Trade is tough,
but the internet can help. Noli Dinkovski looks at how beerintheevening.com is changing to assist pubs
Type your pub's name into any online search engine and there's a good chance of being directed to an entry on consumer review site
Set up in 2001, the web portal has established itself as the leading pub directory site in the UK, laying claim to 1.1 million visitors every month. These visitors search for pubs, add comments and suggestions and generate pub-crawls for other users to try.
Having always been of great use as a quick and handy resource for pubgoers, now the website is turning its attention to helping the licensee. Last month, beerintheevening.com was acquired by a new owner. Neransk is a website development firm that specialises in social networking sites, and now it plans to bring its expertise to a redesigned site that will include some handy additions.
Managing director Chris Hughes' main strategy is not to tamper with the winning formula - for £89.99 per year, licensees will still be able to add essential details about their pubs, including location, facilities, contact numbers and pictures. But for the same fee he hopes to give licensees more, and first up is the introduction of online booking.
"Online booking is a big feature that we plan to launch in November," says Hughes. "Customers will be able to book everything from tables to function rooms, and we won't charge a per-booking fee as some websites do."
The online booking feature will work in two ways: pubs will have the option of having a link to their own websites, if they already have their own online booking. Alternatively, bookings will be taken by beerintheevening.com and the site will generate an email alert to the licensee to confirm that a booking has been made.
"From December we're also planning to offer an SMS service, which alerts the licensee by text message to say they've received a booking," says Hughes.
"It makes sense because they won't be sitting at their computers all the time. We will only charge for the cost of the text message - it's not something we plan to profit from."
Online booking is being tested in about 15 pubs, says Hughes. "We're also trialling the possibility of having a phone-booking hotline. That might have to be a chargeable service, but if pubs want it we'll consider it."
The website currently receives about 500 emails a week from people asking for help with function-room bookings - a "massive untapped market" in Hughes' eyes.
"People tell us they need a room for say, 80 people on a Friday night, and ask if we can help," he says. "As much as we'd like to, we don't have time to call various pubs and ask them if they can take it on. That wouldn't help customer satisfaction either - we want them to speak directly to the pubs."
Once the online booking facility is in place, users will be able to search for the best match, based on criteria they give. Hughes says that in the run-up to Christmas, several useful guides will be added to the site, providing advice on how to get the best out of Christmas parties. Pubs will have the opportunity to feature if they wish.
The website already has a strong position
because of the sheer volume of traffic that beerintheevening.com receives.
The site will soon receive an ABC (Audit Bureau Circulation) certificate to get an official handle on the figures, but Hughes says the site has approximately 72 pub searches every minute, with the most popular pubs receiving more than 10,000 page views every month.
"The site has won consecutive Hitwise awards, which recognise the top 10 websites across different industries. We are repeatedly ranked as number one in the entertainment category, so the success of the site is clear," says Hughes.
A major challenge in the coming months is to increase the number of pub listings from 31,000 towards a target figure of 58,000 - close to all of pubs in the UK. The site is currently requesting up-to-date pub details from all the pubcos and asking independent pubs to update their information.
"It's completely free to have a pub listed," says Hughes. "And even without paying, those licensees will be able to see how much activity their page is getting in terms of the numbers of comments and ratings left by visitors."
With such a large number of consumers actively using beerintheevening.com, its package is certainly tempting. "As much as we want to generate money from the site, we also want to be fair and give licensees good value for money," says Hughes. "I think that for £90 we give them just that, especially when you consider all the visits they will get."
l If you would like to update your pub
details on the site, call 01242 253498
Smarterpubs: an affordable alternative
Cost no longer needs to be a barrier
to having a well-designed website.
Noli Dinkovski finds out what you can get for your money
A clear, user-friendly and easy-to-navigate website can be a tremendous tool for licensees who want their pubs to become a greater presence in their local communities, whether they just want to provide a simple price list for drinks, or something more in-depth, such as a local "what's on" guide.
Unfortunately, costs mean some pubs have to resort to having stripped-down, basic websites that often hinder rather than help the process of getting their message across.
But one entrepreneur hopes to offer another option to pubs on a shoestring budget. Steve Neale is the owner of Smarterpubs, a website development firm with a vision - to enable every
pub to have a decent, affordable website that looks good and, more importantly, works.
"The pub sector is so incredibly badly serviced by web developers," says Neale.
"From poor quality to over-priced products, the web has not worked for pubs the way it has for other businesses."
Smarterpubs wants to change this with a choice of three packages. For as little as £350 the basic bronze package allows pubs to receive one hour's design time, where a home-page with a front banner and supporting graphics will be built. It's up to the licensee to look after any other pages they wish to add, but they won't be left to figure it out on their own, as a further hour of technical support is available if needed.
Most popular is the silver package,
priced at £600, including three hours' design time.
For this fee, Smarterpubs will manage a number of pages for you, including food and drink, online menus, entertainment and a what's-on page.
At £3,500, the gold package involves building a design specific to the user's needs. It is aimed at pubcos with more than 30 outlets, as once the design is in place it can be replicated across the estate.
From a previous incarnation, Neale has experience of the pub trade, laying claim to having introduced karaoke to Nottingham when he set up Club Karaoke in the early 1990s.
When popularity for the singing craze had passed its peak, Neale decided to return to IT, his first profession.
Nottingham venue Southbank Bar was Neale's first website assignment five years ago. "It was the prototype design for what I offer now," he says. "It received a great response and really opened my eyes to just how keen people were to be kept informed by their local."
It was only 18 months ago that Neale decided to turn his ideas into a business. "So far I've designed websites for 20 pubs - it's still a project very much in its infancy but I'm letting it grow organically and by word of mouth,"
he says. "I'm in discussion with a couple of pubcos - one of 60 pubs or so and another of about a dozen."
Part of small pubco Great Northern Inns, the Southbank wanted to link its events diary to other pub websites in the group, so that on any one site it is possible to see what's happening in all the other pubs. It's just one example of how Neale is trying to advance the service he offers pubs, something he hopes to progress continuously.||