Reading between the lines of pub closures
Is the pub a dying breed? Glynn Davis takes a closer look and the results are revealing.
Pub company JD Wetherspoon opened its latest outlet, The Mossy Well in north London’s Muswell Hill last week, but meanwhile as many as 29 other pubs are closing every week, according to the latest figures from the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA).
This suggests that the pub is a dying breed, but this would be wrong because it fails to take into account the square footage of the new pubs that are opening today compared with the typical sizes of those that are closing.
Whereas The Mossy Well runs to over 9,700 sq ft the average size of a regular pub that closes would likely be nearer 2,000 to 3,000 sq ft. As pub company and brewer JW Lees points out – the smoking ban in 2007 prompted a divergence in the industry, with smaller drink-focused pubs at one end closing while the pub companies are investing in large, family-friendly, food-led pubs.
Its own requirements have shifted from 4,000 to 6,000 sq ft over recent years. This is not untypical as the likes of Fuller’s has also been actively seeking seriously large pubs, which like Wetherspoon’s it is increasingly looking to convert from other buildings such as cinemas, banks, prisons, and Magistrate Courts.
Fuller’s most successful pub in its entire estate is The Parcel Yard at King’s Cross Station (that was formerly a sorting office for the Post Office) that runs to an impressive 11,800 sq ft over two floors. Further evidence of its desire for big, food-led pubs is its 7,100 sq ft Over over the Ait pub in Brentford that was a replacement for its previous pub on the site, the Waggon & Horses, which covered only 2,250 sq ft.
Such a strategy is also being employed by other pub operators that have continued to offload smaller drink-led pubs and instead focused their attention and investment on larger purpose-built premises.
One of the most active is Marston’s, which is accelerating the roll-out of its destination pub-restaurants with at least 20 new outlets planned to be built over the next year. It is also opening five lodges that sit alongside these new-build pubs.
Ralph Findlay, chief executive of Marston’s, last week stated: “Our new pub-restaurants, premium pubs and lodges have all performed well and we have good visibility over the site pipeline to underpin our future growth. In addition, we have substantially completed our disposal programme of smaller wet-led pubs. These actions have significantly transformed our pub business over the last three years.”
While Marston’s, Fuller’s, Wetherspoon’s and others continue to focus their attention on the new breed of larger pub the figures of pub closures should be put into the broader context of the market as a whole and the square footage numbers. It is a great shame that any pub closes but this far from suggests it is a dying breed.
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