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Why are pubs disappearing?

In this article Victoria Wells discusses why pubs are disappearing.
Photo of shop sign saying CLOSED on a glass door.
© Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

The video introduced a number of reasons pubs have suffered and why pub numbers have reduced so significantly.

We’ve already discussed the beer orders, which had a dramatic effect on pub market structure but many more things have affected pubs since this time.

A number of commentators have suggested that the smoking ban in UK pubs in 2007 had a significant impact on pubs, with smokers staying away from venues where they could not smoke being a factor in pubs closing… although many agree that other factors had a more significant impact on pubs. One positive impact of the smoking ban was that bar workers were exposed to less second-hand smoke, making their working environment healthier.

Another reason for pubs’ decline that has been suggested is where consumers are drinking and where they are buying alcohol. Drinkers have increasingly chosen to drink at home rather than in the pub. Drinkaware figures from 2021 show that in the UK 80% of people preferred to drink at home, 35% at a pub or restaurant and 19% at a friends or relatives house (see Figure 1 below for figures by UK region).

Where do people drink? Figure 1. Where do people like to drink?

It is suggested that people have chosen to increasingly drink in the home due to the availability of cheap alcohol in supermarkets. According to Marion Roberts and Tim Townshead in 2013, pubs:

“have also suffered from competition from the supermarkets, who can price alcohol so that on occasion, ‘beer is cheaper than water’” (Page 457).
Roberts and Townshead also note that improved and increased types of home entertainment have also supported the move to home drinking.
With increasing numbers of consumers drinking at home rather than in the pub, where amounts of alcohol are unregulated (which become even more common during covid) there is a concern for an increase in harmful drinking.
Rises in residential property values, especially in rural locations has also had an effect on pubs, with pub-owning companies selling off parts of their estate for residential use, and making more money through this than running pubs. Stephen Clark and colleagues in 2023 note that closures of pubs are uneven with cities and towns showing an increase in pub numbers, less affluent suburbs performing better than others and reductions in pub numbers are worst in rural areas, and especially in remote rural areas. The work of Ignazio Cabras and colleagues in 2021 showed that house prices and pubs are linked, with areas that have a pub seeing increased house prices especially in rural areas.
Economic factors such as the 2008 recession and the recent cost of living crisis have also had an effect on pubs. Where consumers have less disposable income, they are less likely to spend on hospitality, and again cheaper drinks available at supermarkets will drive people away from pubs. Recent high inflation is also fuelling increased drink prices as Colin Angus notes – termed Drinkflation – meaning that consumers, even if they visit pubs, may drink less. Additionally increased energy costs have put significant pressure on pubs, which are energy-intensive businesses.
Pubs, alongside other hospitality businesses are struggling to recruit enough staff with the (Morning Advertiser)[] reporting:
“61% of hospitality business are experiencing staff shortages with almost 40% reducing trading hours. Of those, hours have reduced by up to 74% midweek and 42% at the weekend. That loss of trading has seen two thirds report a sales decline of up to 25%.”

Finally, there are multiple sources suggesting that younger consumers are drinking less alcohol, for many different reasons, and as we have already noted, nolo drinks are becoming more important. If pubs want to attract these consumers who are drinking less, they need to enhance their nolo offering and think of other ways to encourage these consumers into the pub.

We’ll return to other reasons later as to why pubs are struggling, and what government can do to help, but for now it’s over to you!

Over to you

  • Has your drinking and pub visiting behaviour changed?
  • Are you visiting the pub less and drinking at home?
  • Do you buy more alcohol in the supermarket than you do in the pub?
  • Are you drinking less overall?


Cabras, I., Sohns, F., Canduela, J and Toms, S. (2021) Public houses and house prices in Great Britain: a panel analysis, European Planning Studies, Vol 29(Issue 1), pages 163-180.

Clark, S., Leahy, C and Hood, N. (2023) An exploration of recent trends in the number of British pubs and how these vary by neighbourhood type, The Geographical Journal, in press, doi: 10.1111/geoj.12538

Roberts, M., and Townshead, T. (2013) Young adults and the decline of the urban English pub: issues for planning, Planning Theory & Practice, Vol 14(Issue 4), pages 455-469.

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

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