All-day trading

How pubs are changing to widen their appeal

New market: online booking portal MeetingsInn is encouraging pubs to tap into the lucrative meetings market (credit: Jacoblund/Thinkstock.co.uk)

With consumers turning away in droves from traditional pub offers at traditional times, it is little wonder that the UK’s pub closure rate still stands at around 21 casualties a week. For some pubs the remedy is to open up under-used space for daytime use and make themselves accessible to all.

As consumers become more demanding about what they expect from a pub, and are turning their backs on traditional mealtimes and offers, pubs need to up their game to keep pace.

Research conducted by Allegra World Coffee Portal says the coffee market is expected to reach a turnover of £16.5m by 2020, with non-specialist operators such as pubs helping to drive the pace.

More than 3.6m cups of coffee are sold in pubs every week but operators should remember consumers are becoming more ethically minded and often see a certification as an indication of quality, according to independent coffee roaster company Matthew Algie’s head of marketing Andrew Jack.

Hot drinks are a crucial part of the offering for pubs, particularly when the weather takes a turn for the worse. Central London bar the Phoenix Artist Club has capitalised on this after seeing a significant rise in trade since offering free hot drinks alongside free and fast Wi-Fi to the capital’s professionals during the day.

Its ‘Hub at the Club’ initiative features fully independent fibre optic connections, four routers and mobile phone signal boosters to improve signal quality in a bid to attract workers.

It also offers unlimited free hot drinks and free access to its Wi-Fi from 10am until 5pm on weekdays to its customers, largely drawn from the creative and artistic communities.

Managing director Ken Wright says he is stunned by the success of the scheme and as a result of the initiative, sales of premium products, lunches, dinners and private space hire have soared, even though customers haven’t take unfair advantage of the free services on offer.

He urges the trade to “adopt and adapt” and says: “Pubs and clubs need to fight back against bland chain coffee shops,” and claims the mobile technology revolution can bring about a genuine resurgence in a venue’s aspirations to be a vital community hub.

“It is the community that has changed and the industry needs to keep up with the times.”

Aside from technology, operators should look outside the box when it comes to changing up their offers for different audiences.

Star Pubs & Bars managing director Lawson Mountstevens says all-day trading works if operators have the demand for it, plus a flexible space and facilities and staff to deliver it.

However, he warns that it is not the solution for all pubs and urges licensees to look at the competition in the area, to take note of how offers can be improved to make them better than competitors.

He adds: “Look at your business plan to see the impact increased overheads such as extra staff costs would make to your bottom line.”

The pubco provides a workshop for licensees to attend in a bid to help them with running their businesses prior to taking over a pub.

The Innside Knowledge workshop is a five-day residential programme where attendees learn how making changes to their offer impacts their business plan.

Mountstevens advises: “Review your space. If you have got areas that aren’t needed during the day, can they be made more flexible and screened off for new uses at quieter times of day?

“These semi-private spaces appeal to a wide range of customer groups and can be used for everything from functions and business meetings to community group get-togethers and coffee mornings or play areas.”

The pub group boss also gives tips on how to pair daytime food and drink to enhance a pub’s offer.

He says: “Excellent coffee is essential for an all-day offer and should be accompanied by tea and snacks such as pastries and sandwiches to attract the coffee morning market and groups wanting a meeting place.”

A meeting place

Using the pub as a meeting place is an area that operators should be more aware of, says online booking portal MeetingsInn, which has been set up in response to the number of pubs closing daily in the UK.

The business identifies a large proportion of pubs and inns which have the potential to tap into the lucrative meetings market by utilising underused space within their venues.

The company’s management team each have more than 25 years of expertise in the brewing and events industry, and managing director Andrew Winterburn explains that the concept was born when “one of the directors was in a pub one day and saw all these rooms not being utilised. There were all these nice meeting rooms in pubs that weren’t being utilised in the daytime at all.”

MeetingsInn firmly believes the niche in the market is a great opportunity for pubs to tap into the corporate world, benefiting profits and the businesses who books the room. Winterburn adds: “Consumers are bored with going to hotels all the time and experiencing a sterile environment, whereas pubs have a different atmosphere and ambience.

“The majority of meetings that take place are small, with about 25 to 30 attendees. In most pubs, their meeting space accommodates that need.

“More than 100m people attend 1.28m meetings a year. The spend of that is measured at being in the region of £21bn, and 70% to 80% of that spend comes from meetings classed as small. It’s a massive opportunity for pubs and inns to look at filling their space during the day.

“The concept has really engaged with Millennials in particular. People are going into sharing environments, are working from home and need meeting points to get together.”

Real opportunity for pubs

Winterburn continues: “If you have a team of people who are spread across Yorkshire, where do you go to meet? A lot of people may say a coffee shop because of the Wi-Fi and location, but from a pub perspective the answer is drop-in meetings.

“It is a real opportunity for pubs of the right quality and with the right facilities to tap into. Some pubs are providing a meeting solution in their local markets, but for some it isn’t being widely communicated and there’s a lack of confidence in certain sectors of quality assurance in what they are booking.

“For pubs that are seasonal or weekend outlets, it offers a chance to maximise quieter times and maximise their space for a full 12 months. The demand is there. Pubs need to increase their revenue streams and hosting meetings is a great opportunity.”

Venues wanting to be meeting places must go through rigorous quality standards testing to ensure facilities are up to scratch for corporate meeting bookers.

Winterburn explains: “The pubs are audited and have to meet a certain standard before they can go on the website. We have an online portal where bookers can source pubs for availability in different locations.”

The Elephant Pub & Bake-house in Liver-pool ensures that its space is effectively maximised by catering for everyone through targeted events. The Flying Pig & Lobster group owns the pub and ops director Richard Thompson says: “When we took over the pub in 2014, we wanted somewhere that combined great food, drink, company and atmosphere.”

The pub plays host to a group of women, the ‘Bezzy Buddies’, whose ages range from around 30 up to one lady in her 80s who are catered for with different events, including wine-related evenings.

“We also have a group we call our ‘golden circle’ for whom we organise a two-day trip away, twice a year,” Thompson adds.

“They are strong, community leaders for our pub who are committed to supporting us, so we show our appreciation back with the trips.”

In recognition of the innovative thinking of those running the pub, the Elephant was awarded Star Pubs & Bars’ Best Pub Retailer title specifically for their skill at giving customers new reasons to go to the pub throughout the day.

Ad hoc and spontaneous events such as local cheese supplier tasting sessions or the sampling of new dishes also help the Elephant diversify to attract trade all day.

The pub opens at 9am for breakfast with a large pantry area at its heart, which has a coffee machine and big sharing table to display pastries, freshly cooked in the pub’s onsite bakery.

With its broad range of products – from coffee, ciders and cocktails to breakfast, pizza nights and Sunday lunches – catering for all ages and a varied demographic, the pub claims to be a master at all-day trading.

It is also home to a weekly programme of events designed to attract different customers, from open mic nights to live music, German beer and burgers on a Monday, cocktails on Fridays and Saturdays and a Sunday roast to round off the week.

Tuesdays it plays host to speed quizzes using smartphones and iPads to appeal to a younger crowd, with start times beginning at 9pm in order for the pub to catch the earlier dinner trade.

Thompson concludes by revealing the key to success with all-day trading: “The secret is simple – be genuine about wanting your customer to have a good time, with great products at a competitive price, and make yourself accessible to everyone.”

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