Another thing I noticed about the River last night was that, at 9:30 pm, they didn’t have many customers in the large restaurant area.
I’ve generally supposed, over the past few years, that as a pub-restaurant, the River would survive the smoking ban by winning itself more customers for its restaurant to offset the lost customers in the bar. And at lunches most days, it seems to do pretty well. Not so well in the evenings, however.
The lunchtime customers these days are almost all elderly people, I’ve been noticing. Some of them even with walking frames. And it seems that the River is offering a pensioner’s discount at lunchtime. So quite a few of its lunchtime customers are now effectively being bribed to come.
It”s a rather odd scene inside the restaurant, with dozens of old people eating, almost like the River was running a retirement home cafetaria. It never used to be like that. There’d be all ages in the past.
Back when pubs started to become pub-restaurants, I usually preferred them to traditional restaurants, because they had a different atmosphere. They were more convivial. And that convivial atmosphere was largely provided by the regulars at the bar, talking and laughing. Now that most of the regulars have gone, there’s no longer that atmosphere in the River. It’s become, in effect, just another restaurant. Even the juke box doesn’t seem to play much. If I was still looking for that ‘pub’ atmosphere, when I went out to lunch, I wouldn’t go to the River. In fact, I don’t know where I would go. Perhaps it doesn’t exist any more.
So I think I can see how even a pub-restaurant might suffer from the smoking ban. First the ban would drive out the most dedicated smokers. And then it would drive out the less dedicated smokers. And then it would drive out the non-smokers as well. And then, once this engine-room of the pub had been excised, and all the convivial vitality of the throng around the bar had been lost, the restaurant customers would eventually notice the change of atmosphere, and they’d start to drift away too. So maybe pub-restaurants aren’t immune to the smoking ban.
And maybe that’s why, somehow or other, there now seems to be increasing calls from pubs for the ban to be amended. Maybe they’ve found that when their bars died, the restaurants eventually followed. Because once the bar – the beating heart of the pub – had died, a pub became just another restaurant competing with every Indian or Chinese or Italian restaurant in the area.
All of which reminds me that I don’t go to restaurants much these days either. Because, while I didn’t want to smoke while I was eating, I liked a cigarette with my after-dinner coffee.