When the barman calls last orders at 8:45pm, pubs are in trouble – Allan Crow
Thursday night was perfect for sitting outside with a drink watching the world pass by.
Only problem - the pubs in Kirkcaldy were virtually empty.
Out with a friend for a catch up, it was surreal seeing bars with virtually no custom.
You could count on one hand the number of folk in most places, while the outdoor areas were all but redundant.
The town centre felt as quiet as it did at the height of lockdown.
That begs one question - where has everyone gone?
Walking along the High Street, there was little noise - no taxis dropping folk off, very few outside meeting mates, while a glance inside showed little more than empty seats and bar stools.
And a few staff waiting, hoping, for someone to step inside and order a pint...
If you had taken every single customer and put them into one venue there would still have been room to adhere to social distancing rules.
The barman at one pub we were in called last orders at 8:45pm on a night which used to be huge for the student market, and often spill over into the wee sma’ hours of Friday across the west end bars.
We were the only folk in the beer garden, and, along the road, that number rose to barely half a dozen tables.
Not a single taxi pulled up during that time, the vast interiors of the bars were simply redundant.
Walking along the High Street, the fruit machines lit up otherwise empty bars. Even the regulars - guys with their own bar stools - appear to have gone.
A way of life which has spanned generations is fading in front of our eyes.
There’s no doubt that weekends are busier, but the noise and buzz from outdoor areas masks the fact that the numbers are still nowhere near what they used to do before March 2020 when the world changed.
Inside, the seats are all empty - huge spaces which once packed them in are now pretty much out of use. Any upper floors and VIP bars are pretty much mothballed, and who knows when, even if, they will re-open.
The midweek trade - essential to every pub - seems to have withered.
If you can’t get folk out on a balmy Thursday evening in the middle of the holiday period, then what happens when the temperature drops and drinking outdoors requires several layers of clothing?
We spent lockdown counting down the days to when we’d be able to get out and have a beer with friends.
But by the time the doors finally re-opened, something had changed.
Staying home has become the norm.
That may be down to a lack of confidence to mingle in busy places with strangers whose health we are unsure of.
Or, maybe, our priorities changed as we retreated into our own homes. That Friday night habit of a few pints has been lost - we may say we missed it, but still we do little to actually re-activate it.
For some, I suspect it may never return.
Thursday was just a snapshot of the real challenge still facing the hospitality trade.
And pubs without people simply have no future.