The only time surge pricing ever affects me is when I’m trying to hail a rideshare after a concert—I never considered that the concept could be applied to something like my bar tab. The largest pub company in the UK, Stonegate, just pulled an interesting move to maximize its profit: It has applied surge pricing to pints during its pubs’ peak operating hours, Forbes reports. That means drinks will cost more throughout evenings and weekends, when the cool kids head out to toss a few back.
Stonegate owns an extensive number of pubs across the UK, totaling over 4,500 locations. However, the new price increases will only go into effect at 800 of them. The dynamic pricing adjustment will cost customers an extra 20 pence, which amounts to about $0.25 per drink.
Surge pricing isn’t new in the food and beverage space. Services like Uber Eats have been known to increase fees during peak hours, and restaurants have experimented with software the implements dynamic menu pricing based on demand of certain items over others. But Stonegate’s is a widespread application, one that many people feel goes against the spirit of the bustling pub.
British broadcaster LBC reports that people are grouchy about the concept, as you’d probably expect. One Google review left for the Croydon location of a Stonegate pub chain called Slug and Lettuce reads: “I so much wanted to give S & L [Slug and Lettuce] top 5* feedback. However this new policy ( due to come in ) to charge higher prices during busy times goes against the grain with me I’m afraid.”
In response to the uproar, Stonegate has issued statement reading in part, “Like all retail businesses, we regularly review pricing to manage costs but also to ensure we offer great value for money to our guests.”
The company explains the surge pricing allows pubs to staff more team members at peak times, and also says that this is beneficial to customers who visit during non-peak hours. The statement notes that the added fee on drinks will allow the company to be able to provide better deals for those who come to the pub during slower times, including menu discounts on two-for-one drink specials.
Stonegate has, in fact, toyed with prices this way before. It added extra charges to drinks during the 2018 and 2022 World Cup soccer tournaments, but didn’t add that policy permanently as a systemwide operating procedure.
One London business, the Carlton Tavern, had mixed opinions on the surge pricing, and responded to a tweet regarding to the issue:
“Just a stealthy price increase for more transient guests basically,” the tavern posted. “Or as you more eloquently put it an ‘unhappy hour’! Sharp tactics however you look at it but those huge refurbs and investments have to be paid for somewhere I guess!”
Part of me wonders if the fervor will die down and customers will simply get used to higher prices on their pints. It’s not a massive price hike, which is why this might just amount to an annoyance (considering the company could always have done an across-the-board price increase, regardless of time of day). But if the backlash winds down into more of a whimper, it’s reasonable to guess that businesses over here might follow suit. It worked for fast food menus, after all.