Every time I drive past the two pubs in my village and see them closed for most of the week, I feel a bit desolate. They are both paying rent and rates even when they are closed so could they sweat their assets more effectively and become more profitable as a result? It’s not easy I know. It all takes time, effort, thought and commitment. Pubs now, though, have a unique opportunity to be a more valuable part of the lives of those who live and work close to them.
With everything going on, many national operators and chains are focused inwards considering a range of major issues. How can they pass on food price inflation and still deliver value? How can they recruit and retain staff? How do they get rid of toxic leases? How can they continue to provide a return to their investors?
Local pubs, while experiencing some of the same pressures, have perhaps more space to look outwards, to think less about themselves and more about their customers. I think they have a real opportunity now to win market share back from some of the casual dining and managed pub multi-site operators.
Everyone seems to be obsessed with how they market their brand to millennials but they are not the only target market out there for pubs. And I think it’s rather a major generalisation to assume that every millennial behaves in the same way (but that’s an issue for another column). They have to be multi-generational.
Many pubs will have “home alone” potential customers living nearby who crave companionship. Pubs could be a real catalyst for this – breakfast, tea and cakes, quizzes, cinema clubs, television and tea, early suppers, book clubs – the list is endless. It’s sharing of another kind versus the selfies and Instagram alternatives.
They can provide space (and refreshment) for local community groups to meet (and even start them up themselves). They could be sports groups, fitness/yoga sessions, NCT meetings, mother and toddler catch-ups, Rotary or Lions meetings or even University of the Third Age-type learning and/or training sessions. A quick brainstorm with the team and/or customers will throw up many more. Some pubs I know have board game nights, Lego evenings, bridge lessons, computer skills sessions as well as the usual darts/pool/quiz nights. They will try all sorts of ideas to encourage their own community around them to use their pub and its facilities.
Local businesses can become more involved in their local pub if it can provide meeting space, a screen, food and drink. In a world where more and more people are working from home, the pub could provide a real centre for collaboration and sharing.
I have run a number of focus groups with women to talk about pubs and they generally like the flexibility of pubs versus the more formulaic approach of restaurants. They can sit on their own more comfortably, they don’t have to wait for a bill, the menu is often more flexible and a pub can feel more friendly and welcoming than the “wait here to be seated” sign suggests in restaurants. It still amazes me that I don’t see pubs running Strictly Come Dancing prosecco and canape nights on Saturday or Sunday evenings – women would love that (well, I would). Its easy for a pub to get a group of local women together and ask them what would encourage them to come to the pub more often.
Of course, there are many other target markets other than “home alone”, community groups, local businesses and women for pubs to attract and of course Pub is the Hub has encouraged pubs to think like this for ages. Now is the time to really ramp this up and make a difference to all generations in a community.