Customer insight: Staying for another?

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Jane Howarth investigates the all-important difference between that first and second drink.First impressions count. Second impressions last. When...

Jane Howarth investigates the all-important difference between that first and second drink.

First impressions count. Second impressions last. When customers walk into your pub the chances are that they will stay to order a drink. But how do you make sure they'll remain?

Customers are fickle. It can take a great deal of time to develop a bond of loyalty between a customer and an establishment, and no less effort. In the meantime, a new customer can - and will - walk out at a moment's notice. So pub operators go to great lengths to ensure that a new customer stays for a second drink or orders some food.

Meal deals, promotional prices, loyalty schemes - these are just some of the methods where visitors are encouraged to stay and order more. But do we fully understand how a customer thinks and behaves when they first enter a pub?

Our Drink Tank research programme has started to unlock some of the secrets.

Round 0ne: the first drink

In the last 10 feet of their journey to the bar, taking in promotional messages seems to be the last thing on a new customer's mind. Finding the bar, getting the barstaff's attention and even attracting the opposite sex all have priority over digesting point-of-sale messages.

Once contact has been made with barstaff, the back-bar and fonts are scanned for ideas. But very quickly, under pressure from busy barstaff, customers will revert to their "default" drink. This is the tried and tested "safe" choice that is usually available everywhere. As one respondent put it in our research: "It's usually Stella and then whatever I see on tap".

Don't forget the influence of friends and family. For mums and dads with kids, the default choice almost always kicks in. And for those buying in rounds, the stress of remembering everyone else's order helps push the pressure up even further.

The need to stay in control, or at least maintain the appearance of control, is important to customers. In these situations the simplest choice wins. "You don't want to feel like a plonker", as one customer told us.

The opportunities here must be based around impact. Clear displays set in an uncluttered back-bar help aid decision-making, so reduce the number of products you are trying to display or promote and focus on your best opportunities to best appeal to your target audience. Product packaging and glassware are especially important here.

Staff training and staff incentives can also play a big part. Barstaff should be ready to recommend new brands and flavour variants - the more a bar specialises, the more customers are happy to ask for advice - as well as being aware of and involved in current promotional activity.

The point to remember is that the first drink is not a good time to communicate complex promotions. The customer isn't in the right frame of mind to give proper consideration to offers such as meal deals or collector cards.

Round two: the second drink

By the time customers are ready to order another they are more relaxed and ready to consider options outside their "default" standard drink. This is the opportunity for them to focus on a more premium product with tables and eye level positions around tables offering the most important areas for communication. Food visits are less likely to be alcohol-led occasions, particularly if it's mum, dad and the kids.

In these circumstances the thought of yet another fizzy soft drink can be the trigger that prompts them to go home. So make soft drinks interesting - vary your range, position drinks as a tempting treat or an alternative. Otherwise you face the possibility of watching your customers leave earlier than intended.

The second drink is your best opportunity to link drinks to meal solutions. Food and drink offers that add value for customers and make choice easier will both encourage their interest and speed up service for you. Table talkers work well here, where there is time to communicate more complex messages as customers relax, take in their surroundings and consider their meal.

Getting it right

  • Create clear back-bar displays with impact, eliminating any unnecessary clutter
  • Make sure staff are aware of current promotional activity
  • Promote meal deals, premium drinks and more complex promotions on and around table areas
  • Make soft drinks interesting to entice non-drinkers to stay for longer.

Jane Howarth is head of sales and promotion at promotions agency The Poulter Group, based in Leeds. The company's Drink Tank programme draws on two years of research into consumer behaviour including customer focus groups, in-outlet observation and interviews with bar managers and staff.

Related topics Marketing

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