Vertical drinking in British pubs could become a thing of the past as customers are being told to stay in their seats while sipping their warm beer. Drinkers are outraged at the prospect of loosing the right to stand shoulder to shoulder as they guzzle at the bar while publicans are worried their costs will go up if they have to provide a better service. Recent rulings by magistrates in York and London have restricted new licences to premises where drinkers are forbidden from standing - known in the trade as vertical drinking. Publicans have been told they will have to ensure customers remain seated to try to create a more civilised atmosphere. 'This will never work. Part of the character of a British pub is that no one tells you whether to sit or stand. If you have rules like that it's not a pub anymore,' said Mike Ripley from the Brewers Association. Most of Britain's 61,000 pubs are owned and managed by big breweries who are constantly looking for new ways to drag in more customers. Some have experimented with bars which provide a cafe-type table service. Seventy years ago, the Government nationalised a small Scottish brewery in Carlisle and as part of an experiment divided the brewery's pubs into those with table-only service and those without seats. Within a few years the bars which required drinkers to remain seated had gone broke while the standing-only pubs continued to do business. Ian Loe, from the Campaign for Real Ale, recently published a guide explaining to foreign visitors that they were expected to shoulder their way through the crowd to fetch their own drinks from the bar in British pubs and should not expect to receive table service. But he insisted drinkers had a right to vertical drinking and should not be made to sit down. 'It's part of the free and easy attitude of being in a pub where you can stand and chat to the barman or barmaid or wander over and have a game of darts. It can be a bit confusing sometimes, especially since bars elsewhere in Europe serve you at the table, but the great thing about drinking beer is it is different in different parts of the world,' Mr Loe said. New licensing regulations are not the only threat to the traditional British pub. A recent survey suggested up to 5,000 pubs are expected to close down within the next two years following the steady evaporation of business. Most under threat are in rural areas where declining communities leave fewer locals while tough drink-driving laws mean customers are restricted to those living within walking distance. A gradual trend away from drinking cask-conditioned dark beer in favour of lager and wine has also led to people drinking more at home rather than making regular trips to the local pub. But breweries are working hard to make pubs more appealing and to attract people who would never have considered visiting a spit and sawdust bar in the past. 'Anyone who says pubs aren't what they used to be is absolutely right. If you went back to see the sort of conditions pubs offered even just 20 years ago, you would be appalled,' said Mr Ripley from the Brewer's Association. 'A few years ago if you said you were going to the pub everyone would know exactly what you meant. Now there are different types of pubs for different occasions.' 'You might go to one with your colleagues after work on Friday night and then visit another more disco-style pub with your mates on Saturday night and then go to another for Sunday lunch with your family.' In the past many bars made little attempt to cater for women drinkers and only five per cent of women admitted to frequenting local pubs. But marketing campaigns aimed at women and the more straightforward provision of cleaner toilets has led to a big increase in female customers. Now 35 per cent of women say they regularly visit a pub. The Government has also backed a recent move by breweries to provide smoke-free zones in all pubs with the threat that US-style legislation might follow unless publicans cleaned up their act. Perhaps the biggest improvement in the British local has come in the provision of better food. In the past, the best most menus could offer was a few dried up sandwiches or micro-waved dishes straight from the freezer. But according to the best-selling Good Pub Guide for 1999 recent fashions for pub food have included, Indian, Italian and even Thai dishes. 'In contrast with the case five years ago, the number of pubs offering imaginative and interesting cooking amounts not just to dozens but to hundreds, all over Britain,' it says. A few hundred pubs with decent food may not seem many, but, according to the guide, it amounts to a 'revolution in pub food over the last five years'. But with Christmas celebrations well under way in most pubs many drinkers will be happy just to stay vertical.