Analysis

Students 'frustrated' with nights out ending at the pub

By Emily Hawkins contact

- Last updated on GMT

New term, new normal: how are pubs anticipating students returning to university? (images: L-R, N Chadwick, Geograph; Stephen Boisvert, Flickr; Lisa Jarvis, Geograph)
New term, new normal: how are pubs anticipating students returning to university? (images: L-R, N Chadwick, Geograph; Stephen Boisvert, Flickr; Lisa Jarvis, Geograph)

Related tags: Coronavirus, Legislation, Beer, Branding + marketing

Online classes and regular coronavirus testing are not the only changes for students heading back to university this autumn, with clubs closed for the foreseeable future and new laws limiting social gatherings.

For many pubs, this time of year would involve liaising with student groups to host pub crawls and other meet-ups. 

But students are returning to campuses knowing big nights out are off the cards and that being caught failing to social distance could cost them their university place. 

The Health Secretary urged young people to stick to the Government's new ‘rule of six’ “for the sake of your education and your parents’ and grandparents’ health”.

Gary McDonnell operates Hennessy's Bar in Birmingham, and is confident that if there is a drop off in students visiting his site, “it won’t be that noticeable because there's plenty of people to take their place at the moment, we're operating really quite robustly”.

His Digbeth site is even braced for an upsurge in student visitors because of neighbouring bars closing.

“We are anticipating an upsurge because of the amount of bars that are closing down here," McDonnell said. "A lot of their [students’] favourite bars won't be open."

Although McDonnell wouldn’t describe his site as a hotspot in freshers’ week -  “we would see them a few months later when they have got around all the bars and we’re just their local around the corner” - he is already noticing the pandemic’s impact.

No clubs

“There's no clubs and that's one thing the kids are struggling with, they’re coming out, just sitting around a table in the pub and then there's nowhere else to go, that's your night out," McDonnell explained. "It is frustrating for them at the moment, I do feel sorry for them a little bit.”

Nightclubs have not been given a possible reopening date yet, causing leaders in the late night industry to plead for Government support.

The Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) said its research had found more than half (57.6%) of night-time venues would not survive longer than two months without further support - potentially meaning the demise of many student favourites.

The Government has highlighted university students as a group potentially spreading the virus, after Covid-19 cases among 17- to 30-year-olds rocketed.

Thankfully, McDonnell says he has not experienced many problems with this young age group.

Good as gold

“I think it's fair that young people are causing the problems but to be fair, when you look at them, it's still a minority of them,” the operator explained. “So they seem to be the ones we are pulling up but then for every two or three we are pulling up, there are 30, 40 who have been good as gold. It's a bit easy to blame everybody.” 

Young people have been more likely to not remain seated at the pub. “If you let one thing go, it happens again and again. so we just make sure we are the ‘standing up police’,” McDonnell explained.

One publican - who didn't want to be named but operates a handful of pubs in Birmingham - said her student trade had started to return albeit in smaller groups ahead of the new term.

"What we tend to find is students come to us mid-week and we have started to see them come back in in drabs, but they are in small groups as many of them are still at home with family. It's been in drips or drabs," she explained.

"By and large, we have had no issues, they have been in small groups and are just wanting to socialise with their friends."

Avoiding a second national lockdown of pubs and bars was the main priority of the city's trade, the publican said, with customers encouraged to be sensible.

"Everybody is taking it day by day, month by month, this isn't necessarily a time when we think about making profit, we think about the longevity of hospitality," she said of the autumn.

Student trade dropping anyway

Another city set to welcome thousands of students into a ‘new normal’ of university life in a few weeks is York. 

Marc Allinson operates the Artful Dodger pub in the city-centre and said he is not too worried about a drop in students visiting.

While students used to be a large part of the site’s mid-week trade in the 15 years Allinson has been running the site, over the past five years, “they have hardly been present at all,” the operator claimed.

“We do get some, but often they were turning up late, straight from home and well drunk before going to the club," he explained. "As a result, I don't expect much from them at all any more.

“This pandemic is likely to reduce this further still, so it's not worth making special arrangements for them.”

Regulating numbers

The operator suspects student numbers in the city will be lower this year with online lectures meaning some may decide to live at home and others choosing to defer their places for a year.

What’s more, Allinson said while most students were happy to follow rules at the pub, students living in close-quarters meant it would be tricky to regulate gatherings.

“They do tend to live in large communal blocks, so matching them to a rule is difficult. How do you separate a group of five who share a house from a group of five who live in the same dorm block. Is it a bubble of 50 because they live together?”

The Government’s FAQ on the ‘rule of six’ states​: “All venues should continue to accommodate groups larger than six who live together.”

However some operators told The Morning Advertiser​ they fear people could give fake information about being in the same accommodation to sit together and would stick to operating a limit of six to tables.

Embracing change

One operator in the university city of Norwich who is optimistic about his student trade returning is James Linder. 

He runs the Eagle Pub and says: “In terms of students returning we are viewing them the same as any customer.

“In fact we find that it is the younger people who are embracing the new ways of doing things and understand the rules when they are there to be followed,” Linder added. 

“It may just be us but we find the real issue is with a bracket in the late 40s and early 50s who aren’t willing to embrace the change or try new ways of doing things or even worse think it’s all a conspiracy."

Related topics: Events & Occasions

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