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Home > Mark Daniels: Pub signs, a common sense debate

This week, my wife and I discussed the possibility of getting a sign put up on the nearby A11 that might, potentially, drive traffic to our pub and boost our lunch time and weekend food trade.

In an ailing time for the business, you'd think that the council – and my brewery – would do what they could to help me rather than see yet another pub close and another small businessman be confined to the dole queue.

Yet I read today that a Wiltshire pub has been told to take its sign down and fears amongst leaders of our trade that this could set a precedent that would see hundreds more pubs up and down the country having to close their doors for good.

According to a member of the Highways Agency, the worry is that the sign advertising the Black Dog in Chilmark could tempt visitors to drink and drive, leading many of us to conclude that yet again the Government believe we can't actually think for ourselves.

For years, the Highways Agency has embarked on a road-building scheme that has seen the country criss-crossed with motorways and dual carriageways that once lead comedian Lee Evans to observe that eventually England would be a giant stretch of tarmac suffering subsidence because of all the tunnels to let the hedgehogs cross from one side to the other.

Travel on any of these A- and M- roads and you will inevitably pass hundreds of signs advertising restaurants, burger vans, coffee shops and pubs that simply wouldn't be able to trade if they didn't tempt people off their journeys to have a break in their establishments. As more and more bypasses and trunk roads are added to the ever-expanding road network, more and more small food and drink businesses lose their passing trade and so they have to rely on expensive advertising to bring customers to them.

When I get the opportunity to travel through our wonderful country I love following these signs and taking detours off the main roads to find quaint village pubs with traditional grub and a nice beer to quench my thirst with – or, if it's my turn to drive, a good cup of coffee to complement a nice meal.


And therein lies the flaw with Jacqui Ashman's argument. Yes, the Black Dog's sign is enticing people to go and eat and drink in their establishment – but it doesn't mean that the customer has to consume alcohol. As far as us I'm concerned, as long as you're a paying customer that's good enough for me. I've got one regular who is a complete tee-totaller: he only drinks coke, but he still comes to the pub for the company and the atmosphere and he's as welcome as the chap who drinks Abbot.

Tiredness, we're often told, kills. Any sensible person would not view a pub sign at the side of their main road as a temptation to drink and drive, but merely a place for them to take a break from their journey and enjoy a home-cooked meal.

After all, how many pub signs have you seen have large gold letters on a dark background proclaiming “Drink Wifebeater, Then Drive!” Not many, I suspect. Most of the ones I see say things like “Good Food” or “Families Welcome”.

Ms Ashman does make an interesting point, though. She argues that the reason for these signs being pulled down is to reduce the risk of temptation for people to drink and drive and that you aren't, she rightly points out, allowed to consume alcohol at a service station so why should you be tempted from your journey to consume it in a pub?

This may be true, but you can still BUY alcohol at petrol stations across the country, and many of them litter their forecourts with billboards and promotional material advertising the deals they have on beers and wines – often at prices competitive to the supermarkets.

Surely that screams of an invitation to drink-drive more than a sign at the side of the road inviting Mr & Mrs Jones and their family to take a break from their wearisome journey and enjoy a good meal?