With energy bills soaring and inflation raging at 10.1 per cent, Toby Walne heads off to the pub. Not to drown his sorrows, but to assess whether working from the pub (WFP) – rather than from home or the office – can make financial sense.
The Port Jackson pub in the Hertfordshire town of Bishop’s Stortford has a reputation as a great place for young people to knock back a few drinks before they head off to a nearby nightclub at the weekend.
But at 9am on a chilly Tuesday morning, I hope the atmosphere at ‘Spoons’ – often the nickname for JD Wetherspoon-owned pubs – will be more conducive to work rather than play.
Stay as long as you like: ‘Working from the pub’ customers like Toby are being welcomed by JD Wetherspoon pubs up and down the country
There are already a dozen hardcore regulars inside – some of whom had queued to get in before it opened at 8am. They are swiftly onto their second pint.
But I’m not there to drink or enjoy a hearty breakfast. I’m intent on doing a day’s hard work.
Such ‘working from the pub’ customers are being welcomed by JD Wetherspoon pubs up and down the country.
Bartender Jan enthusiastically greets me despite my admission that I have come only to work. He says people like me are welcome all day.
He hands over a white china mug and says that, for £1.25, I can enjoy as much coffee as I can drink from two machines on the ground floor and a third upstairs.
I initially opt for a flat white, but I could have had a cappuccino, latte, hot chocolate or tea. There is also semi-skimmed milk and sugar available. For Gwyneth Paltrow types, both oat milk and decaffeinated coffee and tea are provided.
The coffee lacks the kick found in a good coffee shop but it is acceptable – and leagues better than a stewed filter brew you might find in an office.
Jan points me in the direction of a dozen tables with power cables – a handful with USB ports too. But he suggests I might like to park myself upstairs in a booth where it’s quieter.
I opt to work on the ground floor – taking time out to watch the comings and goings of customers.
By 10am, people are popping in for a full English breakfast costing less than a fiver. There is a gentle hum of conversation, but nothing compared with the convivial noise I encounter at the office.
Sitting in a comfortable leather-backed chair at a 6ft long table, there is plenty of room to work undisturbed. I access the free wi-fi without requiring a password. However, a warning that other people might be able to see information I send via the network unsettles me.
Despite the hubbub of a surprisingly busy pub, I am not distracted, and make phone calls without being overheard or annoying others.
Most adverts for working from the pub feature young people. Here, there are four other ‘working’ customers sitting close by. But with this month’s hike in energy prices, barman Jan expects numbers to rise.
Spoons, though, is mostly full of pensioners. A 60-strong grey army fills the place for lunch. Many are here for the Tuesday ‘steak club’ where an eight-ounce sirloin steak, chips and drink costs a bargain £8.05. I’m tempted, but resist.
The temperature in the pub is 18 degrees Celsius, so a jumper is required. Yet at home it is 13 degrees if I don’t switch the heating on.
Energy companies must now typically charge no more than 10.33p per kilowatt-hour (kWh) for gas and 34.04p per kWh for electricity. If I turn on the central heating at home using my gas 24kW boiler, it costs almost £2.50 an hour to heat the house.
Just turning on a single 2kW electric bar fire for eight hours would cost more than £5. Including the cost of lighting, powering a laptop, phone and printer, and boiling a kettle for tea or coffee breaks, the cost of working from home adds up to at least £10 – compared with £1.25 for sitting in Spoons. Upstairs, 26-year-old Rhianna Wilson has her laptop on and two phones by her side. She is wearing noise-cancelling ‘AirPods’ (clever). She says: ‘I struggle to get anything achieved at home, while the office can be distracting.
‘This pub is the perfect place if I want to get work done efficiently.’ Rhianna is planning a roster for the cleaning firm she works for and intends to spend the day using the pub as her office. Her only expenditure is £4.50 on eggs benedict for lunch and an 89p tonic water. Another customer working from the pub is local comedian Paddy Lennox. Although not a regular, the 54-year-old says a change of scenery helps when he is struggling with new material.
He says: ‘When I have writer’s block, a change of location can provide the catalyst to get my creative juices flowing – even without alcohol passing my lips.’
For my part, by lunchtime, I start to become distracted by nearby conversation – someone has lost their cat, while another wants advice on spending a £100 Premium Bonds prize. As I take a phone call, a group behind bursts into a rendition of ‘happy birthday’.
When I tell my caller – a public relations executive for a financial services firm – that the background noise is a result of working from a pub, she laughs. Journalists, she knows, are drawn to pubs.
Although I might be saving money, there are drawbacks.
Noise aside, I need frequent comfort breaks as a result of overindulging in all-day coffee. Leaving valuables at the table while I go to the gents is a risk.
By 2pm, temptation gets the better of me. I order the Tuesday steak, washed down with a ginger beer.
Yes, I’ve spent more than the £10 of energy I’ve saved by not working from home.
An hour later, a faint smell of soggy beer mats and greasy food hangs in the air, making it hard to concentrate. I realise a period of solitude at home is required to finish my work tasks for the day.
Would I work from the pub on a regular basis? Probably not, but I can see why working from the local tavern is a trend that is here to stay. It makes sense both for pubs and workers like me who are not office bound five days a week.