The festive season offers a great opportunity for pubs to attract new customers
This December around £2bn will be jingling through pub tills - and that's just for alcoholic drinks. Every licensee can expect to share in this Christmas bonus. But what many don't always appreciate is that festive sales count for more than just the cash take. The seasonal pub-goer is someone special.
Christmas is a time when a lot of people who don't normally use the pub will venture through the saloon door, cajoled by friends and family. This is your big chance to give them an experience they will enjoy and maybe want to repeat.
It is also an opportunity to impress pub-goers you don't often see, and win their loyalty.
As for your regulars, they will be getting into the Christmas spirit by spending more and daring to try something different. So make sure you give them the opportunity.
To achieve all this, your pub needs to be operating at its best. You need to sharpen up on your stocking policy and smarten up your service. It may be a holiday for your customers, but it certainly isn't for you.
"In many ways, Christmas is a make or break time for licensees," said Phil Marshall, marketing manager at Woodward Food Service. "It is not a time to get something wrong and leave a bad impression. You have to go at it 100 per cent."
The rewards for getting it right are great, especially if you can actively sell, says Phil. "People are in a good mood and if you ask them whether they want another drink they will find it difficult to say no," he said. "That's often a missed opportunity in pubs. I'm often surprised how much you have to ask for something. Customers don't mind. It's part of the service, it broadens the experience."
With beer set to account for 62 per cent of on-trade alcoholic drink sales, brewers are particularly keen that licensees make the most of it.
"We are urging our customers not to take beer for granted because those who concentrate on quality, availability and brand display are most likely to win the day," said John Holberry, Coors' sales managing director for the on-trade.
"Christmas will bring its usual boom in business but licensees who simply sit back and wait for the extra trade to arrive risk losing out. It is vital they make the right preparations to ensure their business is in shape to take advantage of the opportunities the festive season brings."
Coors' research reveals a marked change in the drinking habits of the public in the lead up to Christmas and over the holiday period itself with 73 per cent of consumers making at least one pub visit in December.
The average Christmas drinker is younger with a slight female bias and she is also a more upmarket consumer.
Office parties account for 12 per cent of pub outings and there is an average spend of £15 per person per visit on food and drink with 75 per cent of occasions featuring friends and family.
Sociable get-togethers take a higher share of drinking occasions with three in 10 festive gatherings involving groups of four men or more and 18 per cent involving four or more women.
Interbrew UK recommends that licensees focus on these key drinks occasions, eating out and big night out. Allan Tudor, on-trade sales director said: "Targeting the drinking occasion is particularly important at Christmas because of the celebratory nature of the season.
"For many families, this is the one time of year they are together so they tend to go out to mark the occasion, particularly between Christmas and New Year, and these occasions tend to be linked with eating out.
"Beer particularly suits this casual eating out occasion."
Seasonal gatherings will include inexperienced pub-goers, and their presence should influence your stocking policy.
They will, for instance, look for brand names they are familiar with. That is especially true for wine drinkers who may have a poor view of pub wine and be reassured when they see a brand they know from supermarket shelves.
Pernod Ricard, which markets Jacob's Creek in the UK, is expecting heightened demand for the brand which is using its sponsorship of TV comedy series Friends to keep the name is front-of-mind among pub-goers.
"Licensees should stock well-supported brands," said marketing director Mark Davis. "The combination of push from brand owners and pull from consumers is what guarantees success at Christmas.
"There will be more people in the pubs and many of them will be looking for brands they are reassured by."
Pubs can also use the festive opportunity to educate their customers and broaden the range of ways in which they consume different products - especially spirits. Pernod Ricard will, for instance, be encouraging different mixers with Martell cognac and Jameson Irish whiskey.
"Licensees and their staff need to help people make decisions about what they are going to drink at this busy time of the year," said Mark. "It's a chance to experiment with different kinds of offering even if you are selling traditional products.
"There are people who only drink cognac at Christmas, for instance. This is a chance for them to find other ways of drinking it into the new year and beyond."
In short, Christmas is not just for December but for the months and years ahead. As Phil Marshall put it: "Licensees should see the last six weeks of this year as interviews with their customers for next year. It's an opportunity for them to shine."
The 12 days of Christmas
Coors Brewers has issued 12 challenges for Christmas to ensure its customers capture their share of the on-trade's 25 per cent increase in festive beer sales.
- Focus on quality and service, a bright clear bartop and hotspot areas for top profit-making brands
- Staff levels should ensure a busy trading period does not leave customers queuing at the bar. Christmas falls on a Wednesday this year which means, effectively, there are three weekends. Invest extra time in training your staff to provide good customer service
- Consumers expect to see leading brands on your bar so focus your marketing behind these
- Point-of-purchase material is a powerful influence in determining customer choice
- Use pitchers to improve serving efficiency and increase the value of each transaction across the bar
- Market certain beers with certain foods - lager and curry is an obvious combination
- Display your most profitable lines and give premium space to those which provide the highest rate of sale
- Cellar standards, hygiene, branded glassware, staff training and point-of-sale items are all-important
- Six in 10 consumers believe that extra cold brands give a better quality pint
- Branded glassware gives a quality look to beer and presents a more professional image
- Use try-before-you-buy. Casual visitors who come into your pub may not know what to drink
- Consumers will want the brands they see on TV. Stock them and merchandise and display to the maximum.
- £2bn will be spent across the bar on alcoholic drinks this Christmas
- Beer sales alone are expected to be up by 25 per cent
- 73 per cent of people will visit a pub at least once during December
- They will spend an average of £15 per visit on food and drink
- Office parties will account for 12 per cent of pub outings
Back To Basics
Christmas is a time when people go back to basics - and above all that means drink and turkey!
According to a survey by distiller G&J Greenall, "traditional family values" are still the backbone of a modern Christmas. As a nation we may be eating more TV dinners, living away from our families and choosing the internet and television as our main source of entertainment - but as soon as the tinsel starts to glitter the true spirit of C