Two weeks ago, I discovered that the Fat Walrus would be closing permanently. I bear this news with a heavy heart, as this indie pub was beloved not just by me, but by Londoners and visitors alike. The Fat Walrus was one of the first pubs that decided to join the great adventure that is CityStack, and even though they are closing, I will forever be grateful for them joining us on our journey to spotlight and support independent pubs. The Fat Walrus opened in January of 2016, and quickly became a fan favourite. Partnered with Whole Beast, their food was delicious, and their Sunday roast being the best in South London was always a topic for friendly yet spirited debate among pub goers. Trouble, the resident dog, was a fan favourite, and will be missed almost as much as the place itself.
Unfortunately, the Fat Walrus is not the only pub that has recently closed due to economic hardship. As a result of the current economic crisis, small businesses are struggling more than ever. The closure of independent pubs has become an increasing trend the past few years, with a total of 400 pubs closing last year, and over 200 independent pubs already closed in the first quarter of this year.
There are multiple things that factor into pubs’ financial difficulties, including decreased foot traffic. Habits changed post Covid, since more people got used to drinking at home rather than at the pub. ‘This habit coupled with inflation makes people more prone to buy their drinks at the shop, rather than go out and spend more money than they would at the store (supermarket sales of wine and beer increased by 25 percent).
Hospitality is one of the industries that suffered the most from Brexit, with pubs having to deal with the staff shortage that ensued, along with the rest of the sector. On top of Brexit, the cost of living in big cities like London contributes to the issue, making it impossible for some people to afford to live there. I meet with numerous landlords every day, and often hear of their plans to open a kitchen but how they are unable to since they can’t find a chef. Some owners have found exciting solutions by partnering with different restaurants, such as how the Good Mixer allows their clients to order directly from the nearby Honest Burger. Similarly, the Chesham Arms allows in-house ordering with Yard Sale Pizza, while the Ship partnered with a Lebanese restaurant.
Not only limited to chefs, staff shortage issues also stretch to managers and bartenders. As soon as one of the members of the staff is sick, or unable to work, the running of the whole pub is challenged. Some pubs even have to close on certain days that none of the staff is available. Now, landlords often have to hire managers part time, who are made to run between two or three pubs a week.
Rising energy bills are also a key factor in decreasing profit margins. Even if your pub is closed for the day, you still have to be able to keep all of the kegs cold, which is no easy feat with energy rates these days. Even though pubs are having to close more often, there is no decrease in the energy bills needed to keep their business running.
All of these financial challenges are on top of outstanding debts (since many of them are still working on paying back debts taken out during the pandemic). The increasing interest rates are now making it unbearable for small businesses to keep running. Between decreasing footfall, growing interest rates, and rising energy bills, it can often be more than many landlords are able to cope with, and some pubs must close their doors.
All of the necessary ingredients to create a hostile business environment for hospitality have been generously provided over the last couple of years. This explosive cocktail of challenges for pubs is more prevalent each day, with rising rates, fewer guests, and decreasing staff. While big chains may be well equipped to weather the current economic situation, it’s much harder for independent pubs to keep their business afloat. The Fat Walrus’ closure reminded me of why I created CityStack. It is our goal to help independent pubs remain pillars of the community, while also helping people stay within their budget. These uncertain times have an effect on all of us, and we must play our part in our community to support these small businesses. Let’s go to the pub!
We at CityStack are dedicated to supporting independent pubs and helping people do the things they love whilst saving money. If you’re interested in saving £100 at amazing indie pubs, take a look at our packs of money saving beer mats.