Star Pubs & Bars’ managing director Lawson Mountstevens is very positive about the future of the British pub, despite wave of costs that have been coming through to operators’ bottom lines.

“I’m an awful lot more optimistic than I was last October/November,” he said at MCA’s Pub Conference last week.

Speaking on a panel about pub partnerships, alongside Clive Chesser, CEO, Punch Pubs & Co and Chris Jowsey CEO of Admiral Taverns, Mountstevens told host and MCA contributing editor Peter Martin there was a lot of concern before Christmas about how consumers would respond to rising prices, but that “fundamentally what we have seen is the great British consumer still loves pubs”.

“They are still visiting pubs and we are seeing that in terms of what is coming through on the top line, and the resilience of that trade,” he said.

His optimism was shared by both Jowsey and Chesser. “And thank goodness because we have doubled our scale over the last three of four years,” Jowsey said.

For Chesser, the challenge is how pubs continually innovate. “We have got a big challenge… everyone in this room I think – how do we keep refreshing the offer and keep the value for money equation top of mind as well? But we’re feeling more optimistic than we did six months ago.”

Asked about the level of tenanted pub closures by Martin – with tenancies down by 1.3% over the last quarter and 5% over the last year – Chesser said the numbers always slightly surprised him as Punch hasn’t been closing pubs at the 5% a year rate. While the number of its tenanted pubs have declined by around that percentage, he said around 4% of that were pubs that have transferred over to its operator managed model, with only 1% permanent closures.

“Despite al the troubles we have been through over the past few years, the L&T model is proving to be incredibly resilient,” Chesser said.

A certain level of closures is inevitable, added Mountstevens, but he said that what was coming out of the market was underinvested outlets that are too small in their footprint or ability to develop additional revenue streams.

“If we talk about closures, we talk ourselves into a bit of a doom loop. On the positive side of it, for every one that closes there is some fantastic investment coming, innovation and brilliant operators coming in that are meeting consumer demands,” he added.

For Jowsey it’s the independent pubs that are at the greatest threat from closure. “With a bigger organisation around you that can use their scale and also provide their support to help you grow your business then I think you can be very successful as a smaller business.”