking. We discussed beer, music, what we liked and didn’t like and many other things. Many subsequent dates took place at pubs. We even held our wedding reception at the pub too. My parents would have approved. They got engaged in the pub one New Year’s Eve and went back every year to mark the occasion. Maybe that’s why I have the attitude that the pub is somewhere good for couples.

Apparently going on a first date to a pub is now passé. Or so I read in The Morning Advertiser​. The story reported that, according to a dating app called Plenty of Fish, a third of people say the pub is the ‘worst place’ to be taken.

Although perhaps they’d approve of my first date because a third of people also said alfresco dining was a great choice. Still it made my heart sink, not least when the M-word was invoked. Millennials. They shun alcohol, shun the pub and cancel dates if they don’t like the sound of the venue – whether it’s a pub or not. Going to the pub was once much more than going for a drink. It was more about socialising, but the rise of the internet has reinvented what that means.

When the Office for National Statistics published a report showing 25% of British pubs have closed since 2001 (about the same time the internet reached people’s homes in a big way). I read an article that asked if the death of the pub also meant the death of sex. I’d say the demise of both is exaggerated. The art of conversation, on the other hand, is on the critical list – and that’s probably a bigger threat to the survival of pubs.

I’m not saying people don’t talk to each other anymore, but people are less interested in hearing what others have to say. Social media has created the illusion we are communicating better than ever but, although we may broadcast our opinions far and wide, we are less likely to meet face to face (or even talk on the phone).

Conversation is often one of my main reasons for going to the pub. But if people aren’t so interested in having real conversations anymore, perhaps they’re also less interested in where to have them. Hence the waning popularity of the pub.

It comes back to the tough balance of the pub as a business – which needs to make a profit – also giving patrons something more than what they pay for. We are constantly told, usually when discussing how to attract Millennials to the pub, people now want (and will pay for) ‘experiences’ more than goods or services. I thought that meant ‘good Instagram fodder’ but I was missing the point. People might be trying to escape the superficiality of the internet. They want the real world, and perhaps the pub is ideally placed to give it to them.

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