Out with the Old, in with the Brew

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Durham is blessed with some of the finest coffee establishments the North East, and I would argue, in the UK. Most students will visit a coffee shop at some point in their day, whether this is for a chat, relaxation, or study, and places like Flat White, Starbucks, Lounge, and 9 Altars are perfect for just those occasions. But, this doesn’t just apply to Durham. As a recent BBC development has shown, ‘coffee culture’ is on a significant rise, and is even starting to creep towards the very British, ‘pub culture’ – which is declining.

The BBC reported that between 2011-2016, the number of town centre bars, pubs, and nightclubs fell by about 2,000. On the other hand, cafes, fast food outlets, and restaurants, on the other hand, have gone up by 6,000 across Britain. This shows a significant shift away from ‘pub culture’ which seems to have been ingrained in Britain for a very long time. Of course, ‘coffee culture’ is not quite at the heights of ‘pub culture’ and it will most likely take a long while to catch up, but these figures are interesting, and they raise some intriguing questions: “why has ‘coffee culture’ engulfed so many people?” and “will the presence of a strong ‘coffee culture’ lead pubs, bars, and nightclubs to change their approach?”.

In Durham, as indeed around the country, Wi-Fi has become a necessity. Most people would agree that checking to see if there is Wi-Fi in the building you are in, is one of the first things you do. Coffee shops and cafes know this. That’s why so many offer complimentary Wi-Fi to their customers, and a lot of these customers will be students. However, it isn’t very common for pubs to offer Wi-Fi, especially if it is a family pub. This means that during the day, at least, people would opt for an establishment that offers Wi-Fi, and these tend to be cafes and coffee shops.

Furthermore, as already alluded to, there is a strong correlation between the time of day and the establishment a person is likely to visit. During the day, from 06:00-17:00, most people are in work, commuting, or not at home, and this is when cafes and coffee shops are most often open, and when pubs are most often shut. Therefore, for a big bulk of the day, coffee shops have access to a vast number of potential customers, thus leading them to offer ‘coffee-to-go’, quick service, pre-order, drink customisation, Wi-Fi, and a warm, welcoming atmosphere. It tends to be in the evening (on working days) that people go to pubs, whether this is for an after-work cooldown, a quiz, a game of darts, or for a good time. But, unfortunately, fewer people are out in the evening than in the day. Cafes and coffee shops operate at the perfect time of day, and often take advantage of people’s daily routines – could you imagine getting a ‘Fosters-to-go’ from your local pub?

A big question is whether pubs need to change, or should they accept that they are establishments for different occasions? If you go to a pub, it is unlikely that your objective is to get some work done. Instead, it will be to have a wind-down and a chat. Therefore, café elements such as speed of service, Wi-Fi, and customisability aren’t necessary. Pubs also get a great deal of business during the weekends due to football and ‘pub grub’. It’s hard to imagine these two quintessentially British things finding their way into a lot of cafes and coffee shops.

On the other hand, ‘pub culture’ is still the dominant force in the UK, and students are big contributors to this, with drinking and clubbing being a big part of many students’ lives. It seems that the most likely reason for the rise in ‘coffee culture’ in the UK is due to its relative affordability, its speed, and the services offered alongside it. But, it should be seen as a ‘day culture’, because the evenings are definitely dominated by pubs and clubs. This, for me, is where the two will continue – as it reduces competition, which both coffee shops and pubs have in high quantities.

‘Coffee culture’ is the daytime culture, ‘pub culture’ is for the evening – I think most would agree.

Photograph: Mike Flemming via Flickr 

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