Pubs ‘suffering identity crisis’ in changing times

Adapting: The landlord of The Three Mariners in Lancaster, Dominic Leighton.
Adapting: The landlord of The Three Mariners in Lancaster, Dominic Leighton.
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Traditional pubs are suffering an identity crisis, with a third of Lancashire establishments struggling for survival, according to the insolvency trade body R3.

Figures produced by R3 show that 33 per cent of pubs in the county – a staggering 138 businesses – are considered at higher than normal risk of failure over the next 12 months.

According to Jeremy Oddie, a spokesman for R3 in the North West, the problems cannot be blamed solely on the economy but reflect wider challenges including increased competition, changing consumer habits and the effects of the smoking ban.

He said: “Consumers now have a wider choice and their tastes are more sophisticated. Pubs are facing competition from on-trend bars and restaurants.”

In addition, the pub trade has never fully recovered from the smoking ban, with many smokers now preferring to drink at home instead.

The falling price of alcohol in supermarkets has also been undermining the popularity of pubs.

Mr Oddie said: “Ultimately pubs are struggling with an identity crisis.

“Traditionally they were a male domain, run by breweries and geared to serving pints. Pubs now have to cater for a much more diverse crowd with different expectations of what constitutes a ‘night out’.

“While some pubs have successfully broadened their appeal, in particular country pubs, many old-style drinking dens are struggling for survival.”

Dominic Leighton, landlord of Lancaster’s oldest pub, The Three Mariners, said: “I don’t think it’s necessarily true that the ‘traditional’ British pub has had its day, but as with everything times have changed, and modern consumers are simply far more discerning than in the past.

“Public houses around the country have had to up their game, not only in diversifying their offering, but also in the fundamental aspects of their business; service, quality and a considered range of beers, spirits and wine.

“I think that whilst some of the failures have perhaps been unavoidable, a number of those that have closed their doors simply haven’t adapted.”

The need for pubs to reinvent themselves to cater for changing markets was illustrated at the Ley Inn at Clayton le Woods, near Chorley.

The pub has relaunched with a new restaurant, Barton’s, after an extensive refit with support from Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking.

The team behind the venture are entrepeneurs Nick White, Peter Milnes and Brian Leyland, partners in Dante’s Halfway House.

They joined forces with Wolverhampton-based brewery Marston’s to invest a total £400,000 in the pub, which has also seen the derelict function room brought back to life.

The function room, which can hold 200 people, has already received a large number of bookings for weddings, birthdays and christenings. The pub’s exterior and car park have also been renovated to improve access.

The relaunch of the venue has created nine new full time jobs and 12 part time positions.

Nick White said: “We have been very pleased by the response locally and we are also working to get the function room registered so we can host weddings and civil partnerships.

“We always had one eye on the pub because one of the team, Peter Milnes, had previously run it for 25 years and Barton’s is complementary to our other venues in the area. The Barton’s menu brings back some old favourites from the 1970s. There are dishes like Dover Sole and Steak Diane that we are flambéing at diners’ tables.

“Lloyds Bank had full faith in our plan for the business from the start and has given excellent support in getting the project up and running.”

The investment was supported by an £80,000 business loan from Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking.

Ian Hughes, Senior SME Manager at Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking, based in Bolton, said: “Nick and his partners have already established two successful businesses in the area and I’m sure that Barton’s will prove equally popular.

“It is great to see the pub being brought back to life and becoming part of the community again, and the new jobs that are being created are a boost for the local economy.

“There is a wide range of support and guidance we can offer to businesses to support their growth plans, and we continue to approve eight out of ten requests for loans and overdrafts.”