To many, the typical stag or hen party represents trouble. The image of a rowdy group of men or women dressed in Hawaiian shirts or pink fairy costumes, carousing from bar to bar, easily comes to mind.
While this perception might be true in a small number of cases, generally, it’s wide of the mark. “The truth is that most people on stag and hen nights are well-behaved — it’s the few that aren’t that get noticed,” claims Alex Griem, regional sales and events manager at Revolution Bars.
“Things have changed, and the stereotype is no longer necessarily that applicable. People are getting married older and they don’t want their evening to consist of wall-to-wall drinking.”
The average age of married couples may well be increasing, but it has not had a detrimental effect on stag and hen parties. In fact, the stag and hen trade, estimated a few years ago to be worth £532m a year, has risen to a staggering £5bn, according to loan provider Lending Stream. And with a significant amount of that cash being spent in pubs and bars, it’s a potential goldmine for licensees.
The economic downturn has also led to a drop in stags and hens celebrating abroad, driving further revenue back to the pub industry. “Things are much calmer in Dublin and we have far fewer stags and hens from England,” confirms Martin Harte, executive manager of Temple Bar Traders. “In the 1990s, we had many large groups and we were looking to actively discourage them. Now, this is far less of a problem as the groups aren’t coming.
“We think this is due to the air-fare cost and also the price of drinks in Dublin. Stags and hens are celebrating more in regional UK towns — I hear Torquay is the next big place.”
So the opportunity is there. But pubs taking on such groups must get the balance right. After all, you don’t want to upset the regulars. The trick is to arrange proper activities aimed at stags and hens, whether this is straightforward dining, or something more creative. Such activity curtails the instinct to get involved in binge-drinking.
Revolution Bars has found that cocktail-making classes work especially well for this category, creating a fun environment where drink is on the cards, but not knocked back continually.
“We encourage stag and hen nights, and more often than not they will start with food and not much drinking. Then they’ll have a few cocktails, or other drinks, and probably go on elsewhere for the end of the night,” says Revolution’s Griem.
“The cocktail-making classes are really popular with stags and hens,” he confirms. “We also have themed nights, which help guide the dressing-up aspect. We had a gangsters and molls evening, for example, where men dressed in suits and hats. It helped prevent all the men turning up dressed as women, which is an all-too-frequent stag-night occurrence.”
Teaming up with local stag and hen organisers can also be a good way to create fun, but sensible, nights for all. Not only can these companies steer groups your way, but the good ones will know which parties will suit your pub — and perhaps more crucially, which won’t.
“We have such a range of people come to us for hen nights,” says Lynsey Hamp, PR co-ordinator of Hen Heaven. “They are all ages and different group sizes and have different ideas about what they want to do. Some might want to start off with a meal in a nice pub, others will be looking to bar crawl.”
The right venue
Hamp believes it’s very important that a stag or hen party picks the right venue. “A ‘regulars’ pub probably won’t want a large group of women arriving, but our hens don’t want to be somewhere they’re not wanted either. So we pick the venues with care,” she explains.
Generally speaking, larger pubs with a more mainstream clientele are more suited to stag and hen parties. Naturally, this is why chain bars such as Walk-about and Revolution do so well from them.
But smaller pubs hoping to attract these party-goers shouldn’t despair. The reason the groups are so prominent in chain bars is that they are the ones more likely to arrive in force. Conversely, smaller, more considered parties may slot into a night at a smaller venue without anyone else knowing that they’re celebrating.
Location, location, location
Clearly, geography is also important. Stags and hens might be travelling abroad less, but within the UK many still like to choose a ‘destination’ for their celebrations.
This means certain places like Brighton and Blackpool have become synonymous with brides-to-be wearing L-plates leading a group of hens through the streets. The problem with these locations is that groups tend to be of a mentality that pubs would rather not encourage. “Stag and hen groups choosing cities like Brighton tend to be out for the kind of night where ‘what goes on tour stays on tour’,” says Andrew Shanahan, editor of online male wedding magazine www.iamstaggered.com.
“They’ve come away from where they’d usually go out and travelled to a party destination, but are sometimes so determined to have fun that they cause trouble. Groups selecting locations that aren’t infamous for stag and hen celebrations are likely to be a bit older, perhaps more sophisticated
in their tastes, and less likely to go for the big binge-drinking night,” says Shanahan.
One big tip for licensees is to remove offers on shots or low-cost bottles of bubbly. In Dublin this has proved extremely successful as changes in legislation now no longer allow pubs to advertise drinks promotions. In some cases, the issue with stag and hen nights may just as easily be one of snobbery, reasons Temple Bar Traders’ Martin Harte.
“Such nights don’t define obnoxious drinkers,” says Harte. “You might have a group of lawyers behaving very badly, but often they are not focused on as a problem. You have to be careful that nights aren’t just a byword for problematic drinking, and you need to look at this kind of tourism in its broadest form.”
So, if you want to get stags and hens into your pub, address your food and drink offer, consider activities, and don’t pre-judge. After all, there’s profit to be made in being open-minded.
Top 5 stag and hen hotspots
Does your pub operate in a stag and hen hotspot? This year, there’s been a shift in celebrations, with more places in the UK hosting pre-wedding party groups in preference to European destinations. But the downturn has impacted on spend, and many groups are now looking for lower-cost places to enjoy themselves.