For those strong-willed souls who took on the challenge of Dry January, Friday marks the opportunity to have a drink for the first time in a month. But as they celebrate, many publicans are left counting the cost
As January draws to a close, many people who have been taking part in ‘dry January’ will be looking forward with keen anticipation to the weekend and their first drink for a month.
But while the detox trend may be paying dividends for people who are taking a month off the booze, it has made for a tough time for Lancashire’s publicans.
Daniel Alderson, 43, owns a small pub management company which includes Preston pubs The Pear Tree Inn, The Railway, The Arkwright, The Angel 39, The Pug Tavern and The Old Oak.
He says: “Dry January is getting more and more popular so we gear up for it but it has really hit us hard
“This Christmas period was a lot better than usual but the fall this month has been a lot more.
“We are trying to go with the concept of the ‘Try January’ idea where customers still come in to pubs and try other things and we installed a temporary bar with non alcoholic beer – Heineken zero – from a keg.
“We have had support from Star Pubs and bars who are part of the Heineken Group.
“The pub is still a place to watch live sports, feel part of the community and socialise.
“For some people it is their only form of socialising.
“I would say don’t spend the month away from the pub, you can still do what you were doing before but just not drinking alcohol.
“To keep people coming we are offering as much as we can with non-alcoholic drinks. Come to us – don’t stay at home.”
Paul Butcher, 43, landlord of The Stanley Arms in Lancaster Road, Preston, said: “We get badly hit by January. It’s a quiet month anyway after Christmas so it is hard to know how much Dry January affects the drop in sales.
“The Stanley Arms is a traditional pub and attracts a crowd of people who like the traditional style. But we are a multi-use operation with a function room, entertainment, karaoke and non- alcoholic drinks, so these help us to not be overly affected.
“The thing is you have to move with the times.”
But Derek Hunter, 68, says he has seen a huge drop in custom at his pub The Saddle on Sidgreaves Lane despite all his best efforts to offer customers something new. And he says the decline began before Dry January took hold.
Derek, who has been in the pub business since the 1980s, says he spent £500 on fireworks, bought 12 bottles of prosecco and put on a buffet to thank his customers on New Year’s Eve but only around 20 people turned up.
He said: “In September I tried to turn the Saddle in to a live music pub and spent £1,050 on advertising but every Saturday I had between three and eleven customers.
Now Derek says as things go from bad to worse in January he has an unsure future with the pub.
He says: “I feel like people just aren’t going to pubs anymore. I think it is down to people being able to buy alcohol from supermarkets, not having as much of a social life as they used to and of course, dry January just adds to it.
“I still have to pay expensive heating bills and my business rates are £17,500 a year – that is £400 a week. It is so expensive.
“My intention is to just tread water until March and then see where I go from there. Without the support of customers pubs just won’t survive.”
Recent years have been tough ones for pubs all year round, as habits change and they face stiff competitin from supermarkets on drinks discounts.
Since 2010, Preston has lost 1 in 10 of its pubs, figures from the Office for National Statistics show.
But it’s not all bad news, some pubs say they haven’t noticed an effect.
Susan Carr from the Old Vic pub in Preston said: “We are too busy to have noticed an effect of Dry Jaunaury.
“We have seen the same number of people come in as before, and those who have said they are trying Dry Janaury are buying plenty of soft drinks to keep us going anyway.”