New year resolutions and the long wait for pay day can turn January into a very slow month for the pub trade - but why not resolve to do something about it? John Porter offers some advice.
Whoever came up with the daft idea of new year's resolutions had clearly never run a pub. Anyone giving up alcohol, overeating, and/or cigarettes is almost certain to plan to spend less time in their local. You may know full well that by the beginning of February they're going to be perched back at the bar enjoying their customary pint, pie and slim panatella, but in the meantime you've got a living to make.
Quiet trading in January isn't even just down to customers' attempts at a healthier lifestyle. Most people get paid before Christmas, and once the last cracker has been pulled and the final turkey sandwich eaten, the next payday at the end of January suddenly seems a very long way off.
So, in simple terms, in order to improve business in the new year, you need to convince customers that:
- a visit to the pub isn't necessarily unhealthy, and
- it can also be good value for money.
Helping with resolutions
Firstly, let's have a look at how you can help your regulars out with their new year's resolutions. If the pub becomes a focus for their efforts rather than a temptation to be avoided, you've won half the battle.
- Alcohol: Most of us need to give our livers a bit of a rest during January, but "alcohol-free" doesn't have to mean "dry". Pubs offer a bigger choice of soft drinks than ever before, and it's one of the fastest-growing sectors in the on-trade. Highlight the range of soft drinks you offer - not simply cola and lemonade, but drinks which are seen as having a "healthy" image, such as mineral water and juice-based drinks. To promote an alcohol-free January in your pub - for those that want it - develop a range of non-alcoholic cocktails using fresh or packaged fruit juices. You may even be pleasantly surprised at the high margins on these drinks. It's winter, so hot drinks such as tea, coffee and hot chocolate can also be popular.
- Overeating: Most pub menus now have a range of healthy options - why not draw attention to them on blackboards. Promote chicken, fish and vegetarian dishes as "Happy and Healthy New Year" specials, and make sure your customers know which are the low-fat, low-calorie choices. Offer fresh fruit salads as an alternative to stodgy puddings. Advertise your menu along appropriate lines in the local press: "Staying healthy doesn't mean staying in."
- Smoking: This is the big one. Anybody trying to give up cigarettes is not going to want to spend their time in a smoky atmosphere. So now's the time to make sure your pub complies with the trade's voluntary charter on smoking (see box, right). If you have customers giving up smoking, form an informal support group. Misery loves company, and people are more likely to succeed in giving up if they can have a moan with people in a similar position.
- Exercise: If you can't beat them, join them. Everyone overindulges over the festive season, and so you are probably as much in need of a bit of exercise as anyone else. A lot of people spend money on expensive gym memberships in January which don't get used for the rest of the year. Offer them a cheaper alternative - maybe there's an aerobics or fitness instructor in the area who would organise exercise classes in your pub at a quiet time.
- Charity events: Feeling better about yourself is a big part of new year's resolutions, so why not use all of the above to raise funds for charity. A sponsored walk or slim will give customers something to aim for, and you could encourage them to donate some of the money they're not spending on alcohol and cigarettes.
Value for money
In many ways, the drop in trade in January seems so much greater because December is such a busy month. You should be able to encourage some of those extra customers to come back by promoting money-saving offers during the festive season.
Give customers booked in for Christmas meals coupons to be redeemed in January - a free bottle of wine with a meal for two, two main courses for the price of one, or a free dessert with every main course all offer attractive value for money to anyone trying to save the pennies after Christmas, while generating extra trade for you. Make sure the vouchers are dated so they can only be used during January. You could even issue Christmas guests with a book of 12 vouchers, one offer a month for all of 2002.
By mid-January many customers will be looking for a good value night out to cheer themselves up. Make a feature of any drinks promotions on offer from suppliers, or devise one yourself - a "four pints for the price of three" January Sale, for example.
Another approach is to try an event you haven't run before. January may be the perfect time to find out how much demand there is for quiz night, or whether your regulars would be interested in an organised outing or theatre trip.
And remember, you're not the only publican struggling to keep the tills busy at this time of year. A little friendly rivalry can do wonders for trade - why not challenge another local pub to a two-leg pool or darts tournament.
With a home and away fixture, both pubs are guaranteed at least one busy night.
To help your customers achieve a smoke-free new year, you need to make sure you comply with the trade's voluntary charter on smoking.
The voluntary Charter on smoking in pubs recommends:
- the use of signage to inform customers of smoking policy
- licensees make a written note of the outlet's smoking policy
- licensees train staff to answer customer queries on smoking policy
- licensees use no-smoking areas and ventilation to improve the atmosphere in their outlets where possible.
The charter is not legally binding, but the government wants 50 per cent of pubs in the UK to be charter compliant by 2002 - a new year's resolution for the entire pub trade, in a way.
You first have to decide which category your pub falls into:
- Smoking allowed throughout
- No smoking throughout
- Separate areas
- Ventilated premises with separate areas
- Ventilated premises with smoking allowed throughout.
If the outlet falls into one of the first three categories then the licensee should simply make a note of the policy, inform staff of this and ensure customers are aware of it by placing signs outside and inside the premises.
Licensees with ventilated premises should contact the Atmosphere Improves Results (AIR) initiative on 020 7482 0620 for more information.
If your pub is either smoking throughout or has separate smoking and no-smoking areas signage can be ordered from AIR on 020 7482 0620 or downloaded from the AIR website at www.airinitiative.com