The 2012 Olympics are almost upon us and pubs the length and breadth of the country should, by now, be considering their game plan to attract much-needed revenue at a time when the UK economy is still faltering.
It is estimated that this year’s sporting spectacle will generate £10bn in revenue for the British economy, with money from tourism expected to hit £2.1bn.
The Olympics were last held in London in 1948, three years after the end of the Second World War, and before that in 1908.
The PMA sent a team of journalists to Newham — one of five boroughs hosting the Games — to find out how pubs are planning for the big one.
Road closures and night-time deliveries are the biggest potential headaches, but with the Olympics being uncharted territory for all those interviewed, publicans are quietly hopeful that the event will be beneficial for their pubs.
Some operators with accommodation plan to increase their room rates considerably, while others claim that the global media circus will keep occupancy levels high.
Case study 1: The Princess of Wales, 25 West Ham Lane, London E15 4PH
For Punch lessee Margaret Himell, it’s the decline of the local community that the most impact on trade at her pub. “The money comes in on the train at 9am and leaves at 5pm,” she explains.
“The Olympics and Westfield Stratford City jobs have completely decimated this area. No money has been spent over here. The only chance we have of making money during the Olympics is if we attract the media circus when it hits town.”
Himell says customers are cab or bus-dependent, so if local transport goes into meltdown for three or four weeks, she fears for the long-term impact to trade. “If your trade’s going to be moved around, as customers become transient for that period, is it going to be hard to get them back? I’m fed up of second-guessing it all.”
On a more positive note, Himell hopes she can attract people who are working in and around
the Olympics. “We’ve been able to draw in a lot of the builders up until now because we do home-cooked food,” she explains.
“I don’t approve of the Olympics being held in this place, but at the moment we’re probably doing better financially around here because of it.
“At the beginning, I thought the Olympics would be a good thing, but then the economy took a hit. Every area that has hosted the Games has ended up in debt. I think the legacy of this one is going to be horrendous. Can you actually see it being a financial success?”
Case study 2: The Langthorne, 12-14 Broadway, London E15 4QS
Paul Gilloway, manager of the Langthorne, a Stonegate Pub Company outlet, is upbeat about pub life in Stratford. He claims business last year was brisker than in 2010, and predicts that 2012 will break all records. He attributes his current success to the new Westfield Stratford City shopping centre bringing more people into the area.
The pub’s evening trade is up, but lunch sales are down — indicating, maybe, that shoppers stay in the centre in the day and emerge at night to visit the pub.
Food-based promotions will form the backbone of the Langthorne’s Olympics activity, but it’s early days yet and Gilloway is waiting for head office to reveal its plans in full. During the Games, the pub will open at 8am for breakfast and won’t close until midnight.
The Langthorne serves Courage Best and Bombardier cask ales — drinks that tourists will hunt down once outside the Olympic complex where Heineken, the event’s official beer, will rule supreme. Gilloway will add a third cask ale in July.
Gilloway thinks there will be plenty of trade. “We won’t have to look for it,” he says. “Our reputation keeps us busy.”
The Langthorne, formerly a Yates’s Wine Lodge, will double staff numbers during the Games. It currently employs between 10 and 13 people.
Case study 3: The Railway Tavern, 131 Angel Lane, London E15 1DB
Proprietor Janet Dooner is about to embark on meetings with suppliers to discuss road closures and night-time deliveries during the Olympics. “It’s hard to say how it will affect us,” she says, but with roads surrounding her pub scheduled to be shut during the event, it looks as if the pub will rely on pedestrians for business.
The big issue for Dooner is the not knowing. “We’re hoping we’ll be busy because of the sheer number of people in the area, but we can’t tell how we’re going to be affected,” she adds.
A major issue will be getting staff into the pub. Some will commute, and Dooner’s husband Tom is planning to cycle in.
“My staff don’t just live across the road. I’ve pinned up a notice asking that nobody takes holiday during the Olympics,” says Janet.
There are three permanent members of staff — Janet and Tom, together with a manager — and the rest are part-timers, but Janet knows where to go to get extra staff and advises other pubs in her pubwatch group to be prepared for any eventuality.
The Railway’s nine letting rooms will rise in price from the current £89-per-night tariff to £250 during the sporting celebrations.
Case study 4: The Queen’s Head, 5-7 West Ham Lane, London E15 4PH
Enterprise tenant Billy Sinefield has been at the Queen’s Head, which has had a troubled recent past, since last October.
The exterior of the pub has recently had a new lick of paint — in West Ham claret and blue colours — but the overall impression is still of a pub in a sorry state with broken signage and a boarded-up takeaway on the southern frontage.
Sinefield is keen to retain the Queen’s Head as a traditional East End pub — “the only one left in Stratford” — to keep locals happy and attract tourists. He admits that competition is tough — from the new restaurants in the Westfield Stratford City shopping development and a local JD Wetherspoon outlet.
“I am sceptical about the Olympics,” says Sinefield, who is worried that traffic restrictions will force him to rely on sporadic or overnight deliveries and to over-order to make sure the pub has the stock it needs. “And when the Games are over, people here will be left to pick up the pieces,” he adds.
Sinefield believes a greater opportunity for the pub lies in the possibility of West Ham FC taking over the Olympic Stadium after the Games.
“We’d be a good pre-match venue,” he says.
Case study 5: The Cart & Horses, 1 Maryland Point, London E15 1PF
Licensee Justin Egan is wholly positive about the Games. The freehold has 11 rooms and Egan has already received plenty of enquiries about them.
Currently, room rates vary from £45 to £89 for one night. Although Egan estimates that the going nightly rate in the area will be £260 to £300, he expects to book his rooms for less, starting at £100 for the cheapest room.
“I am very positive about the Olympics,” he says. “When it was announced I thought, ‘well, that’s my saving grace’,” Egan enthuses. “I think that I will see thousands of extra customers and I’m not too worried about competition — there will be enough for all the pubs in the area. Lodgers will bring more trade to the bar too.”
But Egan realises that there will also be challenges, with a huge influx of tourists and extra people in Stratford.
He is most worried about deliveries being restricted to between midnight and 6am, as someone will need to be at the pub for their arrival, and Egan is unsure of what stock will be needed.
“I don’t know how to predict stock as it is completely uncharted territory,” explains Egan. “Nobody has any experience of this.”
The Cart & Horses does not have a big emphasis on food, but Egan is planning to serve more during the Olympics “depending on demand”. He has not planned any extra events to attract people as he expects the pub will be busy enough without them.