Article | Intelligent Investment

The Social Survival of the Great British Pub

June 15, 2022 4 Minute Read

By Alice Marwick


To say the UK hospitality sector suffered throughout Covid lockdown is putting it lightly. The Pubs & Bars industry had already been in decline, but the combination of lockdowns, social distancing measures, supply chain issues, more lockdowns and overall uncertainty, could have been the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. However, after months of lockdown, people were itching to get back out and socialise and the industry is showing signs of recovery.

Britain had a total of 116,203 licensed premises at December 2019 and this fell to 106,880 by December 2021. The Pubs & Bars industry has declined an average 6.9% per year between 2017 and 2022, faster than the UK economy overall. However, this wasn’t due to consumers turning away from alcohol as alcohol sales increased by 3% to 5% in the United Kingdom in 2020 compared to 2019.

The question is, will the growth in e-commerce alcohol sales lead to a continued decline in the Great British Pub? It appears not. Given a choice, people prefer to socialise and return to face to face interactions in the pub versus having a drink at home alone.

While the Zoom quiz kept people amused during the height of lockdown, it has died a death since pubs have reopened (#sorrynotsorry). The in-person pub quiz, however, has been revived as people have begun to venture out and socialise. Pubs are also seeing a revival of competitive socialising; games such as snooker and darts have been growing in popularity. Open mic nights, a point of call for every budding musician, have not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels, however they are slowly regaining popularity as the spread of Covid is curtailed.

One area where a drink in a pub trumps that of a drink at home in terms of taste is cask ale, also known as cask-conditioned beer or ‘real’ ale. Cask ale beer undergoes secondary fermentation in the barrel and a consistent temperature gives that beer a huge advantage.

City centre pub trade has moved in line with the increase of hybrid office. The Friday evening drink with colleagues has been replaced with a midweek drink, and community pubs are noticing an increase in trade on Friday evenings as workers go for a drink at their local. People still enjoy a post-work drink with colleagues, the only thing that has changed is they day they choose to have it.

It would be amiss not to mention increasing awareness surrounding the health benefits of drinking less alcohol or switching to alcohol-free drinks. Previously, an alcohol-free lifestyle seemed limited to Sober October or Dry January, yet the trend towards moderation is expected to continue, so pubs will increase their selection of non-alcoholic and alcohol-free drinks. The non-alcoholic beer market is expected to grow annually by 12.68% (CAGR 2022-2025), and brands such as Heineken, Tennent’s, Brewdog and Peroni have added alcohol free ranges to their offering. Patrons still have the option of enjoying a few drinks in their local pub with friends, but without the dreaded hangover.

Despite challenging operational conditions, investor demand has been incredibly robust, particularly in Central London where pubs have attracted a lot of interest from HNWIs.

The UK’s Pubs & Bars industry, measured by revenue, is £14.3bn in 2022. If it wasn’t evident before, it became increasingly evident post lockdown that the hospitality sector is the vital to the country’s economic and social wellbeing.


  • Alice Marwick

    Head of OPRE Research

    Photo of Alice Marwick

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