A 24-hour rolling booze service? No thanks

Chris Losh

Chris Losh

15 June 2018

The on-trade needs many things. But longer hours is not one of them.

Did you know that by not being open for 24 hours you’re missing out on a ton of cash?

Well apparently you are – at least according to Barclays.

Yesterday, the bank published a report claiming that the longer/more flexible working hours of yer average Brit mean that hospitality venues – from cinemas to restaurants – aren’t open when they want them to be.

‘As the traditional 9-5 working day becomes less and less common, the times at which people want to go to the pub, grab a meal or work out at the gym are changing,’ they said.

This doesn’t sound that unreasonable until you consider the fact that most hospitality venues beyond tea-rooms and kids play gyms already open until getting on for midnight already.

Seriously, how late do you have to be working every day to find the current hours restrictive?

Well, the report tells us. Apparently 13% of film buffs want to go to the cinema between 11pm and 5 am, and 20% of diners would quite like to access a takeaway in the same period.

Yup. The streets are apparently awash with people desperate to watch the Director’s Cut of Bladerunner and follow it up with a curry at 3 o’clock on a Tuesday morning.

Who knew?

Unsurprisingly, the 18-24 year olds of Gen Z are the most demanding: a third thought that everything should be open 24 hours.

I can hear the incredulous spluttering into espressos/Negronis/Bourgogne Blancs of the Imbibe readership from here.

Maybe 20% of punters would like everything to be open all the time.

Hell, if everything were open 24/7 perhaps some of them would even follow through on what they say they want. (Though bear in mind that what people say in a survey and what they do in reality are not the same thing, as any political pollster will tell you.)

It’s possible, too, that venues might take more money if they were open later.

But the Barclays report ignores two fundamental problems.

Firstly, the on-trade already has some of the longest hours in the UK.

And secondly, at the moment, most venues are struggling like hell to get enough staff to keep the doors open as things stand. Opening for an extra two, three or four hours a night (never mind the 24-hour rolling booze service requested by Gen Z) is simply not sustainable.

It’s true that gyms, for instance, could open longer by using PIN-controlled access (though I’m not sure that an unstaffed environment is safe on several levels).

But bars need bartenders. Restaurants need chefs and waiting staff. And there currently aren’t enough of either.

Probably because (as per point one) neither of these groups is exactly underworked at the moment.

Industry burnout

It’s no coincidence that so much talk in the on-trade over the last few years has been about wellness – both mental and physical.

This is a profession where burnout is a very real problem, and the industry’s (belated) attempts to address it are to be hugely welcomed.

Recently, Australian restaurateur Ben Shewry hit the news by forcing his chefs to work fewer hours. It cost him money (because he had to hire more people), but came with undeniable positives as well, such as healthier, happier, and more loyal staff.

The latter is an important point. Staff turnover is a huge problem for many in the on-trade at the moment. Most somms and bartenders I speak to are a) short-staffed, b) looking to recruit and c) struggling to find suitable candidates.

It’s hard to see how you square this current situation with the supposedly enormous opportunities afforded by an expansion of hours.

Would longer hours mean more money? Perhaps – though the ‘staggering £6.75bn a year’ envisaged by Barclays sounds optimistic.

But the issue here is not increased profit but increased cost, specifically human cost.

Attempting to be a 24-hour business is difficult, time-consuming, expensive and, for the poor bastard working at 3 o’clock in the morning, miserable.

The punters might say they want access to services 24/7. But you know what? Fuck ‘em.

As a kid I wanted to captain the England football team, date Liz Lawson and grow to be six foot tall. None of those things happened, but you move on.

The UK in general and the on-trade in particular already has some of the longest, most anti-social working hours in the world. I don’t think we should be thinking of adding to it, just so that self-obsessed work-addicts can get themselves a falafel wrap at 4am.


While you're here…

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If you don't already know, Imbibe Live is the innovative and interactive annual exhibition for anyone who sources, buys or serves drinks in the licensed on-trade. From sommeliers to buyers and from managers to publicans and bartenders, this essential date in the drinks calendar will see the industry’s finest come together.
Register today: www.imbibe.com/live

We can’t wait to see you there!

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