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Categorising pubs

In this article Victoria Wells discuss various pub categorisations.
A photo of a neon sign reading 'Beer Hall'.
© Victoria Wells

As we discussed in the talking head there is no typical pub. This has lead to many writers and researchers trying to categorise pubs.

One way, as we saw in the talking head is to categorise pubs by different brands for different target audiences. We discussed Greene King as an example in the talking head film but many other pub companies also do this. Stonegate has a range of venue brands including Slug & Lettuce, Social Pub & Kitchen and proper pubs. Mitchells & Butchers have a range of brands including Ember Inns, All Bar One and Vintage Inns.

Stop here for a minute or two and have a look at each of their brands. Which consumers do they appeal to, who are the target audiences for each of these? Do they appeal to older consumers, families or singles for example? Does how they are designed and what they offer, in terms of drinks or food, attract a particular type of consumers? Add you thoughts to the discussion below!

Other writers have sought to categorise pubs by their age, and we have already seen that different decades have brought different pub designs, reflecting the tastes and styles of the time. While this feels like a simple way to categorise pubs, it becomes much harder as a practical example. This is because, as we have noted, pubs get refurbished, which may be in the current style, but elements of the original remain. Newer pubs may also be built acknowledging the style of older pubs making it hard to categorise them by age, without looking at their style.

Many writers seek to overcome this by mixing style and age of pubs in categorisations. Boak and Bailey in their 2017 book “20th Century Pub ‘’ moves through different styles of pubs, from mid-century improved post war pubs, via theme pub, to gastropubs, superpubs and community and micropubs.

Sargent and Lyle in the book “Successful Pubs & Inns” separate pubs by style. Although a little dated now, they identify a range of pubs including the estate local (“spacious, with a good car park but little or no pub garden… Customers will be mainly male and usually aged 25+”), the traditional inn (“classic English pub with a rural location… Customers are mainly white-collar workers and retired people lunchtime and in the evening a wide range of couples tending to be smart and younger”), the young person’s pub (“can be easily changed with the fashion changes… Music has to be exactly right”) and the town centre boozer (“cater to the hard drinking customers in town centres. They are usually downmarket, male-dominated pubs selling keg beer and standard lager. Very little food is on offer or demanded”).

Kate Fox in her book “Pubwatching” separates pubs into the following types: the serious-traditional pub (“greater importance is attached to the authenticity of the ales”), the circuit pub (“open plan design, with lots of mirrors and shiny surfaces”), the family pub (“generally cheerful and attentive”), the estate pub (“usually big sprawling places, with two or more large bars… very much the social centre of the local community”), the student pub (“good humoured, relaxed and tolerant”), the yuppie pub (service will be “very polite, courteous, unobtrusive and efficient”) and the finally the green wellie pub (“the country version of the yuppie and stockbroker pubs”). Kate Fox also makes the important point that “a pub may ‘change categories’ on weekends or even from daytime to evening”.

The Pub Gallery which we’ve mentioned previously categories pubs in many ways – by ambience (live music, community etc), historic period, whether they are country or town pubs, whether they are waterside pubs (canalside, riverside, seaside), by pub architecture and artistry.

We’ll also see next week, when we discuss management styles of pubs that pubs can also be categorised by this as well.

Overall there is no single best way of categorising pubs. And as Kate Fox notes:

“even within a particular category, no two pubs are alike: each pub has its own personality, its own unique atmosphere”.

There will always be pubs that don’t fit neatly in one or more of these categories, that remain outliers to the categorisations. But as long as the pub performs its social and community functions then we should embrace it, regardless of whether it fits neatly into a type or style or age of pub!


Boak, J and Bailey, R (2017) 20th Century Pub: From beer house to booze bunker, Home Wood Publishing

Fox, K (1993) Pubwatching, Alan Sutton Publishing

Sargent, M and Lyle, T (1998) Successful Pubs & Inns (Professional Hospitality Guides/Caterer & Hotel Keeper), Butterworth-Heinemann, Second Edition.

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

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