Love never goes out of fashion, but the way we find it is changing. The pub used to be the place where romances would begin. Can it be again?

Back in the analogue days, eyes would meet across a crowded bar, then that same room, or another where you were less likely to be seen by overly curious friends, would become the setting for the first date.

Nowadays, people seem more likely to check out crowded dating apps on their smartphones in the pursuit of love.

Love never goes out of fashion, but the way we find it is changing. Does this mean that the pub's days as a matchmaker are over and that people prefer the anonymity of 'swiping right' rather than approaching a crush in person?

If not, what can pubs do to get those seeking love through the doors?

We asked some old romantics, and some new ones.


The traditional romantic



Gordon Dickens runs The Holly Bush in Redbourn, Hertfordshire, with his son Graeme. They recently hired a barbershop quartet to serenade couples enjoying dinner on Valentine's Day.

He says it was well received and added to a great atmosphere on the night.

"I am of a generation where we see the internet as a tool rather than the be-all and end-all to life, and I believe it is possible to find friends and partners in a safe public environment," he says.

His pub's clientele is primarily aged 40 and above and he accepts that younger customers are more likely to make romantic connections elsewhere. However, he adds that the pub is a great place for people to meet.

"I believe very strongly that the pub has an important role to play in social engagement. We try different ideas to bring people in and things like the barbershop quartet are well received," he says.

It seems to be working, because at least three couples met at the pub and still regularly visit.


The romantic pubco

Gordon recently saw a couple who met at his pub return to pick up a prize as part of a competition run by landlord Brakspear.

Ahead of Valentine's Day, the pubco offered Champagne and other gifts to customers in return for their stories of meeting at one of its venues. There were more than 20 winners, showing the role pubs play in bringing people together.

Emma Sweet, Brakspear marketing manager, says: "People might be finding dates online through websites and apps these days, but in our experience, plenty of lasting relationships still start in the pub. People who meet online still need a place for a first date and the pub is a perfect and safe place to meet."


The love Hart



The White Hart in Weston in Gordano, Bristol, recently took on Tinder by running private events for 25 to 55-year-olds looking for love.

Guests were asked to fill out compatibility tests before attending to see if they could find that perfect someone.
Mike Yeatman, who runs the pub and another restaurant with his wife Chris, said it was a success and something they would be repeating.

"It went well and, like anything we do, we will build on it. People hear you have done it and then they want to get involved in the next one.

"Some of these dating apps are like the TV show Take Me Out, where people turn their lights out before someone has even said a word. We are happy that people still meet to talk in our venues."


36 things I 'might' like about you

What's the recipe for love? 36 specific questions and four minutes of sustained eye-contact. That was the theory of white-coat-wearing boffins in New York.

The research inspired the essay To Fall in Love, which in turn inspired London's Hoxton Square Bar and Kitchen. They asked customers to fill out an online survey before inviting people to meet and ask each other the 36 questions.

If you want to give it a go, the questions are widely available online.

Since you're kindly reading this, given the choice of anyone in the world, who would you like as a dinner guest?


Dating disaster

David Sturrock, licensee at The Pennyweight in Darlington, says customers at his town centre pub are more likely to search for love online.

"We have so much going on that doing something specific for something like

Valentine's Day can disrupt what is happening in the pub.

We have tried speed dating in the past and people were really interested but when it came to it we had all women turn up and no men. We had to cancel the event. It would be nice to think that the old-fashioned days where you meet in a pub still happen. It must do but it often starts online first these days."


The dating expert


Claire Certain is head of trends at dating app Happn, which uses geolocation to help people discover potential matches they have already crossed paths with in real life.

Thankfully, she believes that the world of pubs is beautifully linked with online dating.

Claire explains: "I believe that most dating app users are actually very comfortable meeting people in real life and right away but of course dating apps make meeting people so much easier and takes away that embarrassment of physically going up to someone in a bar and asking them questions."

She adds: "Happn research has revealed that a dinner is the top choice for a first date, followed by drinks so it's important for pubs to capitalise on this and set the tone.

"They're a great first date option because they are obviously public with lots of people around, creating a safe atmosphere."

And what's more, if you get it right, you will always have a very special place in their hearts. "Make it casual, make them feel comfortable and try to make this a memorable place for them where they had their first date so that they'll be tempted to come back.

It would be their place!" she says.



A helping hand: Tips to help you set the tone


Loud Music – This is a no-no for intimacy and a sure-fire way of putting people off using your pub to get to know each other better

Light the moment – Strong lighting is another passion killer. Keep them low, like the music.

Drinks deals – Nothing says I love you like a BOGOF, but in these price sensitive times many people will be looking for some support on a first date.

Use what you've already got – quizzes and comedy nights can be great for first dates because they break the ice and help the conversation flow.

Tips from Claire Certain, Happn