Posted on: 25 March 2019

For those of us who are old enough to remember, Britain’s pubs once looked and felt a lot different from those found today.

Typified by a concoction of terrible lighting, sticky carpets and smoke-filled snugs, these were places which catered to the old guard – not families. But one only has to visit their local watering hole to see how quickly this has all changed. In contrast, we are now presented with super clean rooms replete with better lighting, better seating and more inclusive demeanours.  

This evolution in the bar and pub trade has injected new life into a once stuttering industry, with turnover growth jumping from -0.5% between 2011-2014 to +1.3% between 2014-2017. The industry is doing so well, in fact, that the MCA predicts pubs will contribute more turnover than any other sector in the UK eating out market in 2018.

For every success the local pub has had in recent years, however, there have been many hoops to jump through along the way. From beer taxes to child bans, here we look at how public houses became the family-friendly places we know today.

In the beginning, there was ale

While the proliferation of pubs can be credited back to the 13th century, the first licensing system occurred around 300 years later in 1552, when Edward VI grew concerned over the nation’s increasing ale dependency. Naturally, the law was not received well by punters at the time, as only those who were licensed could buy alcohol.

This initial licence was replaced in 1690 by an increase in alcohol tax. This one was designed to curb the nation’s drinking habits further, while subsequently funding the ongoing wars of 17th century Britain. However, this elevated tax only made smuggling alcohol more lucrative and, thus, more endemic.

After centuries of alcohol smuggling, the beer tax was finally abolished in 1830. This meant that, now, anyone could sell beer wherever they wanted – no licence was necessary. Naturally, this led to an increase in pubs across the nation, both in traditional establishments and in people’s homes (this is where the term ‘public house’ came from).

However, the free for all didn’t last long. In 1904, the Public House Licensing Act was raised in response to the proliferation of unlawful public houses. The Licensing Act stated that any establishment serving alcohol needed to be a licensed premises (and not somebody’s home). There was also a strong movement to ‘improve’ the pubs of the time, making them a more hospitable and well-rounded recreational facility – a radical proposition for an industry which hadn’t changed in over 500 years.

From this point, local pub landlords began to see more opportunities.

Table for one

Whether we are chewing the fat with friends or sharing a traditional Sunday dinner with the family, eating out together is something which, today, is very much the norm. However, this hasn’t always been the case. In fact, even after the Public House Licensing Act was put in place, pubs remained unyielding and would only cater to one demographic: working-class men. No women were allowed in, nor were middle and upper-class men – they could only drink in the snug or lounge.

In fact, it wasn’t until the 1970s when women were officially regarded as part of the ‘pub culture’. For children, however, they had to wait much longer to be allowed into public houses – it wasn’t until 1995 that the law was over-turned and children under 14 were officially permitted entry to places where alcohol was served. This, along with the 2007 public smoking ban, further helped the ‘family pound’ flourish in the pub industry.

Food for thought

Soon after the ban was over-turned, landlords began to see pubs as the new hang-out for families.

To appeal to this growing trade, pubs began to expand their offerings. Along with alcoholic drinks and food, non-alcoholic drinks would be served and opening hours would be extended to suit the needs of working families. The abundance of microwave ovens and freezer foods also meant pubs could offer extensive menus at affordable prices.

Cheap, quick food served in a pleasant environment was something which families across the nation, quite literally, ate up.

Following the rulebook

While families are very much a part of pub culture today, there are still certain restrictions in place for children.

For instance, no unaccompanied children under 16 can go into a pub between 12 am and 5 am, and no under-18s can consume alcohol on pub premises unless food is served. In these cases, 16 and 17-year-olds are allowed to drink beer, wine or cider with their meal, provided the alcohol is purchased by someone over-18.

Moreover, if a pub has a particular licence which says it is used ‘primarily or exclusively’ for the supply and consumption of alcohol, then no children under the age of 16 can enter the premises unless they are accompanied by an over-18.

Family first

Despite these restrictions, the family-friendly pub shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, while 1,100 pubs closed their doors in 2015, BBPA reported fewer than half that number closed in 2016. Mintel also recorded an estimated 3 per cent increase in sales to £7.4bn in 2016, mainly from the sale of food (the volume of alcoholic drinks served actually went down in the same year).

It’s plain to see that pubs are continuing to evolve with customer demand - now they just need to make sure they can keep up with the pace.

If you’re a pub owner and would like to compare public house insurance quotes, browse our policies today or call us to speak with one of our friendly insurance advisors.

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