It used to be that people would go to the pub for a skinful but nowadays you might find they are just as likely to go for a mindful.

Millions of people across the world have taken up 'mindfulness' as a way of coping with the stresses and strains of everyday life. But what exactly is it, and how can this help pubs?

Well, to start with, it is a meditative technique that has been transported from Buddhism into a multi-million-pound secular global industry.

The cynics among you may say that doesn't feel very calming but just go with it for a second.

It is based on people being still and focusing on the present. Just being.

The theory is that concentrating on the moment in hand reduces anxiety about things that have gone or are yet to come, because you can only ever really be in the now.

Still with us?

Right, so what the hell has this got to do with pubs?

That's a very good question. Well, in the workplace in general it is believed that mindfulness can reduce stress and increase productivity.

Many big corporates, from Google to Goldman Sachs, have introduced classes and training sessions to help reduce stress. It makes sense when you consider that in the UK last year stress, depression and anxiety accounted for 11.7 million sick days off work — that's nearly half of all days taken off for work-related illness. The financial cost of that is estimated to be around £530m.

So, if it means a happy workforce and saving money, perhaps mindfulness is worth a go — especially with the fun and games of the Christmas period looming over us.

 

De-stressing your staff

James Penlington is the owner of Buckinghamshire-based multiple operator Distinct Pubs. It is a successful and burgeoning business, but with that comes pressure that he says can affect his levels of anxiety.

He stumbled across mindfulness when it was recommended to him by a friend.

He explains: "I was quite cynical about it at first. A friend of mine got into meditation and I thought 'here we go' but I got a book on it called The Power of Now (by Eckhart Tolle). It is really simple and is full of advice I would probably give to other people but fail to do myself."

 

 

The advice can be as straightforward as recognising when you are feeling overwhelmed and giving yourself a moment to breathe.

James continues: "I am not an expert in spiritual enlightenment, but it doesn't take an expert to know that there are stresses in the hospitality industry and anything that can help has to be worth trying.

There are so many demands on your time these days with phones, Apple watches etc. I know my triggers now, so when I feel myself getting stressed I know to stop and take a moment to consider what my issues are now, what I can do about them and what I can't do."

It is something that James has seen work for other people in the industry and may be something he suggests staff could try.

"I knew a duty manager who used to always take a moment to go outside and walk around the pub on a busy shift," he says. "It helps to take a moment and realise why you do things.

"In the hospitality trade we are the leaders of that atmosphere for everyone else. If you have a host who is stressed, it can affect everyone's experience."

 

Mindful customers

And it isn't just your staff you should consider. More and more customers are becoming mindful as well. This is another part of many people trying to lead healthier lives by reducing their alcohol intake and trying to eat better.

There is even a Mindful Drinking Movement that has been set up to bring like-minded people together and find venues that are supportive of their lifestyles.

Club Soda is for people who want to cut out or cut down their drinking, but still enjoy going to the pub. The idea is that in a bar queue, rather than automatically ordering a vodka, people will take a moment to consider what they physically and emotionally want.

Founder Laura Willoughby explains: "We are a mindful movement that helps people drink less alcohol or stop altogether."

It sounds like a step away from the mindfulness techniques mentioned above but it is based on helping people feel less anxious and more confident in doing what is right for them, rather than feeling pressured to fit in with a social group.

Laura continues: "If customers or pub staff don't want to drink when they are out, they shouldn't be expected to and that should be respected. Just because someone had a drink on Saturday it doesn't mean they should on Tuesday."

We joined a Club Soda pub crawl in Shoreditch, London, and met with two dozen people who had all signed up for different reasons. For some it was part of doing Stay Sober for October, others wanted to cut back a bit on their intake and several had to stop drinking altogether because it was damaging their health.

One 52-year-old man said: "I watched a friend die from drinking too much and I was going the same way. I didn't know when to stop until I was physically unable to drink any more."Part of my recovery has included using meditative techniques but I also still like going out, and if you can go out and not drink in a bar you can do it anywhere."

To serve this growing chunk of the population — it is now estimated only 56.9 per cent of Brits drink regularly, the lowest since 2005 — pubs need to consider their offer.

A 40-year-old woman on the crawl tells me: "I don't want to go out and drink orange juice because it isn't breakfast and I don't want fizzy drinks because I am not a child."

The options are improving with the emergence of brands such as non-alcoholic spirit Seedlip and brewers such as Nirvana, which only produces no- or low-alcohol beers.

Nirvana founder Steve Dass provides samples on the crawl at Strongroom in Shoreditch.

He says: "We sell to a lot of bottle shops, but pubs are starting to increasingly take more confidence in what is out there. It's a growth area."

Whether it is providing low-alcohol alternatives or allowing staff time to take a moment to clear their heads, the growing interest in physical and mental well-being is something that pubs should, at the very least, be mindful of.