St Patrick's Day is a huge event for many British pubs, but there's a real opportunity to make an extended weekend of it this year. Michelle Perrett reveals all.
St Patrick's Day on 17 March has become one of the most successful events of the year for pubs and bars, as it attracts around one million extra customers and brings in an estimated extra £2.5m into the trade.
While the day itself has massive business potential for licensees, this year it is also set to be a bumper week. St Patrick's Day is on a Thursday, traditionally the start of the weekend for many. This will be followed a couple of days later, on Saturday 19 March, when Ireland take on England in Dublin in the Six Nations rugby tournament.
"There is a double spike with St Patrick's Day and the weekend rugby," says Guinness marketing manager Paul Cornell. "We are really excited about the potential for St Patrick's Day this year and will focus on getting guys out with their mates to have a chat over a Guinness."
The event is a crucial part of the Guinness promotional calendar, with close to 18,000 pubs taking part. Guinness will support the event, with around 16,000 PoS kits being sent to pubs. During the week Diageo Guinness sales are 1.5 times higher than a normal week and this is reflected in the amount it spends on promoting the day. This year the brand is upping its advertising spend in March to £1.5m and will be supporting the day with national press advertising as well as "cost effective" digital marketing.
This year Guinness is focusing on helping individual licensees prepare, with 150 Guinness area reps offering assistance and advice. In the past the company has focused on the big managed operators and high-volume outlets.
"We encourage licensees to run an event on St Patrick's Day, but continue it into the weekend. The call to action is that people share a smile on the day," Cornell says.
But let's not forget, while Guinness is a big driver in many pubs, there are other brands that also support the event.
WKD is usually a big supporter of the event and licensees wait in anticipation to see what will be this year's variation on the shamrock hat.
The Pernod-Ricard owned Jameson Irish Whiskey is also getting on board, launching a new marketing campaign, True Irish Spirit, for the event. The activity will be supported with branded PoS kits sent to nearly 3,000 outlets, an in-bar sampling campaign and a True Irish Spirit cocktail competition.
The kits, which include posters, chalk boards and table talkers, have been designed to raise awareness of alternative mixed drinks, such as the Irish Mule cocktail.
The Discover Jameson sampling campaign will run in bars across London and the north-west with brand ambassadors on hand to offer consumers a choice of Jameson with ginger, cola or on the rocks.
Over the past year Carlsberg UK has researched the views of over 2,000 consumers and the results confirm that St Patrick's Day is a key event in driving consumers off their sofas and into bars and pubs. However, according to David Scott, director of customer marketing: "You can't just expect the event to drive footfall — you have to make the effort."
He suggests licensees merchandise their pub early to beat the competition, advertise the event and ensure a party atmosphere. In addition he says that while Guinness is the dominant brand for this occasion ensure you have also looked at your food offer, as well as your broader drinks range for those consumers who either don't like it or will only have a half or a pint of the Black Stuff before switching to other tipples.
An oasis of Irishness
Fuller's pub the Churchill Arms is well known for hosting big events, but St Patrick's Day is one of the biggest held at the venue.
Gerry O'Brien says: "St Pat's is a huge event for us and even though we are not in an Irish area, people come here to celebrate."
The pub will be decorated with 600 green, orange and white balloons on the night and a giant Irish flag will go up outside the pub.
"I will be dressing up in a St Patrick outfit and the staff will be in fancy dress. We will be serving boiled bacon and cabbage for lunch and Thairish stew for dinner.
"We have named it Thairish because we have a Thai restaurant at the back of the pub.
"St Patrick's Day is on a Thursday, which is a lovely start to the weekend. And with the Six Nations rugby on at the weekend there will be a chance to extend the event.
"We are a big Guinness pub and on St Patrick's Day alone we sell two weeks' worth of it — that is 20 kegs on the day itself.
"We will also be offering a deal on Jameson Irish Whiskey and Bailey's, and Irish coffee will be on in the evening."
And being Irish, O'Brien will be offering shamrocks to his customers. "I give out shamrocks to all the regulars. It is quite hard to get hold of, but I have contacts."
Did you know?
St Patrick was kidnapped by Irish raiders and taken to Ireland as a slave.
The original colour associated with St Patrick was blue.
It was in 1903 that St Patrick's Day became a public holiday in Ireland. Irish MP James O'Mara later introduced a law that required that pubs and bars close on St Patrick's day after drinking got out of hand. This was only repealed in the 1970s.
It was in the mid-1990s that the Irish government began a campaign to use St Patrick's Day to showcase Ireland.
Mitchells & Butlers' O'Neill's chain will be running more than 80 live-music events across the UK and expects to pour more than 80,000 pints of Guinness on the day alone.
At sites in Glasgow, Liverpool, Leicester and Oxford during March it will be launching a Join the Jig campaign aimed at taking St Pats to the high street.
The jig campaign will feature Irish dancing lessons taking place in city centres. Troupes of musicians and dancers will literally take to the streets, giving shoppers and passers-by the chance to try a Galway Reel.
Making a meal of it
Serving up some themed Irish food can also help boost your profits. Offering Irish staples on the menu such as colcannon (mashed potato and cabbage), champ (mashed potato and spring onions), boiled bacon, wheaten bread, soda bread and Irish stew are a good way to theme your food. For busy evenings, nibbles and hand-held food are a great option.
Donna Rowbottom, McCain Foods marketing manager, says: "St Patrick's Day is a great footfall-driver and while it's drinks and not usually food that draws the customers in, there is also a great opportunity to drive profit with easy-to-serve snacks such as chips and wedges. The key to making the most of the increased custom is convenience."
She suggests serving potato products in pint glasses with a St Patrick's Day themed paper lining. This can create a point of difference and is a great hand- held choice for customers in busy pubs with fewer tables.
Pieminister Pies advises hosts to try a Paddy's Pie & Pint Night. The company has introduced a limited-edition Shamrock pie, using British beef steak slow-cooked in 'famous Irish stout'.
Jonathan Simon, joint founder/director of Pieminister, says that pies are a great hand-held option that can be enjoyed even when customers are standing at the bar of a packed pub.