How pubs can seize the day

By Pete Brown

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Pubs, Coffee

Brown: "Pubs that succeed don’t necessarily think of themselves as sellers of beer, but as providers of a relaxed leisure environment"
Brown: "Pubs that succeed don’t necessarily think of themselves as sellers of beer, but as providers of a relaxed leisure environment"
Something is troubling me about my regular days in town when, between meetings, I need to find somewhere to sit and tap out emails for an hour or so. Increasingly, I’m finding that pubs are shut before 4pm or 5pm, says Pete Brown.

There’s just not enough business to make it worthwhile before people quit work, I guess. So instead I choose from a row of Costa/Starbuck/Pret/Caffè Nero, and settle for a cup of tea instead.

Whichever one I choose, I usually have to queue for five minutes to get served, and then search or wait to get a seat. Most of us might still work from 9 to 5, but there are enough freelancers, yummy mummies, skivers and shift workers to provide a lucrative day-time leisure trade.

So why are pubs not getting their share of it?

Marketing myopia

I think the clues were in some of the research we saw for the Cask Report this year.

In my old day job, we were taught an important distinction between ‘selling’ and ‘marketing’. Selling is shouting, “I’ve got this, come and get it!” in the most noticeable way possible.

Marketing, on the other hand, is starting with the consumer, and saying: “Tell me what you want, then I’ll go and make it, and if I do it well, you’ll be beating a path to my door to buy it.”

It’s best summed up by the old adage “I don’t want to buy a three-quarter-inch drill bit: I want to make a three-quarter-inch hole.” If you think you’re in the business of making drill bits rather than helping people make holes, as soon as someone else comes up with a better way of making holes, you’re out of business.

Harvard professor Theodore Levitt called it ‘marketing myopia’. He wrote about how American passenger railways thought they were in the business of putting trains on rails. They didn’t think of themselves as being in the people-moving business. So when other, better ways of moving people came along (mass car ownership, cheap flights), they were killed by something they didn’t even think of as competition.

Listening

It’s not quite like that for pubs — any urban publican must be keeping an eye on coffee shops — but we are in danger of not listening to what the consumer is telling us.

Our research showed 47% of drinkers claim they are going to the pub less often than they did a year ago. They’re doing so because they are cutting down on alcohol, drinking less, because they want to be healthier. And when they do drink, they want to spend less money, which is why — when it comes to alcohol — 54% now do most of their drinking at home, citing price as the main reason.

Campaigns to reduce duty, and cut the unjust differential between on and off-trade pricing (and the various factors that cause it) are, of course, important. But just as important is listening to people and giving them what they want.

Customers are telling us that the main negatives of pubs (there are positives too, of course) is that they are unhealthy and expensive.

I’ve written before about the lack of healthy alternatives on pub food menus. And about the appalling lack of decent non-alcoholic drinks and the randomly extortionate prices thereof. And about pubs that still don’t offer free Wi-Fi to paying customers.

Leisure environment

Depending on the pub and its location, the answer might well be that you need to offer a cappuccino that’s as good as, or better value than, the coffee shop down the road. But does the Starbucks punter really want a caffeine hit, or are they there because they want a sit down in a pleasant environment where they don’t feel rushed? A catch-up with friends? A toastie or a smoothie? Or just an excuse to duck out of the day for half an hour?

Do you need a coffee machine — or do you need more low-ABV beers?

A clear — and cheap — pricing structure for soft drinks? More sofas? Some decent snacking options between a bag of nuts and a full (and calorific) meal?

Pubs are perfectly capable of providing any or all of these things —more so than coffee shops, I’d argue. But pubs that succeed don’t necessarily think of themselves as sellers of beer, but as providers of a relaxed leisure environment that moulds itself around what people want at different times of the day.

Related topics: Beer

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