I turned down an invite (my wife turned down an invite) for me to meet up with my premier group of drinking buddies to go on a little (the complete opposite) session on Bank Holiday Monday.
They had all booked the Tuesday off, so the idea of a lengthy pub crawl was more tempting to them than to me with work the next day some 150 miles away from where the party was due to end.
So while they were about to embark on a trip around some of the finest (and no doubt later, some of the worst) watering holes in Suffolk, I was at the British Wildlife Centre with my wife, son and a load of badgers and foxes.
Very good it was too.
Having a child has completely changed the way I use a pub. It is much, much harder to go out for those spontaneous sessions because so much needs to be planned in advance.
Fortunately my work provides me the opportunity to take in plenty of places but it is the social side of pub visits that have changed for me.
There was a time that upon seeing a ‘family friendly’ notice on a pub I would simply have turned away and looked for somewhere less welcoming. And I am fairly sure my friends would have avoided such places this weekend as well.
But on a Sunday or Bank Holiday afternoon, seeing the words ‘family friendly’ is like a beacon on the shore after a rough passage at sea. Or a bed, after a rough passage on the town.
And it is not just knowing that families are welcome. It is also the knowledge that the facilities will be good enough to ensure my boy (he’s two by the way) will get something out the experience and not be sat in the car with a pack of plain crisps and a bottle of
Coke for company (memories of my own childhood come flooding back).
So yesterday, as we drove back from the wildlife centre and decided to have a pub meal, these are some of the factors the missus and I discussed before settling on a venue.
• Is there a garden?
• Is the garden secured with fencing so he can’t escape to the car park?
• Is there a play area?
• Is there a child’s menu?
• Are the chips Jenga posh or the sort he will eat if he won’t have anything else?
• Will they care if he just has his own drink?
• Can I get a very large glass of wine?
Thankfully we found somewhere that had all of the above and was fairly busy with families, even though (and perhaps because) we got there between the lunch and evening meal session.
So what does all this prove? Well, I suppose it just goes to show how the needs of individuals change and how we need a range of types of pub to support various lifestyles. It also shows the difficulties pubs face when their customer’s habits change?
If your area becomes full of young families, for example, do you change your business plan?
I suppose flexibility is the key and knowing what the changing needs of your customers are.
The pub we visited had been closed for around two years but is now doing an exceptional trade in meals and family business. Someone had taken the time to look at the demographics closely and ensure the business was right for the area. It was ideal for our needs.
In fact it was so good, the thought of my friends being on a big get together didn’t even cross my mind. Well, hardly…
Matt Eley is the Inapub editor. Follow him on Twitter @mattheweley