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Hot weather brings a big profit boost for pubs with gardens. Here, we looks at ways of getting to grips with the great outdoors.Nature is a wild...

Hot weather brings a big profit boost for pubs with gardens. Here, we looks at ways of getting to grips with the great outdoors.

Nature is a wild beast. Taming it is arduous work, and it could take you away from the VAT returns, or even serving customers at the bar.

So is it worth the time and trouble doing something with the garden?

Summer is advancing - or is it retreating? The British climate makes it so difficult to tell and that alone might discourage publicans from making the initial investment, let alone contemplating the horrific prospect of "garden maintenance".

But it's a safe bet that the sun will shine at some point over the next few months, and, if you have any outdoor space at all, that means there will be valuable opportunities to attract extra business.

A garden should be treated as additional floor space. In those splashes of summer, a pub temporarily expands its capacity. If you don't have a children's certificate but you do have a separate entrance to the garden, you can also attract a whole new family audience.

As a minimum you can provide tables and seating and a clean, safe area. If you don't want the fuss of doing some real gardening there is that wonderful invention, concrete. But unless your customers are really desperate for some fresh air and don't mind eating and drinking in what appears to be a prison exercise yard, you may have to put a bit more effort in if you are going to effectively compete for business.

Recognising that its tenants need to maximise every asset to be successful, pubco Pubmaster makes use of rigorous marketing techniques, including demographics and sales information, to help licensees understand the needs of their customers and target their offer. The garden is often an important element in the mix.

"During the summer months, licensees need to tailor their services to reduce migration of customers to other leisure activities," Pubmaster operations director Tony Wilkinson pointed out.

"Initiatives may take the form of offering extras like 'summer food', taking part in competitions and promotions or making the most of outdoor space.

"It is especially important in the summer that licensees retain and attract new customers. Licensees should consider how to use the additional floor space of a garden in an innovative manner.

"The garden is often an underestimated amenity. It can be used to extend a pub's offering and, with appropriate investment, an asset that can differentiate the pub against its competition."

As well as providing regional managers who can talk to individual licensees about how they might tackle this challenge, Pubmaster, in common with other pub groups, runs an annual "In Bloom" competition among its licensees. As well as rewarding tenants for innovation this is also aimed at giving pubs an incentive to maintain the garden.

Anyone can be inspired by Groundforce on the telly to throw down some decking and plant a herbaceous border, but the trouble with nature is that it won't stop still. It just keeps growing and dying. You might create a beautiful display, but it's not going to stay that way without a fair amount of work.

If there is a set of green fingers in the house you may be able to pass the entire responsibility for the horticultural side of things onto a member of staff. If you are Publican Freehouse of the Year, the Pickwick Inn, Cornwall, you might employ a gardener full time (see Pick of the bunchfor more details on the Pickwick Inn).

For most, though, it is a case of do-it-yourself or paying for a maintenance contract with a specialist company which will call round at regular interviews to keep everything looking pretty, weeding, watering and making sure, if the garden is visible in winter, that you have an all-year-round show of colour.

One Pubmaster house, the White Horse at Capel St Mary in Suffolk, has come up with an ingenious solution of its own - make the customers do the work!

Licensees Jane and Ralph Davis simply invited their regulars to adopt one the pub's 17 hanging baskets and charged them with designing, planting and maintaining an arrangement.

Once the baskets were in full bloom, a local landscape gardening company judged the entries and named a winner.

According to Jane, the benefits have come through building a community feeling at the Pubmaster tenancy, as well as saving the couple some hard work.

"It was difficult to devote time to maintaining the baskets and by engaging the village in some friendly competition we have helped to create a sense of pride in the pub among the community," she said.

As well as providing an attractive environment, you can expand the food side of your business by having a barbecue. This has become an increasingly popular idea among publicans as the population as a whole has taken to cooking and eating outdoors.

The trend has been given something of a boost by the growth of gas-fuelled barbecues. Calor Gas reckons there are no less that 1.3 million gas barbecues out there.

Their big advantage, especially to the busy publican, is that they are quicker, cleaner and more controllable.

If you can forgo the romance and aroma of charcoal, you can avoid having to be in the garden hours before the kick-off, dodging the showers, to get some heat going - and then spend the rest of the afternoon dousing the flames.

But surely the food doesn't taste the same? According to Calor and gas barbecue manufacturers like Cinders, there should be no difference.

The flavour comes not from the burning coals, they argue, but from the meat juices dripping onto the hot surface and vapourising. So there!

One way or another, it seems that life in the garden is being made easier for pubs. And with - at last - a good summer forecast, this could be your chance to seize the potential of the great outdoors.

More Summer Garden articles:

Pimm's - that quintessential summer drink

Wise investment can make your garden pay

Related topics Property law

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