Something old, something new for the pub sector
The rush to herald the next big thing or latest technology innovation means we often overlook the more established and traditional aspects of what makes a good pub business. Ahead of the PUB19 show in February, we conducted a consumer survey in partnership with Fever-Tree to look in greater detail at what today’s pub goers want and expect their pub to deliver.
The findings highlight the contradiction currently at play in the market. For every person surveyed who called for table ordering, there was equally another that enjoyed their pub visit without the intrusion of technology. Such is the fine line that today’s operators have to walk.
Indeed, it is no surprise that, when it comes to food, pubs need to cater for all tastes. When consumers were asked the question of what pub grub should feature, about a fifth plumbed for traditional fare (roast dinners, pies, fish and chips, etc), against one in six who said it should be modern and varied (for example, tapas, sushi etc).
However, it was the next three significant responses that highlighted how consumers have become more educated (and demanding) in what they expect from pub operators. ‘Locally sourced’ produce was the top answer (22%), closely followed by the demand that food should cater to ‘everyone’(for example vegetarian and vegan) and be seasonal (15%).
In recent years we’ve seen major managed operators, such as Young’s and Fuller’s, investing significantly over the last decade to make sure their menus match these touchpoints. Up and coming regional players, such as the likes of the Seafood Pub Company, are also tapping into local suppliers and highlighting the provenance of their offer.
Traditional, for the moment at least, is also the expectation of consumers when it comes to picking what pubs they visit and what entertainment they crave when there. When asked what factors are most important to them when visiting a pub, ‘atmosphere’ came out on top by some distance, followed by a decent outdoor space, interior design and good background music. Although sporting events can be a sales driver, only 5% of those questioned felt it was important to their visit; the same percentage felt the same about happy hours, with both ranking behind live music as a draw.
A lot has been said recently about the rise of the experiential segment of the market, although some would argue that the pub has always been the forerunner and greatest exponent of this ‘new’ trend. When asking consumers which games and experiences they are most likely take part in when visiting a pub, more established activities such as darts, pool and the humble pub quiz remained popular.
‘Tastings’ proved a popular response, something that many leading pub groups and independents have brought to their offers and which are proven to be a key way of driving sales in the traditionally slower parts of the trading week. For example, Brewhouse & Kitchen has tapped in this trend with its ‘Experience Days’, where customers can brew and then taste their own beer. Not only is it a great way to drive different revenue but also build lasting loyalty.
At the same time, operators such as Arc Inspirations have evolved traditional pub games by adding a modern twist. The fast-growing bar business recently invested £1.4m in a new Leeds site for its Box brand that majors on creating memorable customer experiences. The site includes two full-size Maplewood European shuffleboard tables as well as an electronic dart board area.
Underpinning these results were signs that the traditional games and experience mix may be changing. Mini golf, interactive theatre, escape rooms and even VR experiences all got mentions. All of the above are now being incorporated by operators to provide a point of difference and offer a communal and competitive experience, key touchpoints for the next generation of pub goers.
We are seeing operators such as Laine Pub Company providing virtual reality rooms in some of its pubs; whilst Bermondsey Pub Company, part of Ei Group’s directly managed house business, launched its first interactive escape room, in partnership with Handmade Mysteries.
And the reasons that people still go to the pub to try all these experiences, both old and new? The three most significant answers were to ‘socialise, eat and drink’. These remain the key pillars that drive pub visiting occasions, but a closer look under the bonnet shows that the sector is becoming far more nuanced in terms of what people expect to find when they arrive.