Hack & Spade licensees Anne and Alastair Dowson-Park are ready for a Christmas that could provide a valuable boost as they look to sell their pub and move on to pastures new.
Recently, a fresh burst of door-to-door leafleting has raised the profile of Sell More, Save More's rural representative in its local area. A number of midweek food deals, including a pie-and-a-pint offer and a curry night, have proved a decent lure for customers, according to Anne.
Now, the category champions are advising the pub on how to make the most of Christmas and use it as a platform to get repeat custom in the new year. Business development champion Carl May of Catered4 sees Christmas as a time to ensure customers are impressed enough to return in January and February - that notoriously quiet time for the pub trade.
"In December, a time when you have the majority of your customers coming in, you need to think about getting people back in January and February," he advises. "At this time, a rural pub needs to really consider its marketing ideas and get them across to their customers.
"The Hack & Spade could be running 'Christmas Part Two' nights in the new year for people who can't get out at the festive period, such as firemen and nurses - or discounted wines for tables of four. Or Anne and Alastair could give out vouchers at Christmas functions for 10 per cent off if customers come back in the new year.
"All this may hit profitability, but you are generating turnover."
When it comes to food, Brakes is also advising that the time to be planning for Christmas should be long over by now - and the focus should be on how to grow trade beyond.
"With Christmas just round the corner, it's time to think about 2008," says Anne Mulcahy, channel marketing manager for our food champion.
The start of the year is always slow, and for a seasonally oriented pub such as the Hack & Spade this can be even more of a challenge, Anne explains. She says: "The first quarter of the year has a lot of calendar events that can be associated with food, such as Burn's Night, Pancake Day, and Valentine's Day, to mention just a few.
"Also, use the January slowdown as an opportunity to serve easy-to-cook winter warmers, which will save you money while still pleasing your customers with consistent quality and minimum effort.
"Pre-prepared meals are easy as there is no waste and minimum skills required, so they can be very cost-effective for publicans at a time when keeping cost down is essential.
"Irish stews, casseroles, curries and chillies should all be the order of the day."
Snacks champion Sun Valley has drawn up the following analysis of the Hack & Spade in order to provide recommendations for its snacks range, and the snacks offering of other rural pubs.
• The customer base - country pubs attract mixed audiences, from the high-end gastropub clientele to walkers, and those in between. Surprisingly, despite the mixed customer base, the requirements for these groups are much the same: comfort, variety and quality.• Strengths - quality in a destination pub can generate word-of-mouth, growing custom
• Weaknesses - trade is often dependent on passers-by, rather than an established audience
The champion therefore recommends the following:
• The snacks - the range and nature of the clientele opens up opportunities for a quite diverse snacks offering. In addition to the core range of traditional products such as nuts and crisps, the mixed customer base will also be looking for healthy and premium snacks.• Merchandising - people will expect snacks but if they don't see them, they won't ask. Clip strips and backing cards offer great levels of visibility as well as convenience for the barstaff. Displaying snacks in a prominent position at the front of the bar also works well for country pubs, which often have larger bar areas and can display food in this manner without feeling cluttered. Think of your bar like a window dressing for food and beverages.
The Sell More, Save More category champions have had plenty of advice to offer this month on how the Hack & Spade can improve its drinks offer at this time of year.
InBev emphasises that it is important for rural pubs to vary the beer range to reflect fluctuating seasonal demand.
Chris Bull, the company's head of on-trade category development, says: "In the winter, rural pubs need to reduce their rotation of cask ale because of lower consumer demand.
"If pubs experience reduced draught throughputs during the winter months, they can bolster the consumer offering through the use of packaged brands.
"If food is a large proportion of your turnover in the winter months, consider pairing beer with food to maximise revenue. Speciality beer matches extremely well with food because of the nature of the product characteristics."
Chris says retailers can build the food and beer relationship through ensuring beer brands are featured on the food menus. "This also provides an opportunity to educate consumers on any new additions to the range or local brands that are featured," he adds.
Tim Foster, Pernod Ricard category development director, offers his pearls of wisdom for the Hack & Spade and other rural pubs approaching the end of the year:
• Visibility - "In the off-trade, wine is the largest alcohol category with still wine accounting for 34 per cent of alcohol sales. However, in the on-trade, wine frequently accounts for a much lower proportion of sales. This is often due to wine having poor visibility in the outlet. Effective use of display bottles behind the bar, blackboards and table tent cards can go a long way towards increasing visibility, as can ensuring white and rosé wines are given prominence in back-bar chillers."• Pricing - "Ensure you offer a range of wines across price points. Consider how you calculate profit margins. If you use a straight percentage gross profit calculation, the more premium wines on your list can become too pricey. Instead, use a blended margin calculation that adds a percentage gross profit (say, 50 per cent) plus a standard cash mark-up on top (say, £3). This will give a smooth increase in both profit and retail price as you move up your wine list and prevents your most expensive wines from being overpriced."