Giving your pub a presence on the internet can attract new customers. EMMA WADDINGHAM gets tips from licensees who've conquered the information super highway
The internet has become one of the world's most powerful communication tools, providing immediate access to information on business and leisure. Websites are the most approachable way to provide that information and publicans are realising the business potential of promoting pubs in cyber space.
"In this day and age, every business should have an online presence. There's really no reason why anyone wouldn't want to let people know where they are and what they do," says owner of Online 1st web design, Jon Broberg. One of his clients, the Holly Bush Inn in Salt, was a regional winner in the Morning Advertiser's Best Pub Awards 2005 in the pub website category. Geoff Holland, landlord of the Staffordshire pub insists websites are invaluable for rural places. "A country pub existing on destination customers has to be proactive about letting people know it's there. A professionally designed website puts you on a level playing field with the big guys," he says.
60% of pubs don't have a wedsite
A consumer survey run by online suppliers Barbox found that while the majority of browsers are searching for contact details, more than 35% of respondents use pub websites to check ale or beer listings, maps and features such as whether a pub is non-smoking. "All people really want is to find somewhere for a decent pint," says Barbox marketing and contacts manager Rebecca Lynn. Barbox figures also show 60% of pubs asked don't have a website because they couldn't see the point. Lynn argues publicans need to catch up with the website revolution if they are to stay ahead of the competition, adding: "The winners are pubs getting maximum exposure." It seems most establishments are not afraid of technology as more than 40,000 pubs are currently registered with the online directory www.pubs247.co.uk.
The site acts as a search engine for people looking for a pub by location or set criteria (eg, cask ales). It also provides a link for pubs eager to get their website seen. Effective photography, menus and event information can turn random surfing into potential custom. Pubs with rooms to fill could also benefit by adding an online booking system.
Owner of Portbello Gold in Notting Hill Mike Bell says: "We receive all our bookings online, saving us time while providing extra trade from foreign visitors."
Licensees who are making the move into cyber space say the key to creating a good website is capturing your pub's atmosphere. "People use websites to check the pub's right for them. With so much competition, it's essential to work out exactly what impression you are trying to give and what you are trying to promote," says Bell.
Rick Webb, who designed a site for London pub the Farm www.thefarmfulham.co.uk, which was a regional winner for best website in the MA Best Pub Awards 2005, also argues that websites are a powerful communication tool: "Unlike posters they can grow with your business. As you grow more confident online, so will your website." Bell agrees: "To know people always have access to the pub is a comfort factor. I always feel uneasy to hear the server's gone down."
Keeping the layout simple helps to keep people interested, as Broberg says: "It's important to put across your own look and the character of the place that's what will make somebody want to visit you, not just stop anywhere."
There are plenty of DIY packages
Expanding your website slowly allows you to start small, adding pages slowly as your business develops. "Start with a homepage listing location, contact details, photos and a brief description, adding pages from there," advises Webb. However, the thought of organising domain names, web space and even designing pages can seem daunting. Lynn thinks these concerns are overstated, explaining there are plenty of DIY packages for the less confident. "Software today means you can design a website like a magazine as it automatically formats the pages for online use."
Products such as Microsoft FrontPage cost about £75 and come with free demonstrations allowing you to see how well you can do on your own. "Most people find they get to grips with the design in 15 minutes," enthuses Lynn.
Busy licensees or technophobes can always leave the design of their website to the professionals. Web designers will design and update your pages, leaving you free to serve the extra trade. Broberg outlines a guide price of around £1,300 for a "simple but informative site" but maintains investing in a custom-made site is worth it. Pubs with extra facilities to promote stand to gain more from an online presence. "They have to present so much more information and venues can be competitive, so standards have to be high," concludes Broberg.
Finally, Tom Zsigo, who won the website category in the MA Best Pub Awards 2005 for the Lion Inn, Monmouthshire, reminds licensees to advertise their site to customers. "Put your web address on stickers, cards and till receipts inviting customers to check out the site. Then they can pick up news and loyalty vouchers, keeping them interested but mainly keeping them spending money in your bar."