The breakfast club

Related tags Breakfast Full breakfast Jd wetherspoon

The new era of licensing means pubs are branching out into all kinds of out-of-hours activities. Catherine Quinn discovers the licensees getting up...

The new era of licensing means pubs are branching out into all kinds of

out-of-hours activities. Catherine Quinn discovers the licensees getting up early to serve a full English

A lot of licensees aren't morning people. All those late-closes don't lend themselves to being up with the lark. But the change in licensing hours is allowing pubs a lot more creativity in what they do with their bar. After all, if you've got a licensed

catering kitchen in a prime location, why not make the most of it?

JD Wetherspoon has already realised there's a market for breakfast customers, with their list of early-morning specials. So could this be a lucrative side-line for other pubs as well?

"It depends on the pub and on the location, but there is a gap in the breakfast and brunch market, and the traditional hangover-cure time just before midday," says Keith Lang, director of catering consultant Orchard Green Group. "In many ways breakfasts are an easier thing to market because you're probably aiming at your existing customer base, so a lot of the marketing can be done in-house. But as with anything you need to do your market research and do it well to find out if there's a demand."

The Wetherspoon's approach

One breakfast purveyor that can certainly be credited with having done its market research well is pub giant JD Wetherspoon, which never undertakes a venture without extensive prior investigation. The chain was understandably reticent about giving away the finer details of its research on the breakfast market. But it's reasonable to infer from Wetherspoon's decision to roll out breakfasts nationwide, that there is a significant market for morning meals.

"Wetherspoon's have been doing breakfasts for a long time and they're very popular," says a spokesperson for the chain. "When the licensing laws changed, a lot of pubs took the decision to open later, but we decided to open earlier at 9am. It's proved a very successful move."

It certainly has, and Wetherspoon's has managed to capitalise on the market for

customers looking for a greasy-spoon option in more familiar surroundings. A full English is offered at £1.99, which is enough to entice a number of customers away from their usual café. What's more, as coffee chains such as Starbucks and Costa introduce smoking bans, Wetherspoon's has made its venues early morning havens for those who like a cigarette with their morning coffee - at least for the next

few months.

Early morning cuppa

But not all pubs can offer breakfasts at

Wetherspoon's prices. So what else can a

licensee do to tempt people through the doors of a pub before lunchtime? Quality coffee is an important start, and licensees without a working espresso machine should think

seriously about plumbing one in.

"Most of the early-morning customers want tea or coffee rather than alcoholic drinks with their breakfast," says pub tenant Julie O'Malley of the Warren at New Romney in Kent. "And we've actually found that mid-week tends to be busier than the weekends." The Warren is fortunate enough to be on the main road into New Romney, and has proved popular with local workman who have arrived in force for major building works in the town. So what items tend to be the most popular on the menu? "We do everything from tea and toast to a full English, but it's the full breakfast that tends to sell the most," says O'Malley.

The bigger picture

As with all new ventures, however, identifying demand is essential before taking the decision to offer breakfasts. For pubs benefiting from plenty of through trade, and a central location, branching out might well help mitigate their higher rents. After all, it makes sense that if you're paying a premium to occupy prime retail space you should capitalise on every hour possible.

For tenants like O'Malley, however, it's about more than extra money. "Breakfasts don't have the same margins as drinks, so you're not making as much money from them," she says. "It's about getting people into the pub so they can see what else we have to offer. People might come in for breakfast and notice our specials board, or realise it's a nice pub for a few drinks later. It's about selling yourself.

"I think that with the smoking ban coming up pub owners have to diversify and try to make the best of what they've got. Even if only two people come in for breakfast, that's two

people who wouldn't have come in otherwise."

Serving breakfasts - do the stats stack up?

Licensees in quieter spots should think hard about the costs versus the benefits of offering breakfasts.

"A lot of it depends on the location," says consultant Keith Lang. "I would only advise opening for breakfast if you're surrounded by offices or if you get a lot of through trade. Breakfast is far more of an impulse meal than lunch or dinner. So while people might plan to meet for their midday or evening meal in your pub, they're unlikely to plan to meet for breakfast."

Lang also recommends taking a careful look at

the likely returns of such a venture, considering

that breakfasts usually command a lower price than other meals.

"If you're selling breakfasts at between £3 or £4 then you're competing with greasy spoons," says Lang. "Hotels do more expensive breakfasts so you probably want to aim for somewhere in between this. But if you're getting in just 20 people for breakfast every morning you have to ask yourself, is it worth the heartache and the hassle for what might only be an extra £300 a week?"

greasy-spoon option

Many pubs have found that gut-buster style greasy-spoon menus are popular with early-morning customers.

Punch Taverns owned pub, the Railway in Ramsbottom, Lancashire, offers three options: a standard English breakfast, the larger "Jumbo" and the ultimate "Mega" breakfast.

"The Mega includes two eggs, four rashers of bacon and two sausages, as well as free tea, coffee, or orange juice," says tenant Thurston Sargent. "The Jumbo is the most popular choice, although quite a few customers have a go at the Mega if they're feeling particularly ravenous in the morning."

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