One of the things this pandemic has done to the hospitality industry is exacerbate the same challenges that many publicans have faced for many years; how to drive more (and new) footfall and increase incremental spend in their pubs. 

It could be said that pubs are one of the more traditional outlets on the typical high street. With many operating within a parameter that has been set for a century or more. But lockdowns have driven huge change. Some consumer trends have been accelerated beyond recognition and others left in the dust. For many, it will be these changes and additional opportunities that allow the industry not just to survive but thrive.

Here are our predictions for where we will see venues change over the next 5 years and what will be the legacies of lockdown… (As featured in Inapub magazine.)

Bringing it home

Delivery will continue to boom. Many publicans will launch separate brands to sustain a whole new revenue stream. Some will set up separate kitchens to cope with demand. This will move to a new stage of food delivery. We’ll move beyond simple ‘feed me now’ cooked meals to an increasing number of credible catering options eg Friday night meal kits, summer BBQ catering platters etc. Pubs will realise that they can reach a demographically and geographically wider customer base by going straight into their customer’s home and not just waiting for them to visit venues.

10am is the new 10pm

Pubs will focus on maximising footfall during off-peak times, and flatten the traditional peaks throughout the day, to keep a steady and safe stream of customers. Yummy Pubs, for example, advertised that “10am is the new 10pm”- pushing breakfast and brunch throughout the week. They’ve recruited a new chef specifically for breakfast, the music is different, the FOH team has been re-trained on hot drinks, they’ve added new cocktails & mocktails and a bottomless brunch and, surprise surprise, footfall has grown.

Non-alcoholic occasions will boom

1-in-4 visits to pubs do not involve alcohol– yet more than 20% of these customers will default straight to tap water. With the long-term decline in alcohol consumption and the growth in daytime visits, pubs are going to have to realise that these customers (they’re not necessarily tee-total, just not drinking alcohol on that occasion) need the same quality of choice and experience as those drinking alcohol, and publicans need the margins! The range and quality of low and no drinks, premium adult soft drinks and hot drinks will improve ten-fold. A lime and soda or a glass of tap water won’t cut it for either side!

Digital by default

The pandemic has meant that even your Grandma has now downloaded an app and is ordering online! A credible online presence is must for all pubs. Consumers are hyper-connected, especially to their phones- they communicate on them, work on them, research on them, order dinner and coffee on them. If you don’t have an app or, god-forbid, a decent website then you don’t exist! Technology plays an increasing role in improving customer experience in venues too. For example, 42% of customers say that having the option of mobile phone order and pay has become more important to them according to our research with Zonal.

Pub desks

Although many publicans are rightly concerned about a fall in ‘workers’ visiting for lunch or post-work drinks, many consumers are looking for a flexible or remote place to work for a few hours during the day. Some publicans are already jumping on this opportunity with “pub desks, offering remote workers a table by a plug socket, wi-fi, a sandwich and unlimited tea and coffee for £10. This means hot drinks will need to be a leading category, with unquestionable quality in order to compete with local coffee shops for ‘remote worker spend’. Read our recent blog here.

Subscription models

A few operators have trialed pay £30 a month for unlimited coffees but we expect this concept to develop and grow. Generation Z is leading the way with subscriptions- they are used to paying a monthly fee for their movies, gym classes, ground coffee delivery, even toilet roll delivery! There will be growing opportunities to build loyalty schemes or subscription models for the savviest of publicans.

Making use of dead space

Why pay rent on a space you’re not using? Pubs will make more use of ‘dead space’ to either drive footfall or create new income streams. Examples of this I’ve recently seen range from hiring out private rooms for local groups, wine tasting sessions, sub-letting space in the car park for a weekly fish and chip van or artisan coffee trailer, through to renting a chair to a local barber and a Saturday evening oyster shucking stand. Maximising the use of ‘dead space’ will draw more customers to the site as well as bringing in extra money.

Robots running your kitchen

Ok so maybe this is a bit far-fetched but without a doubt, we will see robotics and artificial intelligence take a more prominent role in the running of successful pubs and most people won’t even know it’s there! This isn’t about robots taking human jobs, this is about embracing efficiency and cost savings and allowing humans to do what they do best, not the boring admin bits! Publicans will need to overcome their fear of technology or risk getting left behind.

It’s time to take the great British pub to the next level. Yes, there is obviously still room (and huge demand) for the traditional boozer but that doesn’t mean they can turn their back on innovation and change. There’s nothing like a global pandemic to shake things up a bit…!

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