Lots of pubs in England are developing weird and wacky ways to attract new customers once the smoking ban hits.
Whether it be slot car racing, outside water-proof fruit machine cabinets or smoking cessation clinics, pubcos, licensees and suppliers have been squeezing their creative juices dry.
Of course some of these will be temporary measures, but one recently re-furbished Shropshire pub is counting on a more permanent measure to pull in the punters.
A world away
The Folly in Bridgnorth re-opened last month following a major £300,000 overhaul.
After standing derelict for eight months the pub is now an all-singing, all-dancing destination dining venue… with a twist. Four specialist eating areas have been developed, each with a different European theme.
The Parisian sector has strong red shades, large crystal chandeliers, gold mirrors and French curtains; the Orangery conservatory is a mix of blue and gold tones with orange plants growing up the walls; the bistro is designed around a black and white theme with Victorian lanterns and candles, and the Mediterranean quarter contains Roman statues and Grecian maps on the walls.
Stan Gardner and his wife Marcia, tenants at the Marston's-owned pub, are clearly delighted by the changes. But what prompted the idea?
"It came to us a few years back," says Stan. "Just from going on holiday and experiencing lots of different types of restaurants.
"We wanted to create somewhere that people wouldn't just come for a quick bite, but instead offer an experience that people will come back to time and time again and enjoy something different each time.
"They seem to be spending time here on occasions, like romantic nights out."
And how have customers reacted so far to the changes? "It's been unbelievable," explains Stan. "We've already had people coming with their video cameras to film the interior."
Making the best of the ban
Having been in the trade for 20 years, Stan, who has also given up a cigar habit since re-opening the pub, has seen a lot of changes in the industry. Though he recognises there will be some losers with the smoking ban for those that don't adapt, he is confident many pubs can benefit - especially his own.
"People are used to going outside to smoke now and when people are eating it's accepted that you can't smoke. With more emphasis on food, I can see pubs benefiting from the changes. We have already noticed it's a more pleasant environment," Stan says.
The outside offer
But outside the Folly is also focused on pleasing its customers. The pub's landscaped gardens are available for hire for private functions, such as birthdays and weddings, with Stan and Marcia already having taken their first wedding booking.
"The views from the gardens are absolutely breathtaking so we decided to offer this area for hire," says Marcia.
"We have had a really positive reaction from our customers and have got our first marquee wedding booked in for July."
So all appears to be rosy in the garden at the Folly for Stan and Marcia - so much so that Stan recommends other licensees take the plunge.
"I think other pubs should try going early, even if it's just one day a week it's worth getting your customers used to the idea," he says.