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A locational perspective on pubs

Victoria Wells discusses how locations plays a role in pubs.
A photo of the Middleton Arms pub (which became the Middleton Arms Length Pub during Covid)
© Victoria Wells

In 1946, in an essay originally published in the Evening Standard newspaper, George Orwell outlined what his ideal Public House (or pub) should look and be like.

Amongst a range of elements such as the architecture (“uncompromisingly Victorian”), food (“six days a week, you can get a good, solid lunch”), and bar staff (“know the customers by name and take an interest in everyone”) he noted the importance of location, for him, being close to a bus stop. Location has always been an important aspect of pubs although it is often under-appreciated.

In the early stages of pub development, remember the Inns, Taverns and Alehouses, pubs were numerous but location was still all important. Inns catered for travellers so their location had to be on a travelling route and because day-to-day people didn’t travel far, alehouses and taverns had to be in close proximity. In the 1900s, there was a push by policy makers to upgrade public houses and in some cases where there were deemed to be too many public houses (a high density) licences were refused or removed and pub numbers reduced considerably. “The Pub and the People” shows that by 1943 the greatest density of pubs was often in the centre of towns, and along main routes that radiated from the centre. The researchers also reflected that the density of pubs was not correlated with density of populations, but was rather correlated with the age of the neighbourhood as many new housing estates were built without pubs.

In the 1990s and 2000s due to the Beer Orders (which we’ll discuss in Week 3) and increased competition from supermarkets, many breweries got rid of pubs which they owned, and while some were bought and run as pubs, many were sold and made into housing, meaning that in some, particularly rural areas there were less pubs and they were more sparsely located.

Location is vitally important for attracting consumers to pubs. For marketers it has become increasingly clear that pubs, at the very least, need to be aware of the advantages and disadvantages of their location and work with these. Researchers highlight that location can be a significant constraint on attracting the type of clientele which publicans feel is desirable and important for business success and profitability.

My own work on pubs (alongside researchers Dr Nadine Waehning, Prof Kathryn Arnold and Prof Ignazio Cabras) confirms that location continues to be a key factor when consumers choose pubs. Through a series of interviews building on pub consumers completing three weeks using a journaling app to record their pub visits, we explored what locational aspects were important to consumers.

We found firstly that consumers liked to visit pubs close to where they live and tended to visit pubs more often if they were close. However, some participants also highlighted that they wouldn’t want to live too close to a pub as they were concerned about the potential for antisocial behaviour, particularly at closing time. Consumers also liked to visit pubs which were on a route they took, from work to home, or from home to another activity. This was particularly important if consumers were meeting friends or family and people were travelling from different locations to meet up. For those who enjoyed a pub crawl, consumers also liked pubs that were in proximity to each other and when visiting multiple pubs might stick to an area within a city or town.

As participants in the study used an app during their pub visit, we were also able to map and analyse their pub movements and choices over a number of weeks. The figure below shows an example of mapping we were able to compile for each participant. The map shows the home area (X), larger circles denote more visits/mentions of visits (both in the interview and mapping; a yellow circle denotes the most visited) and each dotted line is the same day. The blue/purple circle is a 1km buffer zone from the home, a location which is approximately 10 minutes’ walk.

Pub visitmap

Figure 1. Example of respondents pub visit map from our data collection

Analysis from these showed there were three main groups of spatial consumers. The first group were those consumers who lived in the centre of the city/town (or on the edge of the city) and only visited pubs in the city centre. The second group lived in the suburbs or a village and their most visited pub was close to them, but they also made trips into the city to visit pubs. The final group live in suburbs or villages but their most visited pub is beyond 1km from their home with most visits in the city centre.

Overall, our empirical data suggest that pub visitors will stay close to home (for example in their own suburbs), perhaps through habit, and when they move beyond this they visit pubs in the city centre, rather than other suburbs.

Over to you

How about you? Do you visit a pub close to you? If you regularly visit pubs further away, why do you do this? Is there something special that draws you to a pub further away for example?

As usual, please be sure to share your Comments with the group.

© Victoria Wells/University of York
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Pubs: History, Consumers, Management, and Protection

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