Guide - What does the future hold for the licensed trade?

The licensed trade has suffered an incredibly difficult past few years that have left many commentators mourning the ‘death of the traditional pub’ or questioning how an industry already struggling will be able to cope in the near future. The economic squeeze caused by the recessions in the UK has accentuated a decline in sales and profits amongst licensed trade establishments that began in the 1980s, as a greater number of potential customers try to cut spending and stay at home. So what does the future hold for the licensed trade and how can the current downward trend be reversed?


Identity crisis

One of the main problems faced by the licensed trade at the moment is a struggle with identity. For a long time the historic British pub has been an iconic feature of the island’s culture and nightlife, playing an irreplaceable part in the lives of many people. However, it is exactly these establishments that are finding it increasingly difficult to survive in the current economic climate. This has resulted is a drastic change in the licensed trade landscape as money moves away from traditional drinking establishments to other types of licensed businesses. This seems to reflect a concerted effort to alter the drinking culture by successive governments and is something that the industry is still struggling with.



When it comes to discussing the future of the industry, most commentators and analysts agree that it is increasingly uncertain. The identity crisis, mentioned above, will have to be reconciled with a new approach to business over the coming years and how companies restructure and adapt is largely unknown. However, there are a number of indicators that suggest there could be hope for licensed trade businesses across the country. While large organisations appear to dominate what has become the ‘traditional’ pub market, it may be in specialising that smaller businesses begin to thrive once again. Business restructuring is one option that a company could consider, but they would need to call in the assistance of some experts if they were planning to do this.


Craft beer revival

One way in which pubs are rediscovering a niche is through an exciting craft beer revival that appears to be gathering pace across the country. While, in the past, a large number of establishments had their choice of product forced upon them by a drinking culture that demanded cheap lager - and a lot of it - the British pub go-er now seems to be rediscovering a penchant for craft beer. Largely influenced by the incredibly successful U.S craft beer recovery, this phenomenon has provided an exciting and vibrant niche that smaller establishments are taking advantage of. Though its potential size is limited by high costs at the moment, the craft beer market is a shining light in the future of the licensed trade.



Many establishments have already recognised the importance of food to the success of the licensed trade and it is becoming increasingly rare that a business does not sell food alongside its range of drinks. The rise of the ‘gastropub’ has also indicated a direction that the licensed trade may take in the future, focusing predominantly on high-quality and specialised food, while providing a more modern and often up-market approach to traditional business models. However, this change to the industry may prove short-lived, with establishments finding that they can’t maintain their early success. Unfortunately, gastropubs don’t cater to the need for a ‘proper’ drinking establishment, so rarely become regular haunts, nor do they usually provide food at a standard as high as a restaurant. While gastropubs may be a future direction for the industry, it will be a hard one to navigate successfully.


Changes to licensing laws

If recent history tells us anything about the licensed trade, it is that it will be on the receiving end of numerous changes to licensing laws and regulations over the coming years. There have been great changes to the way licensed businesses are able to operate over the past decade and there is no sign that this will change. Though nobody knows exactly what alterations will be made to the regulation of the industry, it will definitely play a large part in its future.


Fewer establishments

One thing that most experts agree on is that there will be a great deal fewer licensed establishments operating in the country over the coming years and well into the future. At the moment, the industry appears unable to support the number of properties that have existed in the past and, consequently, a large number of properties are being sold off to developers. While this means that property ownership may be concentrated in the hands of large companies, it does also give new businesses a chance to get off the ground and take a shot at success.


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