Back to Basics - The Pub, part 1
By Paul Ainsworth
The institution we all know and love as the Public House is unique to Britain.
Other countries have bars, hotels and other licenced premises but though
some come close (Belgium,the Czech Republic), none have anything which matches the
traditional British local.
Britain has over 80,000 pubs and other premises with a full on-licence
i.e. places anyone can go just for a drink.
Given all the publicity about rural pub closures you may be surprised to know
that the number of full on-licences has increased substantially in
recent years. This can be ascribed entirely to the growth in town
and city centre drinking establishments, many of which are cafe-bars rather than
pubs. In Cambridge a stroll down Regent St./St Andrew's St. or along
Quayside will bear this out.
[See On The Circuit.]
Pubs in the countryside and suburbs, especially the smaller ones, are definitely
on the decline and these are generally the type of place that the connoisseur of
pubs most cherishes.
We'll come back to the reasons for these changes in the
Firstly, the basics.
In terms of ownership, pubs fall into three categories.
There are those owned by a brewery or pub company who then
employ a manager to run them - Managed Pubs.
Then there are Tenanted Pubs, where the licensees
rent (lease) the buildings and fixtures from the brewery or pub company
but own the "business".
Finally we have Free Houses where the licensee owns both
the building and the business.
Managed Pubs have had something of a bad press in the past.
The argument goes that because the folk running the place
are mere employees, they have less committment to
ensuring quality than someone who has a direct stake
in the business.
In fact there are a lot of excellent managers around and now
that many companies have improved training and
career structures, standards have generally improved.
Managed pubs are typically larger and more urban than average.
Pubs like the Hogsheads, Firkins and Wetherspoons
will all be managed.
The big breweries have moved increasingly towards
managed pubs where they can exercise more direct control
over what goes on. This inevitably means a degree of standardisation in such outlets - if you've been in one
All Bar One, you've been in them all.
There's also a lot of staff movement, with managers regularly
changing from one pub to another; consequently many
managed pubs fail to achieve the character and
individuality of pubs with long-standing licensees.
The tenancy is the traditional form of ownership in
British pubs. A new tenant will typically pay a lump sum
(the "ingoing") for stock, some fixtures & fittings plus the
He or she will then pay rent to the brewery or pub company,
that rent being reviewed at fixed intervals.
These days it's more common for licensees to sign
up for a fixed-term lease rather than the old-style
tenancies but the net effect is largely the same.
The licensee will usually be tied to whatever products
the owner allow them access to, at least as regards beer.
The guest beer rule which came in with the Beer Orders
a decade ago enabled tenants of the big breweries
(there were no big pub chains then) to sell one real
ale of their own choice. However the big boys have now flogged
off nearly all their tenancies to pub companies to whom
the guest beer rights don't apply.
Happily an increasing number of breweries and pubcos are
introducing their own guest beer schemes thus enabling
tenants to offer their customers more choice.
Smaller breweries' products get a look in as well
as the national blands.
Greene King are a recent convert, albeit restricting guest
beers to licensees who sign a particular style of agreement.
The Free House ought to be the ideal from the drinkers' point of view. The
owners can, in theory, buy from whoever they like thus maximising choice and
variety. In practice many so-called Free Houses are anything but. Owners will
often voluntarily tie themselves to a particular brewery in exchange for loans
which enable them to upgrade facilities. Ironically therefore many Free Houses
will offer less choice than Managed Houses, particularly "exhibition" pubs like
the Hogsheads and Allied's Festival Ale Houses. Other Free Houses display a sad
lack of imagination in their choice of beers.
Cambridge itself is very short of genuine Free Houses: there's the Cow & Calf,
the St Radegund, the Live & Let Live and that's about it. In the villages they
become much more common. Good examples include the Red Lion, Histon, the Waggon
& Horses, Milton, the Fountain, Ely, and the Green Man, Six Mile Bottom.
We'll leave the last word (for now) on the pub to Hilaire Belloc:
"when you have lost your Inns, drown your empty selves,
for you will have lost the last of England".
ALE November 1998 No. 292
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