Enticing blokes into the pub shouldn't be too hard, should it? Serve decent beer and they will surely come. But it's not quite that simple in a climate of declining beer consumption and under-pressure consumer spending.
In tough trading conditions, a pub needs to offer more than the promise of a good pint to encourage men to part with their hard-earned cash.
"Guys go to pubs to be entertained and for a great night out, not just a good drink. They could get that at home," says Martin Green, managing director of pub gaming company Redtooth. "We've been developing products that help pull punters in, even on quieter nights."
For more than 1,000 pubs across the country, Monday night is poker night. In just four years, since a legal change allowed poker in pubs, the game has attracted an estimated 100,000 players to outlets every week — 80% of them men.
For a £20 weekly fee, Redtooth provides pubs with the equipment and support to participate in the UK's largest pub poker league.
"Pub poker has exploded onto the scene," says Green. "In the past, a pub might have been lucky to attract one man and his dog on a Monday night. Now, our poker nights pull in an average of 30 or 40 people."
Staging a poker night is straightforward, although a pub must appoint a tournament director, have the rules to hand and record all games played to comply with legal requirements, says Green. "As long as table service is available, the profits should roll in. Guys don't want to get up from a poker game once they've started — it's very absorbing. Left to their own devices, they'll buy one drink at the beginning of the night. But provide table service and they'll enjoy a few drinks over the evening," adds Green.
To help attract even more regular customers, Redtooth has signed a deal with the Barclays Premier League, enabling it to run a new football predictor league for pubs. For a flat fee of £5 to join the Redtooth Crystal Ball league, the pub can have as many punters sign up and play as they like.
Although players are likely to input predictions online at home, access to league standings is open only to the licensee, who simply has to print out the leaderboard and display it in the pub.
Green says: "If 30 guys sign up, they all have to come into the pub each week to find out how they are performing. It's a great way to build camaraderie and bring in extra custom."
Football already draws millions of blokes into their local pub every week to watch the big matches on TV.
The big sports provider is, of course, Sky, which has attracted criticism in the past for soaring subscription costs, but is working hard to provide better value.
Last year, it restructured its pricing based on rateable value, with discounts for those with sizeable food trade or outdoor areas. This year, prices have been frozen for the coming football season. Meanwhile Sky has introduced free Wi-Fi and a 'Support your Local' campaign, providing free regionalised PoS kits.
The company also offered pubs cut-price 3D TVs and glasses for the launch of its 3D channel.
However, a few issues need to be ironed out before 3D takes off, says Gavin Hill, project manager at electrical and audio-visual service provider Amber AV.
"The 3D glasses are still very expensive, and you need to synchronise each set with the TV," he explains. "But once the technology has been refined we'll see 3D really take hold."
For now, LCD technology provides pubs with crystal-clear viewing, Hill says. "LCD screens are as good a picture as you'll get. There's no need to spend a fortune — standard pubs usually just need a projector, screen and three or four 40-inch TVs."
Hill claims that, over the past 12 months, pubs have been increasingly attracting groups of guys by connecting TV screens to games consoles.
"Friends are heading down more at the beginning of the week to have a game on the PlayStation or Wii over a few jars," he says.
"We've not seen it so much in London, but consoles have become commonplace in places like Brighton, where there's a more laid-back atmosphere."
More traditional games machines can also provide a pull for blokes and generate valuable income through cash-box takings and increasing dwell time.
"Machine profits can account for between 20% and 50% of trading profit, which can be the difference between survival and failure in the current climate," says Peter Davies, commercial director at the gaming and amusement machine operator Gamestec.
Digital technology is beginning to make a mark in the gaming industry, allowing machine content to be tailored to a different client base at different times of the day.
"Our digital portfolio can help grow revenue by offering more choice and attracting players not usually tempted to play gaming machines in pubs," says Davies.
"Amusement machines offer customers another entertainment option: the chance to attempt a quiz even if it isn't quiz night, or to play poker when it's not poker night."
He adds: "Pubs need to add value to encourage men to spend more time in the venue. It's still a difficult trading environment, and although the rate of pub closures has slowed
a little, the industry is still exper-iencing large numbers of closures every week.
"Pubs need to provide entertainment to continue to attract men and grow additional revenue streams."
Table football, anyone?
There is no need to head all the way to a Bars des Sports in Paris for a game of table football — Bar Kick in Shoreditch, east London, is flying the flag for Britain.
At any time of the week you can walk into the venue and get a game. From Thursday to Saturday, tables are packed with eager competitors.
Bar Kick managing director Garath Kerr has turned his passion for the game into profit: at £1-a-go, table football rakes in £70,000 of the bar's £1.6m annual turnover.
"The concept came from the French village bar; we've just placed it in a metropolitan environment," explains Kerr.
"The turnover of games is far more rapid than pool, and you get four people playing at the same time. There is a great atmosphere with plenty of adrenaline knocking about."
Bar Kick has managed to avoid developing a clique mentality at the tables, and everyone is welcome to play. Although men love their football, women are not averse to a game. Kerr has used this to his advantage to attract more men into the bar.
"Men want to go places where there are women," says Kerr. "And there is no greater ice-breaker than a game of table football. We see a lot of flirting at the tables."
Bar Kick has 11 tables upstairs and seven in the basement, but any size of pub can make the concept work, says Kerr.
"You've got to get behind the game to make it work. The table has to be given prominence and the floor has to be levelled. You can't just shove it in the corner and hope to make money."