More business building advice from BII roadshows

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"It is not necessarily the strongest pubs that will survive, but the ones that are most adaptable to change."BII chief executive John McNamara may...

"It is not necessarily the strongest pubs that will survive, but the ones that are most adaptable to change."

BII chief executive John McNamara may have had some help from Charles Darwin with his address at a recent roadshow - but the sentiment was as relevant for the licensed trade as it was for those who travelled on the Beagle.

The twin themes of change and evolution have been high on the agenda at the series of Better Business Roadshows organised by the BII in association with The Publican​, this spring.

Following the launch event in Cardiff, the wagons rolled into Brighton and London's Wembley Stadium in April.

The events are designed to help licensees get the most out of their pubs - and the advice on offer couldn't be more timely, with the trade having to reassess its offer in order to pull in customers in the face of increasing competition and punitive regulation from government.

Members of the Publican​ team were present at the Cardiff, Brighton and Wembley Roadshows to see a host of speakers offer their pearls of wisdom.

Soft drinks

Highlights have included an address from Paul Linthwaite, business unit director of on-premise at soft drinks giant Britvic - who has been urging pubs to make more of the category.

Overall soft drink sales are up significantly at a time when beer sales are falling, and pubs need to get their range right for each occasion to encourage customers to spend more, said Paul. "I reckon nine out of 10 pub businesses I visit could do with changing their range of soft drinks," he declared. "A lot of licensees get stuck with the same old things in their fridge - they need to have a serious look at their range and make sure it is right for their pub."

Paul advised that different ranges would suit different styles of operation at different times, and suggested licensees could make some quick, easy wins. For example:

• Food-led pubs can benefit from a good range of still drinks rather than just cola and lemonade on tap

• A good range of soft drinks, well marketed, can soften the image of a 'boozer' and encourage new customers

• Offer a second bottle of soft drink at half price - customers stay longer and come back more often if they think they are getting a good deal, plus others in the group will probably have a second drink as well, which means more cash in the till.

Easy wins - and mistakes - with food

While food has been heralded as the saviour of the post-smoking-ban pub world, it does not necessarily mean white tablecloths and silver service.

Booker has carried out extensive research looking at the easy wins that pubs can make with food, and also exploring the areas where mistakes can be made.

Simon Codell, catering development controller for the West for cash and carry operator Booker, advised licensees to keep it simple, and target food correctly to their customer base.

The key opportunities that came out of Booker's research were:

• The growth in eating outside the home generally

• The potential for a more café-style culture post-licensing reform

• The increase in wine sales

• More adventurous consumers

• Longer licensing allowing more eating out occasions, for example breakfast

• Summer 2008 - sure to be an improvement on 2007!

• New consumers in smoke-free outlets, including families and older customers

• Local provenance.

For pubs to capitalise on these opportunities, Simon advised they get closer to their customers.

He then suggested pubs adjust their offer accordingly, whether that be by offering Gordon Ramsay-style dishes for the destination diner, simply adding a basic breakfast menu or coffee range, doing takeaway paninis for lunchtime customers or offering hotdogs in the evening.

One small adjustment could make all the difference. "Coffee is one of the most profitable of these," says Simon. "Wetherspoon's, for example, is now the biggest retailer of coffee in the UK!"

Andrew Coath, award-winning licensee

Former BII Licensee of the Year Andrew Coath, of the Black Horse and Swan pubs in Bedfordshire, told the audience how he had worked with Peach Pub Company to open the two pubs.

Describing how each had been transformed from an ailing local into a more profitable, stylish, food-led pub, Andrew offered a masterclass in how others can do the same.

He believes that food can be the saviour for many. "Food is the future of pubs and pubs are the future for food," he said.Andrew's tips included:

• Identifying a market: Andrew used demographics website to work out his. Find out what they want and at what times of the week, and tailor your offering accordingly. Make friends by networking and identify partners to work with.

• Food: Don't be overambitious and "let your menu write cheques your kitchen can't cash". Instead, concentrate on simple, quality dishes and promote your ingredients' seasonality, your local sourcing policies. Always have a point of difference.

• Beyond food: Premiumise your drinks offering by removing standard brands and stocking more upmarket brands that can be sold at a premium. Also think about seasonality, for example offering mulled wine in the winter.

• Regularly check out the competition: Andrew often takes his team out to other food-led pubs to pick up tips.

• Service: Staff training is of key importance to ensuring customers feel welcome and spend money with you. For example, have a policy of being the first and last to speak, always welcoming customers and saying goodbye as they leave. Andrew has also found that nodding your head while asking a customer whether they want to make an additional order makes them psychologically more likely to say yes!

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