Opinion: Talking (and listening) to Forgotten Britain

Chris Losh

Chris Losh

18 November 2016

Somehow, I’ve ended up on a Facebook group for our small town. As far as I can see, it is mostly an online haven for people who want to whinge in grammar-free English about parking, dog mess and unruly youths.

This, I’m sure, makes it pretty typical of the mindset of your average Brit.

And your average Brit, I can confirm, is not your average Imbibe reader…

While it’s tempting to think that as a nation we’re all happy to drop £50 on a round of cocktails that we will Instagram the hell out of before heading off to a Peruvian/Chinese street-food mash-up with cold-brew coffee on tap, this sadly isn’t the case.

This week, there was a lengthy discussion in the Shoreham-by-Sea pages about being charged £1.70 for a lime and soda in a pub. The unsurprising consensus was that this was a bit steep for a splash of cordial – particularly since their meal only cost £5 a head. I mean… that pushed the total spend up to nearly SEVEN POUNDS!

I suspect they didn’t leave a tip…

It was tempting to point out that if they’d gone to the pub, ordered the food and drunk tap water (which they could have done), with rent and staff costs, the venue would probably have been losing money on having them there at all; that the food and drink combined still probably cost the same as two cappuccinos and a muffin; and that this is one of the reasons that pubs are closing down at speed.

But this, frankly, isn’t the concern of your average customer. Most just want to eat and drink as cheaply as possible – and who are we to blame them for that?

The problem is, however, that the on-trade is about to be hit by a triple whammy. After not moving much for a few years, rents are going up (massively in some areas); the National Living Wage will rise again in April, and a weaker pound has meant that most goods are more expensive, too.

Those five-pound pensioner specials and budget mid-week lunches (already eyebrow-raisingly cheap) are going to be impossible.

But the mindset of consumers changes more slowly than prices go up. If punters have had five years of thinking that a two-course lunch costs £12, or a tasting menu with wine £40, will they understand why they are now, say, £15 and £50? Or, even if they do understand, will they still be able to afford the outlay?

For those of you scoffing at such a statement (‘Who could baulk at a £15 lunch? Really!’) you’d do well to remember that it is an inability by tech-addicted metropolitans to take seriously the cares of less wealthy out-of-towners that has led to both Brexit and the Trumpocalypse…

And besides, even successful Brits are often inconsistent when it comes to food and drink. I’ve had friends with £50,000 worth of cars on the drive, who would make it a point of principle not to spend more than a tenner on a bottle of wine; neighbours who would drop £4k on a ski-ing holiday every year, yet would walk an extra 50 metres to go to a pub because the beer was cheaper.

Not better, please note: cheaper.

So the question is: is the on-trade ready for this? Do you have a strategy for persuading the average Brit to part with more of their money next year?

The parking-and-dog-mess whingers and the squeezed middle?

The exhausted Gen-Xers and the plastic-hipped Baby Boomers?

Because if you don’t your business could end up going the same way as David Cameron and Hilary Clinton.

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