Opportunity knocks?

Related tags Pub Pubs Smoking ban Soft drink Soft drinks

How many smokers do you have in your pub? You've probably got a rough idea. How many customers have walked past your pub because they have been put...

How many smokers do you have in your pub? You've probably got a rough idea.

How many customers have walked past your pub because they have been put off of coming in by the smoke?

That's the figure that's a bit harder to put your finger on - and for pubs and pub companies preparing for this year's smoking bans, it's the great unknown.

The big winners in the pub trade in the months and years to come will be those who can keep hold of their smoking customers through an innovative approach, while attracting more of the latter by catering for the emerging new trends.

Exclusive research carried out for The Publican and Britvic suggests the way forward - and suggests the scale of the opportunity that exists out there for the pubs which plan ahead.

A whole new world

Almost 1,000 consumers throughout England and Wales were interviewed for the research, conducted by ICM Research earlier this month - with their responses throwing up some genuine reasons for optimism for all corners of the licensed trade.

For example:

* 29 per cent of those who currently visit pubs only once a month or less don't visit more often because they find the atmosphere too smoky

* A third (33 per cent) of non-smokers say they expect to visit pubs more often after the ban

* 27 per cent of women say they are likely to go more often

* 36 per cent of non-smokers say they will spend more time in pubs when they go - although 44 per cent of smokers say they will spend less time.

Andrew Richards, sales director, Britvic: "While there is still a big job ahead for the industry in preparing for the ban, the opportunities this will create once in place are clearly evident. With one in three people claiming they don't visit pubs regularly due to the smoky atmosphere, a clean and smoke-free environment will bring many new and lapsed customers through the door."

The raw statistics will give even landlocked pubs with no possibility for an outdoor smoking area some encouragement that new customers could help them make up for smoking customers who may go elsewhere.

Get them in - and keep them in

So more customers might want to come to the pub - the question is what they might want to do when they get in there.

The most obvious way for pubs to appeal to the hearts and minds of new customers is through food - where they can - and families. According to the research, food is the area of the pub most likely to receive increased spend following the ban, with 21 per cent of consumers expecting to spend more money on the category.

Hand in hand with this four out of 10 parents say they are more likely to take their children to the pub after the ban - and it is most likely they will want to eat when they get there.

In total more than one in three (37 per cent) people are more likely to eat in pubs following the ban, while just 8 per cent say they are less likely to.

Bar and restaurant meals are the meals that people must expect to eat more of in pubs - as opposed to sandwiches and lighter snacks - and research suggests wine and soft drinks are the drinks consumers are most likely to have alongside them.

Time then to start smartening up these category areas now.

Andrew Richards comments: "Many regular customers will be spending more time in pubs and spending more money on food in pubs. A natural result of this is that certain aspects of the pub offering will benefit.

"Soft drinks will play an even bigger role in meeting customers' needs with consumers claiming they are most likely to choose a soft drink - alongside wine - to accompany a meal. Soft drinks will also continue to be important for family visits, which are set to increase post the ban."

As well as their outside areas, then, publicans should start ensuring their key selling categories are at the top of their game now.

"Licensees should not only start talking to their customers now about the ban, but they must start reviewing their food and drink portfolio to ensure they can maximise on the profit opportunity the ban will create," says Richards.

Hold on to those smokers

And when it comes to holding on to the existing customers, the research also points the way forward.

Pubs and pubcos across the country have been busy preparing for the ban by upgrading outside areas, where they can, in recent months - and they are right to do so, according to the research.

More than three quarters (77 per cent) of smokers say a quality smoking area outside will keep them coming to the pub under the ban.

And moreover pubs shouldn't be too concerned that non-smoking customers will be put off by people smoking outside the pub, with more than half (58 per cent) of the public saying they wouldn't be deterred by the sight.

Only a small proportion of smokers say other additions to the pub - such as better entertainment (12 per cent), give-up smoking sessions (11 per cent) and a better drinks range (2 per cent) - will keep them coming.

The pubs which can't are going to have to think very carefully about the new things they can offer inside the pub to entice the non-smokers currently walking past the pub, inside the door.

But the pubs which can upgrade their outdoor facilities, while also attracting new customers, may get the best of both worlds. Time will tell.

Threat or opportunity?

Andy Brooks, licensee of the Laughing Fish in Isfield in East Sussex

"I am totally for the ban - not so much for the health aspect, it's about the smell on your clothes as much as anything else.

"For our style of food-led, rural pub, I'm sure it will work. But I wouldn't want to be a landlocked boozer.

"We are currently patioing an area outside our pub. It's an existing licensed drinking area and we are adding one four metre squared umbrella with heating and lighting to it.

"A third of smokers we have asked in the pub say they are going to stop coming when the ban comes in. But I don't believe it! It'll be interesting to see how it works. For me, the smoking ban is a very clear opportunity - I'm just glad that the government didn't go ahead with the nonsense of banning it in pubs serving food."

Pauline Town of the Station Hotel in Ashton-under-Lyne in Greater Manchester was rather less optimistic.

"We don't currently do food but we do have a beer garden. In Ashton-under-Lyne there are 19 landlocked pubs and they are going to suffer.

"I'm head of the local Pubwatch but I simply can't get any information at the moment - and that makes it difficult to prepare. The lack of information, even for the local authorities, is terrible. If you get a big company behind you, you are OK, but for us it's a problem.

"For me it's an opportunity, but we'll see how much of an opportunity."

Our research was commissioned, in partnership, by Britvic Soft Drinks and The Publican

The research was carried out by ICM Research among 925 consumers from Friday February 2 to Monday February 5.

Check back to www.thepublican.com for more of the research

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