Smokers visit pubs more often, stay longer and spend more per visit on average than non-smokers, so you need to look after them well, says Rachel Barnes.
The pub environment changed three years ago when the ban on smoking in public places came into force — not just in terms of the physical smoke-free interiors, but also the economics of the pub trade.
But the pubs that are proving most resilient are those that prepared ahead of the ban and continue to take pride in the outdoor space they provide to their smoking patrons.
Jon Ross, joint director of pub operator Mothership Group, says that offering a decent area outside for smokers is essential, as a fair proportion of its core drinking market — those aged 20 to 35-years-old — choose to smoke.
"It's not always easy with some sites, due to a lack of outside space and issues with neighbours, but where possible we try to do it with flair," he says.
With its venue the Queen of Hoxton, for example, Mothership was able to get a large roof garden licensed, before decking out the area with the help of local artists. "The juxtaposition of very urban wall murals with softer climbing plants and flowers gives the venue a unique feel and a real edge over other local operations," adds Ross.
In total, Mothership spent £30,000 on facilities to improve the outside area at the Queen of Hoxton, including a covered bar and kitchen, decking, seating, plumbing and electrics — an investment deemed worthwhile in order to create an enticing outdoor environment for smokers and non-smokers alike.
And the numbers appear to stack up. "Adult smokers visit more often, stay longer and spend an average £10 more through the licensed trade than non-smokers," says Imperial Tobacco UK public relations manager Iain Watkins.
He believes that raising awareness of the value of good smoking facilities is essential as, on average, one in three pub-goers are smokers, rising to 45% in Scotland.
It all comes down to the three Cs, says Watkins. "Every licensed outlet is unique with individual circumstances, clientele and budgets. However, there are three fundamental qualities to any successful smoking facility: comfort, cleanliness and compliance with legislation."
Take the time
Taking time to prepare an outdoor area for both smokers and non-smokers pays dividends in the long term, adds JTI head of communications Jeremy Blackburn.
"Licensees should try to create a warm and inviting environment, providing lighting and heating here possible," says Blackburn. "They should also provide ash trays at entrances and exits to keep litter to a minimum, to help maintain a good impression of the venue."
The Orchid Group-owned pub, the Bell in Maidenhead, Berkshire, prepared for the ban well in advance, refurbishing the premises in November 2006 to include a large outdoor covered area for smokers.
Luke Wakeling, who took over management of the pub two years ago, has continued to improve the area, including the addition of a second TV, and plans to rebuild the shelter at the end of the year. The 20ft x 10ft wooden covered structure houses tables, chairs, three electric infrared heaters and lighting.
Thanks to the early development of the smoking area, Wakeling believes the pub gained first-mover advantage. "We stole a march on our competitors, but you have to keep on top of it," he adds. "Cleanliness is essential to keep the areas pleasant and fresh, and we clean several times every day."
The pub was lucky enough to have three unused car parking spaces, which it converted into the valuable extra outdoor trading area.
For sites with minimal outdoor space, Mothership's Ross says that, at the very least, licensees should provide a roped off area and external ashtrays for smokers. "This will usually keep smokers from dominating the thoroughfare, stop them spilling out onto the road, and address local concerns over noise breakout."
Both time investment and money are needed to operate an outdoor area effectively, says Ross. "On busy evenings staff must constantly monitor the outside areas to ensure compliance with health & safety and licence conditions. This can add tens of thousands of pounds to our overall operating costs each year."
However, he believes a quality smoking area is a sound business investment. "It is so important to devote some love and attention to the space, so it feels like it is in the spirit of the rest of the venue," Ross says. "Many people will be dissuaded from coming to a place where smoking is difficult due to the design or layout."
Budget tobacco products buck market trend
While the smoking ban is here to stay, the tobacco market is not standing still. The category might still be in marginal decline — with BAT UK forecasting a 1.5% volume drop for the overall market in 2010 — but wallet-friendly segments are proving particularly buoyant.
The value end of the market, including the more budget cigarette brands and roll-your-own (RYO) tobacco, are going from strength to strength.
RYO sales in the UK topped £1bn in the year to August, up 19% on 2009 (Nielsen). And
BAT estimates that volumes are up 11% compared with 2009, with that expansion set to continue for the next decade at between 3% to 4% a year.
BAT UK head of corporate and regulatory affairs Ronan Barry says that, while the cigarette market has remained relatively stable in recent months, value lines are excelling. "The low-price segment has seen an incredible growth of 50%, while the premium market has seen declines. We believe these current trends for both value-for-money and RYO brands will continue."
Due to the economic downturn, more adult smokers have been moving down through the cigarette sectors and into RYO, adds Imperial Tobacco UK public relations manager Iain Watkins.
The company, which owns the Golden Virginia, Gold Leaf and Drum RYO brands, says that about 50% of the cigarettes purchased are now from the value and economy end, such as its Richmond, Windsor Blue and JPS Silver ranges.
JTI, which owns Amber Leaf, agrees RYO growth will continue for at least the next three years, but it says licensees should not forget about other tobacco products to suit the tastes of all customers.
According to JTI, miniature cigars, such as its Hamlet range, are growing in popularity and now represent 57% of volume cigar sales.
Scandinavian Tobacco launched Café Crème Express last year, a cigar that is smaller than traditional miniatures. It also recently added to the mini range with the launch of Café Crème Silver Filter, which offers a "smoother cigar taste".
"Going outdoors to smoke means being excluded from the social situation, which isn't ideal," says trade marketing and communications manager Alastair Williams. "The main dilemma facing smokers is how to maximise the experience without taking a long time or being segregated. Sales trends show that consumer behaviour has shifted in favour of miniature cigars as they are ideal for pubs and bars where people do not wish to be away from the social arena for long periods."
Stay the right side of the law
Although there are some exceptions, all public places — including workplaces and premises where voluntary work is carried out — must be smoke-free.
Legislation dictates to an extent how your smoking area can look, including that a roofed area must not have more than 50% of the perimeter comprising walls, windows and doors.
There is a raft of other considerations, particularly depending on your proximity to houses and flats, as well as potential bylaws preventing or restricting the hours of drinking outside. Environmental Health is also likely to take an interest in noise disturbance and litter from cigarette butts.
Visit www.airinitiative.com to find out more about how the regulations affect your business.
It is a criminal offence not to comply with the smoking ban and it could cost your business thousands of pounds.
• Failure to prevent smoking i