Founder of turnerbates, Howard Bates, reflects upon his experience of how the local boozer has changed and what it means for us as designers…
It’s a late summer evening in the mid 1980s at The Farmer’s Boy, once perhaps a country pub. Now swallowed by greedy, generic 70’s suburban small town overdevelopment gnawing at the Home County greenbelt. Chaka Khan wails ‘I feel for you’ as a misfired cue ball flies over the bar, narrowly missing my mullet, hitting a bottle of Malibu and smashing white glass over a three day old cheese and onion roll sweating in sticky cling film.
Two sun-baked, wiry builders, B&H at lip, go toe to toe with cues drawn, fencing around the pool table and expleting in an Irish burr my innocent ear can’t yet place. They slop cold, Australian, factory line Amber nectar larger, brewed less than 10 miles away, onto a sticky threadbare carpet.
Through a smog of fag smoke, two portly, tired looking late middle aged barflies, each with a neat stack of coins, perch impatiently at the Saloon bar, waiting for their engraved pewter pint pots to be filled with courage for less than a pound.
So began my stint as a barman on the student passage earning beer money behind the bar.
Fast forward to 2019, the smoke has long gone, as has The Farmer’s Boy; now a house no longer open to the public. Plus, the landscape for the British Pub has changed somewhat, although Chaka Khan may be having something of a career renaissance.
With an enormous range and buying power, supermarkets and shops now have a large percentage of the market compared to the 1980s. A mediocre pub will offer little to a selfie, social media obsessed punter. Although at the value end, Wetherspoon’s should be applauded for repurposing some beautiful old post office, theatre and bank buildings across the country. They are certainly a favourite of my Mum who loves a meal deal offer.
Pubs and pub dining now forms a healthy part of the turnerbates design portfolio (our team enjoys the research part out of work when work becomes play). Because of this, in the last few years we have noticed that pubs have had to adapt and change their offer to suit the needs of today’s customers.
For the last 2,000 years, the public house has been a unique social centre to meet, relax, and drink. Take pub sign names, that mix the historical’ ‘King Charles’ with the absurd ‘Pig and Whistle’ to the downright dull ‘The Cow’, throwing back to a time when the mass illiterate population navigated the city and countryside via painted signs panels.
Now, particularly in prime tourist locations or cities, pubs are destinations for a wide range of customers, from office workers to family gatherings, and their draw isn’t just a freshly pulled pint.
Whilst a recent report stated that pub closures are at record highs across the country, in the capital boroughs like Hackney have seen a rise in openings and refurbishments feeding the demand from thirsty, hungry hipsters (Financial Times, Nov 2018). The cheese and onion back bar roll is, I’m glad to say, now a rarity and the number of ‘gastropubs’ has risen in the last 15-20 years, some with premium food menus that cater to a range of dietary requirements, ‘hyperlocal’ craft beer, cocktails and tastings, and barista style coffee (Morning Advertiser, June 2017; Jan 2019).
Even though now there are 22% less pubs since 2008, there are 6% more people working in the trade and generally pubs have increased their size due to more waiting and kitchen staff being needed for serving food (Financial Times, Nov 2018). International lager brand, Heineken, even invested £44m in British pub refits; The Gun, Spitalfields, has had a £2.2m upgrade and is expanding its offer to include a full menu for the high number of tourists through its doors.
What does it mean for turnerbates as designers?
- Depending on the site, pub layouts need to be flexible, with spaces than can cater to dining and social drinking. How will the layout function at its peak times and for different types of customer?
- Carefully considering customer service within this layout – how will the increase in different offers affect service?
- How can unconventional spaces in ideal locations be taken advantage of? Old bank buildings like all-day dining experience, BEAR, in Derby and Stone, utilise the central location and Grade II listed buildings to create an alternative offer.
Following the completion of The Plough in Shepreth, The Market Gardener at Heathrow, Granite City in Aberdeen Airport and the award winning Coach at the Old Bulls Head in Beaumaris, Anglesey, we have a few exciting pub dining projects on site now that we are excited to announce!
One of these is a new brand by The Restaurant Group Concessions, The Navigator. Located in regional airports, currently in Southend and Norwich, with other sites planned, our concept uses materials inspired by the local heritage of the airfields to create a warm and inviting atmosphere for the many different travellers passing through. From groups of over-excited packs of stag and hen do’s, to the lonely rig worker nursing their last pint before a shift in the cold North Sea.
Whist writing, I’m delighted to announce we have been invited to look at some sites to be converted into pubs in Central London. So off to do what we are getting very good at…research!