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Sobering thought: UK pubs introduce "unhappy hour" surge pricing

Surge pricing will make pints cost more
Surge pricing will make pints cost more Copyright Canva
Copyright Canva
By Jonny Walfisz
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Terrible news for drinkers in the UK. Britain's biggest pub company is about to adopt surge pricing, meaning the cost of drinking will go up at popular times.


Stonegate Group, whose brands include Yates’s, Be at one, and the Slug & Lettuce, has announced the surge pricing policy will soon be in operation in 800 of its locations.

The dynamic pricing system will kick in when pubs are popular and could see drinks prices going up by 20 pence (€0.23). The system is intended to offset increased costs of staffing and licensing requirements.

Prices will return to normal at less popular times. It’s essentially an inverse happy hour, where instead of encouraging people to come to venues in quieter moments, it’s a punishment for wanting to drink when everyone else does.

Joel Ryan/AP2008
It's feared pint price rises could cause anger among pub regulars but these two women share a joke over beers in central London.Joel Ryan/AP2008

Stonegate Group has informed patrons of the new system through a “police notice”. Let’s be honest though, there’s nothing polite about this. In a cost-of-living crisis, research has shown that 50% of UK drinkers are planning on limiting their spending on alcohol.

The research from UK drinks brand Gunner Cocktails claimed in January that this would be a “difficult period for many drinks brands in the UK as consumer confidence continues to reach historic lows.”

Surge pricing has been a point of contention for consumers in many avenues already. From the complexities of booking trains in the UK’s ridiculous private trains sector, to the outrage US music fans felt when trying to book Taylor Swift tickets through Ticketmaster last year; it’s well established that surge pricing is a market tool entirely dedicated to not benefitting the customer.

As the phenomenon reaches the drinks industry, it’s been dubbed the “unhappy hour” by the media and Stonegate Group’s competitors.

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