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Last Updated: Friday, 4 January 2008, 16:45 GMT
Child-friendly choice splits pubs
By Julian Joyce
BBC News

Child in pub
Children and pubs: Do they mix?

Pub chain JD Wetherspoon is limiting its customers with children to a maximum of two alcoholic drinks.

It says children will only be permitted when they and their parents have a meal - but it doesn't want to encourage them to stay for too long.

Wetherspoon spokesman Eddie Gershon said: "If parents want to have one drink with their meal, and then have another afterwards, that's fine.

"But once the children have had their meal we can't see a reason why they should still be in the pub."

The company appears to be responding to changes in the law that are transforming Britain's pub culture.

New rules introduced in 2005 allow publicans to choose whether or not they admit under-14s. And the ban on smoking in public places have made pubs even more welcoming to families with children.

While Wetherspoon seems to be favouring the adult drinker, many other pub chains have gone all out to capture the family market.

Bad language

It is easy to forget that only a few years ago anyone under the age of 14 was barred from entering a pub - apart from special set-aside "family rooms", or if the pub got a special licence.

Hot food was rarely served, and the air was thick with tobacco smoke and bad language.

Children have no business being in a pub at all. Period
"Topsy Turvy", England, BBC website reader

Now the British pub is a much more family-friendly institution.

Rob Hayward of the British Beer and Pubs Association estimates up to 80 per cent of pubs now offer food - a good indication of the child-friendliness, or otherwise, of the premises.

Twenty years ago, he says, only 20 per cent provided food - and that was usually of indifferent quality, served at rigid times.

HAVE YOUR SAY
It seems unfair to adopt a policy to deter families from staying to long
Jon Thatcher, Littlehampton

"There is now a general recognition that if you are just a spit-and-sawdust boozer, and your customers are not allowed to smoke, then they will leave and not come back.

"To compensate, over the last two to three years there has been a big move on quality food. It's been a dramatic shift."

Many more pubs also now offer extra seating, children's menus, and play areas, he added.

Backlash

But, while the family market can prove profitable for publicans, not all customers favour the idea of children in pubs.

According to a live online poll on the BBC News website, only 30 per cent of respondents were opposed to Wetherspoon's two-drinks limit at one point in the voting.

Mum and baby in pub
Child-friendly pubs are on the rise - but there is now a backlash.

About 38% supported Wetherspoon's stance - and 30% wanted children banned from pubs altogether.

Some readers - like "Caring Parent" from Harlow write: "We take our kids to our local pub with our family and friends to have a meal and to socialise. I do not consider myself to be menace to society or poorly bringing up my children by going out with them to have a drink."

But she appears to be in the minority - many comments posted by website users wanted to ban children from pubs.

"It'd be nice to reclaim the pubs from the children. There are few places you can go as an adult now without having screaming kids around you," says one reader.

"Children have no business being in a pub at all. Period." writes another.

Specialisation

Some publicans agree. Ewan Turney of the pub website Morningadvertiser.co.uk said: " A lot of people who run pubs think customers with children take the mickey. They sit at the bar and drink while their kids run around making a nuisance of themselves and annoying the other customers."

PUBS FOR OLDER DRINKERS
Bright lighting
Low or no music
Wide range of wines, beers and lagers
Lots of seating

The answer, as demonstrated by JD Wetherspoon, is specialisation.

Pub-goers are increasingly able to choose whether they want a child-friendly experience - or enjoy the adults-only ambience of a traditional British boozer.

At one extreme that means the intensely child-friendly "Wacky Warehouse" pub chain, operated by the Spirit Group. Here parents can drink while their children enjoy a specially designed play area, supervised by trained staff.

At the other end of the age range, Ember Inns, owned by Birmingham-based Mitchells and Butlers, offers "desirable surroundings you'd want at home and genuine friendliness" making it "the best pub for comfortable and relaxed conversation."

PUBS FOR YOUNGER DRINKERS
Low lighting
Loud music
Few seats
Smaller range of drinks

Says Rob Hayward: "Whereas in the past pubs tended to cater for everyone - minus children - what we are seeing now is an increasing tendency towards different pubs catering for different categories of people.

"These days, as soon as you go into a pub you will recognise who they are aimed at. It's often quite subtle - but you will register the signs

"If they have more seats, brighter lighting, and a wider range of drinks it means they are after the older customers.

"Fewer seats, low lighting, and louder music means they are targeted more towards the younger drinker."

Choice

Owen Morris from the Campaign for Real Ale, which campaigns for drinkers' rights, said he broadly supported the trend toward specialisation - and the choice it offered customers.

"Licensees need to appeal to their biggest market base. If that means making your pub more - or less - child friendly then good luck to you.

"If at the end of the day the customer doesn't like it, then the answer is simple - they can drink in another pub."



VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Pub chain spokesman debates the issue with a customer



SEE ALSO
Smoking ban hits JD Wetherspoon
06 Nov 07 |  Business
Wetherspoon squeezed by offer ban
02 Sep 05 |  Business
Wetherspoon plans pub expansion
28 Dec 06 |  Business

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