WHY BOSSES ARE SUDDENLY RETHINKING BRITAIN’S BOOZY PUB SOCIALS

Bosses planning a work get-together outside of the office would traditionally not think twice about hosting it in the pub. But the work-sanctioned trip to the local is now under threat.

“Younger employees that have healthier lifestyles don’t see it as a rite of passage to go out and drink and get absolutely wasted,” says Emma Morris, director of Embrace HR.

Britain’s work culture has changed dramatically over recent years – especially when it comes to attitudes to booze.

Companies are coming under pressure to find alternative venues for work events as large numbers of Gen Z professionals turn away from alcohol. 

A report this week from Rare, a UK graduate recruitment company specialising in diversity, suggested law firms should take their employers on cooking, painting and pottery classes rather than to the pub. It made the recommendation so as not to exclude Muslim lawyers and other staff who don’t drink alcohol.

It is not just concerns about staff feeling awkward that are making bosses rethink the pub: HR departments are also worried about bad behaviour.

“If you arrange something that ends up where there’s trouble, through drinking, or through drug-taking, or anything like that, the employers can be held liable for the incident,” says Morris.

Paul Pavli, a hospitality consultant and former managing director of Punch Taverns, says: “If you’re on a work social now, everybody’s on duty. And something that somebody maybe three, four or five years ago would have not seen as poor behaviour, now it is.”

Data suggests Gen Z does not share the same attachment to booze and going out drinking as previous generations. 

Roughly a fifth of people aged 18 to 24 now abstain from alcohol completely, according to data from charity Drinkaware. If this habit continues as they age, a growing proportion of the workforce will soon not drink.

Many pubs are already changing the way they do things to get ahead of this shift.

“Over half of our pubs now have draft no-alcohol products,” says Simon Emeny, the chief executive of Fuller’s. “You can come to our pubs for work events and you don’t have to drink alcohol. It is about providing a space for people to be sociable outside of the work environment.”

Entrepreneurs have seized upon this shift to launch a wave of new venues offering everything from mini-golf to axe-throwing, ping pong and even virtual clay pigeon-shooting.

“There’s definitely a move to a more engaging, interactive socialising,” says Clive Watson, the co-founder of City Pub Company.

“[Employers are] definitely looking for more of an experience – it gets the crowd going, it’s something to talk about, and it’s not just drinking copious amounts of booze.

“Those sort of interactive socialising games, it helps to contain people, whether it’s shuffleboard or golf, you haven’t really got a glass in your hand.”

Richard Harpham runs the Boom Battle Bar chain, whose neon-lit venues offer augmented reality axe-throwing, darts, indoor golf and shuffleboard. He says companies want to take their workers to do “activities that aren’t so traditionally alpha”.

“Employers now are trying to find something that’s going to appeal as much to the lady in accounts as the guy in the legal team.”

These sorts of activities can also help to lure home workers who are reluctant to come back to the office.

“Going for an experience is more likely to entice people to come in than simply to go for a drink,” says Saxon Moseley, head of leisure and hospitality at RSM. “It feels more like an occasion.”

While these sorts of non-booze centred activities are seen as more welcoming for Gen Z staff, questions may be asked about how inclusive they are for older workers. 

Many of these “experience” venues are clearly geared towards a younger crowd and some of the activities, such as those involving virtual reality, may not be as intuitive to more mature generations.

Regardless, companies are embracing these venues instead of the pub.

“We had 27 visits from KPMG last year on one of our sites,” says Tom Snellock, founder and chief executive of Clays, which runs two virtual reality clay pigeon shooting bars in Canary Wharf and the City. Corporate bookings now account for around 70pc of his company’s revenues.

“We designed ourselves, in both locations and the way we deliver our food and drinks, to allow these corporates to feel really good. Half our menu’s vegetarian, there’s a decent proportion that is vegan, there’s kosher, halal, all these things that we can build in because there are so many different mixes in the office.”

As money flows in through the tills, there are now signs that more traditional pub companies want in on the action.

Stonegate, the UK’s biggest pub company, said last month it planned to launch an “immersive karaoke” chain called Careless Whisper, for instance.

“I suspect that you will see more and more businesses going for these sorts of events, because they act as magnets to bring people into the office,” says Moseley.

Whether or not traditional pub companies should be worried in the long term remains to be seen. Not all pub chiefs are worried about losing corporate event business.

“Formal work events orchestrated by management are difficult with modern employment laws and bore the pants off many of the participants anyway,” says Tim Martin, founder and chairman of JD Wetherspoon.

Martin believes colleagues will still nip to the pub after work for casual drinks instead.

“Informal work socials among like-minded people thrive and continue.”

The wager he and others are making is that a quiet drink with a select few workmates will always appeal – no matter what the boss has to say about it.

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2024-06-14T14:15:50Z dg43tfdfdgfd