Jon Crowther, acting manager of Plimsoll’s Bar in Hull, said regulars previously able to come in every week were now only visiting once a month as inflation eats into their disposable income.
He added he had watched as some regulars’ mental health deteriorated from a lack of social contact while they counted pennies to cobble together money for a drink.
His comments come as research by property advisors Altus Group showed Hull and the East Riding had lost three pubs in the last two years.
Research also showed England and Wales were down to less than 40,000 pubs as of June as inflation squeezes their margins and customers look for cheaper drinks elsewhere.
Mr Crowther said that while their karaoke nights had helped to keep them afloat, his business and others had taken a noticeable hit in the last three months.
He added it came after the hit from coronavirus but the cost of living crisis seemed to be accelerating a downturn in the industry.
‘Regulars can’t afford to come anymore’
The acting manager of the pub, in Witham, east Hull, said: “For a lot of our regulars, the main reason they come in is not so much for drinks but to socialise.Some of them suffer with mental health issues as it is so they rely on the pub for social contact, but with the economic situation as it is they can’t afford to come in anymore.
“It’s getting to the point now where I’m concerned for the welfare of some of them, some of the ones who’d come in every week are coming just once a month. I watch them from the bar and they’re trying to nurse a pint for two hours, they’re sat their counting their 20ps and 50ps to see if they have enough for another drink.
“They want to be out but they’re struggling to do it because of their financial situation, it’s heart-breaking. I’ve built great friendships with some of the regulars over the years, then all of a sudden they can’t afford to see us anymore.
“It’s happening while we’re struggling as well as a business, it’s tough for leisure at the moment. The problem is that as people’s budgets get tighter their spending on leisure is one of the first things they cut out because it’s not a day-to-day priority for them when they’ve got bills to pay.
“And when they do come in they can’t even afford another bottle, you want to help them but at the same time I’ve got a business to think about as well. It’s hard though because I sit there and watch their mental health deteriorating in front of me.
“One week a regular’s been on singing on the karaoke and dancing and next thing you know they come in and apart from a supermarket cashier you’re the only person they’ve spoken to for a week.
“If they don’t come in for a while I try and get in touch to check up on them because I get genuinely concerned that they might have ended up in hospital or something. It’s not just the case with one or two of them, I’m seeing it happen to people more and more now.
“People who’d be in weekly are now just coming in at the end of the month after they get paid, they spend their money while they have it.”
‘There’s been a big downturn’
Mr Crowther said: “For us financially we haven’t raked in cash for years, we plod along from day to day, week to week and month to month.
“Now our outgoings are also rising, the surcharge for CO2 gas has gone up and the price of barrels has too but people still expect to pay the same price for their drinks.
“We’re in a situation where loads of other pubs around us are putting their prices up but I don’t feel we’re in a position where we can, so we’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. I’ve been on the circuit in Hull since 2009 and I’ve managed this pub for five years.
“The area we’re in used to be one of the busiest in the city, at the weekend it would be swarming with people but not it’s nowhere near that now. So many pubs and bars around us have either cut back on opening or have closed and gone all together.
“We’re lucky because we have the karaoke so we have a unique selling point so that helps to keep us self-reliant, people will come in taxis from elsewhere just to come here. I also have another business which helps to prop up the pub financially.
“What I’ve noticed over the years is there was a big hit to the industry in around 2013 when the recession, the smoking ban before that and other factors came together and caused a wave of pub closures.
“Hull’s changed as well because there doesn’t seem to be one thriving area anymore, a lot of the nightlife’s moved to Cottingham Road and Newland Avenue as well. Then there was the pandemic which hit everyone but after bars could fully open as normal there was a little rush because people wanted to get back into them after so long.
“We’ve not been busy for the last five to six months but in the last three months particularly I’ve noticed there’s been another big downturn.”
‘People’s habits are changing’
The acting manager said: “I’m seeing more and more people on social media who have money to spend travelling to places like Leeds for gigs and events on a weekend rather than staying in Hull.
“And so many people built bars in their back gardens during lockdown so on a weekend they drink at home and pay supermarket prices for it. I’m in groups on social media for the pub trade and Hull seems to be among the worst hit by everything but it’s not isolated to here, it’s happening across the board.
“Another thing which I don’t think gets talked about as much as that people’s habits and the way they do things seems to be changing. I’ve got a 20-year-old son and him and his friends aren’t interested in going to the pub, I couldn’t wait to get in one when I turned 18.
“They’re more interested in going to the gym and things like that, that’s not a bad thing in itself but it doesn’t help us from a business point of view. I’m trying to ride it out at the moment but it’s survival of the fittest in the industry as a whole.
“If you have a unique selling point or you’re in a brilliant location you have a fighting chance but otherwise for people coming into the trade now it’s not enough to live off. It’s more of a hobby for me and I don’t rely on it but if I had to depend on it I’d be so scared right now.”