Early bird offer

Related tags Coffee Breakfast

Amid all the hoo-hah about the Licensing Act, which came into force almost a year ago, it was inevitable that the prospect of pubs opening later...

Amid all the hoo-hah about the Licensing Act, which came into force almost a year ago, it was inevitable that the prospect of pubs opening later caught the attention of the media.

While the predicted late-night carnage has failed to materialise, there is a bit of a revolution going on at the other end of the day.

Pub group JD Wetherspoon set a precedent in many licensing areas by applying for earlier opening, and from coffee and croissants to a full English fry-up, many pubs have already seized the opportunity to move into the breakfast market.

But given that this is virgin territory for most licensees, we sought out an expert to talk us through the possibilities. Although two-thirds of his customers are pubs, Ron Hickey, director of catering at cash & carry group Booker, is no stranger to the breakfast business of small hotels, B&Bs and cafés. These businesses are a good starting point for a licensee looking to launch a breakfast menu, says Ron.

Reasearch the offer

"Carry out research with existing customers and in the local area to find out what other establishments are offering," he suggests. "Publicans should then try and look for a point of difference to make their offer unique."

Offering more than a traditional cooked breakfast will appeal to more consumers. The menu needs to be tailored to the local market. In a high street location with high traffic, for example, pubs may want to appeal to shoppers who want brunch and good quality coffee.

In a location with passing office trade, takeaway coffees and bacon sandwiches may appeal. "Most pubs have either two separate areas, with a bar and a lounge, or are big enough to have a separate take-away area for orders," says Ron.

If a pub does decide to offer takeaway, speed and efficiency of service is even more important than at lunch-time - be ready to deal with a short, sharp burst of demand.

"But having a quiet pint in a busy takeaway may not appeal to existing customers. This could be resolved by having a cut-off time of 10.30am for breakfast orders.

"It may be another option to change the menu on weekdays and weekends," says Ron. "If the pub is showing a football match then consumers may come in for breakfast before the match starts. Lighter bites may work better during the week, with cooked breakfasts more popular at the weekend."

Existing customer base

Although one aim will be to pick up new trade, pubs should play to their strengths by using the existing customer base to promote a new breakfast menu. "Current customers are likely to give you the most honest feedback too."

Consider launching the offer with promotions such as a free hot drink with every breakfast. This incentivises customers to try the new offer at what will feel like an odd time of day to be popping into the local.

And can town centre pubs take on the likes of Starbucks and Costa? "Offering a value-for-money coffee menu, as well as lighter bite options such as muffins, croissants and cake, should appeal," believes Ron.

By offering coffee with a premium element such as fair trade sourcing, pubs can build a strong proposition. The entry costs, including the cost of installing a coffee machine, can seem high, but need to be weighed against the return on coffee, a high margin category.

"Fresh fruit, yoghurts and cereals will also help broaden the appeal to consumers," advises Ron. "Customers like to select their own fruit to make into a smoothie, while an effective display of healthy products such as cereal bars, yoghurts, fruit and cereal portion boxes is easy to do and shows consumers you are serious about breakfast."

Booker has products, such as coffee beans, and equipment to help, daily fresh fruit, breads and morning goods and, of course, bacon, sausages, dairy and eggs. Its catering development managers can visit to help develop and implement a breakfast menu.

"The publican does not have to invest heavily in breakfasts to try it out," says Ron. "We can offer them excellent quality products at competitive prices to make a breakfast proposition a success."

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