Bans across the pond

With several smoking bans just going into effect in the US and debates over proposed bans going on throughout the country, it’s worth revisiting the question of how they impact businesses. (You didn’t really think I was finished with ban posts for the week, did you?) The US has fared decently well thanks to growth in the hospitality industry obscuring the losses in bars that have suffered; whether that will continue in the down economy remains to be seen. The Financial Times‘ Matthew Engel notes that pubs have been hit much harder in the UK and Ireland:

In Britain, where smoking in enclosed public places became totally illegal in 2007, beer sales are down by 10 per cent; analysts attribute half of that to the smoking law. Pubs are now closing at a record rate of 36 a week.

The publicans I talk to (and they have plenty of time to chat these days) have many complaints but the loss of the smokers is top of their list. Some are on the pavement, but most stay at home. Pool tables stand empty; darts leagues wither.

This may not be so noticeable in the cities. The pubs that are closing are mainly small and often rural, precisely the places that are crucial to their communities and that tourist boards witter on about. Big city drinking barns survive; gastropubs may thrive. The inns of Olde England face extinction, killed by the well-meaning.

My own village local is thought likely to go under this year. It is hard to imagine, under current conditions, that more than a handful of traditional pubs – as opposed to thinly disguised restaurants – will be left in the English countryside 10 years hence…

I hardly ever smoked in pubs myself. Nor does anyone else now. They do not drink in them either. Brilliant.

I worry that the same will happen in Oregon, Iowa, Illinois, and other states with far-reaching bans. The urban bars will likely weather the change. The smaller rural and neighborhood bars I’m not so sure of.

As noted here before, Portland’s restaurants are in for a tough season. The end of 2008 was pretty terrible:

Observers can’t remember a worse year for Portland restaurants. In the first two months of 2008, seven restaurants closed, four as part of the implosion of the overextended N.W. Hayden Enterprises. The year ends with the fall of Lucier — the $4 million South Waterfront showcase — ringing in our ears. In between, more than 20 Portland restaurants shut their doors…

“I’ve heard some people say their business has dropped by as much as 40 percent in the last month or so,” says Bill Perry of the Oregon Restaurant Association. “Things weren’t too bad until October — sales were off just 4 percent or so over the year — but then, two or three weeks before the election, things just froze. I’ve never seen anything like this; if we want to avoid a big rut in January, people are going to have to begin spending again.”

Perry says January’s increase in the minimum wage from $7.95 to $8.40 per hour will be another blow, especially in tough times, when raising menu prices could further empty dining rooms. “They really won’t have much choice,” he says, “but to let people go or cut their hours.” […]

Effects ripple through the community. Oregon lost 1,900 restaurant jobs in September and October, and suppliers are left with unpaid bills and dwindling orders.

[Links via Andrew Stuttaford and the excellent Oregon Economics blog, recently recommended by Maureen Ogle.]


3 thoughts on “Bans across the pond”

  1. the drop in UK pub beer sales, and closure of UK countryside pubs, can also be attributed to more at home drinking driven by

    – greater mobility (buy beer at supermarkets) as working class becomes more gentrified
    – stricter enforced drink-driving that the last generation did not have to contend with
    – greater home entertainment as people go online to gamble, socialise and flick thru all the TV they have recorded
    – not being sexist, but society has changed for example women at work rather than at home; men used to get out of the house, after work, to drink; now it is as often the women who are out of the house at work; in britain most pubs had the lounge bar for wives and families and the public bar was men, darts, and more men-only language.

    smoking ban is likely only another nail rather than a key driver of the decline in traditional pub business

  2. James, those are all good points but have any of them become drastically more pronounced in the last 12 months? People have been gaining greater mobility for decades so why would that result in a 10% drop in sales *this year*? Ditto drunk driving enforcement and the rest.

    Maybe those things you point out contribute a little, but if a sudden drop off in sales coincides temporally with something like a smoking ban it’s a little tenuous to blame things that have been happening for years and years. Why would something like more women working, which has been going on since the 70s, suddenly result in pub closures this year?

  3. My wife is from Ireland and we spent the last two weeks of 2008 in Larne. It was my first time in Ireland. Everyone knows the legendary stories of Irish Pubs. A couple of pubs there were close to the house we stayed in closed after the ban. There were only a couple in town. Belfast had some pretty good pubs, but I was still underwhelmed by pubbing in Ireland. There seemed to be a lack of energy or maybe my expectations were too high.

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