U.K. Pubs Turn to Candlelit Dinners to Battle Soaring Energy Costs

British pubs are turning back the clock with candles to handle a very modern problem.

A beer and a candle light
A beer and a candle light. Photo:

Renolto / Getty Images

A major allure of many British pubs is their history: Some are hundreds of years old, or possibly even over a thousand, And plenty maintain a traditional feel with their decor as a further nod to the past. But recently, a number of pubs have revived an old custom, not out of nostalgia, but due to a modern problem: They’re turning back to candles to save money on exorbitant energy bills.

Similar to the U.S., the U.K. has been battling significant inflation, but British energy bills especially have soared sky high. The Guardian reports that many small businesses have seen their electric bills more than quadruple since February 2021. So to try to stay open, some pubs have been shutting off the lights. From big cities like London to small villages like Puddletown, reports continue to emerge of a candlelit renaissance.

Earlier this month, Kate Chawner-Woods, who runs The Mason Arms in Cornwall, introduced candlelit evenings after seeing her monthly energy bills jump from about £700 per month in 2018 to £3,000 this year, according to the Mail Online. "Our electricity bill isn't much less than our rent now," she said. "One of the locals turned around and told me to just turn the lights out, go back to the way it used to be. So that got me thinking, and now we've gone back to using only candles on a Monday, like how it would have been when the pub opened in 1753."

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Surprisingly enough, the move has actually drawn more people into the bar. "At 6 p.m., we cut out all the lights. People really like it, we had 65 covers last Monday which is far more than we'd usually get on a Monday in October," Chawner-Woods continued. "The warmth of the candles actually means we don't need the heating as much. It was toasty in here last month, so if demand continues we want to do it on another weekday as well."

In Harrington, The Tollemache Arms told The Drinks Business they planned to take a similar approach, switching off the lights on Thursday evenings in November to serve a four-course candlelit dinner while enhancing the mood with music. Chris Reed, retail development manager for the pub’s ownership group Wells & Co., said he hoped not only that the move would drive in more customers, but also raise awareness of just how tough things have become.

“It’s great to see [the pub] taking some initiative and not only hosting a really good night for guests, but really bringing the hospitality industry energy crisis to the forefront of everyone’s minds,” he was quoted as saying. “The government must take action on further supporting our industry and our pubs otherwise it will be chaos.”

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Roly Harries, who runs The Blue Vinny pub in Puddletown, had a similar thought in deciding to turn to candlelight at his Dorset pub on Tuesday nights. "Although it won't make a large amount of difference in terms of finance, it will highlight everything that is going on with the cost of things and will show that we understand that we all have our backs against the wall,” he said according to the Dorset Echo. "People really seem to like the idea of it. We were quite taken aback by the response.”

And even London isn’t immune to the need for cuts. The Angel and Crown in the city’s South West has reportedly turned to cutting down lights during the day and candles in the evenings. "In some ways the candles have created a nice atmosphere, but customers have noticed that we haven't been able to put the lights on," owner and manager Hannah Lawson was quoted as saying.

Meanwhile, over in Ireland (which isn’t in the U.K. but is also facing soaring energy bills), another novel idea: According to the Independent, Doyle’s Corner in Dublin has been holding nights were customers receive a 20% discount on their food bill for keeping their coats on to help the pub save on heating.

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