Belfast Telegraph

Pubs served warning

By MARGARET CANNING

Warm beer and deep-fried food are no longer enough to keep punters coming into Northern Ireland's pubs, a consultant in the industry said.

The pub sector has suffered due to changing consumer habits and the economic downturn, with former household names all but vanishing from the province's scene.

And the Good Pub Guide 2014, which covers England, Scotland and Wales, claims that thousands of pubs will close because they are "stuck in the 1980s" and offering poor drink and food.

John Morgan, a consultant in the licensed trade who formerly worked in Bill Wolsey's pub group Beannchor, said the hard-hitting words of the Good Pub Guide could also apply in Northern Ireland.

"Many small towns and villages are 'over-pubbed' and pubs will continue to close in these areas no matter what happens."

People were coming ever-more choosy about how they spend their money. "With the ever-increasing demands on disposable income it is crucial that pubs clearly identify their target market, so the consumer is fully au fait and comfortable with the offering they can expect."

Getting food right was crucial, Mr Morgan said. "The day of a pint of warm beer in a dirty glass with some deep-fried food is long gone."

But he added: "Whilst the industry still has major challenges we have some fantastic operators and there have been a number of developments and substantial investments over the last few months that demonstrate that the pub still has a vital role to play in our communities."

Publicity surrounding the Good Pub Guide came as property agents Osborne King announced that three pubs – Strangford's The Lobster Pot, Annalong's The Harbour Inn and The Corner Bar in Hamiltonsbawn, Co Armagh – were being marketed for sale.

While The Lobster Pot has been closed for some time, the Harbour Inn has come on to the market following the retirement of owner Sam Hamilton.

Osborne King agent Mark Carron said the pub trade in Northern Ireland had witnessed a lot of change. "Generally here a lot of licensed premises have gone by the wayside in the last four or five years, but what remains is pretty good."

The company is dealing with the sale of seven pubs in Kurkova Ltd, part of the portfolio of Botanic Inns, which went into administration earlier this year. Mr Carron said: "There has been good interest and we feel that we may get more than one offer for the whole portfolio.

"We have been having a lot of inquiries and a lot of viewings."

Belfast Telegraph

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