Alison Baker looks at new ideas pubs are trying to pull in trade
Buffet-style curry nights
Where: Royal Oak, Poynings, West Sussex
The idea: Keen to boost mid-week trade and introduce different dining concepts, head chef David Wharton launched a series of curry nights.
How it works: The Royal Oak hosts a handful of curry nights right through the winter from October to March, offering a selection of buffet-style curries for £10 per head.
Customers are served in one sitting: curried soup, such as spinach and green lentil, is brought to the table, and diners can visit the buffet as often as they want to.
Dishes on offer vary each time. A selection at a recent event included tiger prawn and crab madras, chicken tikka masala, lamb vindaloo and baby corn.
Side dishes include steamed basmati rice, onion bhajis, pakoras, garlic naan, aloo gobi,
poppadums, onion salads,
and a range of pickles
How it is promoted:
The Royal Oak's curry nights are advertised in the pub's printed and online newsletters.
Events are usually fully booked within days, providing 60 guaranteed covers on a weekday night.
"We have plenty of trade from Friday to Sunday, so we decided to hold the evenings during the week, when we would normally average about 35 covers a night during the quieter winter months," David explains.
Top tip: If hosts can offer an interesting selection of dishes, at a good price, this type of night will sell itself. Running a promotion on Indian beers at the same time will also help to drive wet sales.
Where: The Coventry Arms, Corfe Mullen, Dorset
The idea: With an already-prosperous dining club that offers members regular wine-tastings and talks by local and national wine merchants, the Coventry Arms decided to branch out by offering customers the opportunity to buy wines to take away and enjoy at home. Priding itself on using produce almost entirely sourced from Dorset, the idea developed to include locally-made preserves, chutneys and pâtés.
How it works: The pub's entire wine list is available to take away. However, owners John Hugo and David Armstrong-Reed
were also keen to promote the niche-wine end of the market. Displayed in a separate wine cabinet, the pub offers an ever-changing range of high-ticket, unusual wines, unavailable at the local supermarket. Aimed at customers interested in wine, a clipboard describes what's on offer, providing background information about wines in stock.
"Often customers try a particular wine in the pub or at one of our tastings, enjoy it and purchase another bottle to take home," says David.
A range of 12 to 15 local preserves and chutneys, some of which are used on the pub's menu, are also available to buy and are particularly popular with tourists. "It's about flying the flag for Dorset - with the exception of olive oil, everything on our menu comes from within a 60-mile radius."
How it is promoted: The wines and produce are displayed in the pub. "It's a great way to reinforce what we are trying to achieve at the Coventry Arms and suggests the standards we expect from the foods and wines we serve," David explains.
Top tip: Stick to quality, niche products.
Where: The Hand & Spear, Weybridge, Surrey
The idea: Having been bought by Young's last year and undergone a £1.2m refurbishment, the pub re-opened in February with a brand new menu, boasting a key feature:
the make-your-own deli-board. The boards are available for an individual or to share.
How it works: Customers can choose from a minimum of three items to create their own platter. Items on offer include mozzarella, tomato and basil, a selection of cured meats, marinated olives, hummus, char-grilled marinated vegetables, char-grilled chicken skewers, smoked salmon, marinated anchovies and taramasalata. As the items are individually priced at £1.60 a go, customers are able to choose as many items as they want or double the quantities if they are ordering a sharing platter. Served on wooden boards, the make-your-own deli comes with a selection of crusty breads, balsamic vinegar and olive oil. "The deli-boards are proving a big hit," explains pub supervisor Kate Toomey. "Lots of places serve mezze or sharing platters and, whilst they are popular, they often include something the customer would rather not order. This way, the customers are able to create their own selection."
Top tip: Set a minimum number of items and price them individually to allow the customer to choose as many alternatives as they like.
World War II themed event
Where: The Poplars, Wingfield, Trowbridge, Wiltshire
The idea: Wadworth licensee Bernie Camish began hosting theme days at the Poplars six years ago. Inspired by the BBC period sitcom Goodnight Sweetheart,
he enlisted the help of a local
re-enactment group to stage the event on the pub's cricket pitch.
How it works: For one day a year, the Poplars becomes a living World War II museum. Between 15 and 20 wartime vehicles, including a tank, are brought along by local enthusiasts, while staff and customers dress in the garb of the era - from 1940s civilian clothes to World War II soldiers' uniforms. The crowds are entertained by a Glen Miller band dressed in American air-force uniforms, and can enjoy the tunes of the day whilst browsing the wartime memorabilia on display.
Business benefit: The event is incredibly popular with wartime enthusiasts and the pub's regulars. Whilst Bernie does not charge for the event, profits are boosted by food and drink sales. A barbecue runs from
12 noon while the 80-cover restaurant operates as normal. Bars are open inside and out, and the summer weather encourages many customers to stay on well into the evening, enjoying the food and music.
"At the first event, with the support of Wadworths brewery, we sold IPA
for two hours at 1940s prices.
As you can imagine, it was a big hit," explains Bernie.
Top tip: "Do your research to make sure that the event is as authentic as possible and be as creative as possible. It doesn't have to be World War II - the same formula would work with any theme. We're thinking of doing Cowboys and Indians in the future with plenty of line-dancing."