Beer Innovation Summit

Brown: The post-recession pub looks very different

By Pete Brown

- Last updated on GMT

Brown: The post-recession pub looks very different

Related tags Pub Sausage Public house Alcoholic beverage

Last Monday saw the Publican’s Morning Advertiser’s third Beer Innovation Summit take place in Birmingham.

It was an interesting day. As always, there were odd parts that made me question whether my understanding of the word ‘innovation’ is the same as anyone else’s, but on the whole, it was a day packed with genuine insight and new information.


Doing my beer and music matching show to a tired room full of people whose heads were full and who just wanted to get on the train/to the bar was a tough gig. But there was still just enough brain capacity left for most people to get that smoked beer goes better with Hendrix than Debussy.

The most useful part for me was the presentation of data from Kantar Worldpanel — a regular survey of more than 30,000 people in the UK, which covers all kinds of opinions and attitudes as well as behaviour.

Kantar’s latest findings chimed pretty well with other presentations I’ve seen recently from other organisations compiling different data from interviewing other people. Every time market researchers go out and talk to people, they seem to be saying the same thing, which means there’s a pretty good chance a lot of it might actually be true.

What everyone is saying is that the worst is over.


People are spending money again, and pub visits are cautiously back on the increase.

But the post-recession pub landscape looks very different from how it did.

Going to the pub is a much rarer treat for people nowadays. For most of British history up to around the millennium, if you wanted to meet your mates, or even just get out of the house for a while, the pub was the default choice — you’d go there without even thinking about the alternatives. Now, the pub must line up alongside a whole host of other leisure alternatives, and that’s not going to change.

Most people still love the pub, but they’re trying to drink less often, look after themselves a little more, and pursue a wider range of interests.

They no longer go to the pub when they want to go out; they go to the pub when they want to go to the pub. And that’s a crucial distinction.

The pub occasion is something that, on average most people do about once a month. That’s how often they want the specific atmosphere, entertainment and product offering the pub provides.


For me, this means pubs need to do two things.

The first is to think long and hard about exactly what the pub offering is — and in this context, I don’t mean change it. I mean identify exactly what it is about the pub that appeals to people.

What is about that one occasion a month that makes punters think, “No, I don’t fancy the cinema or the Chinese restaurant or a takeaway and a Netflix box set — tonight is a night for the pub.” Find it, distil it, make sure the pub knows what it does best, why it attracts, and it can do so more consistently.

The second thing is to think about how the pub can increase that frequency. What is it missing that other leisure alternatives provide?


There are some big clues from the research, and one of the biggest is food. More and more occasions out of the home are based around food — including pub occasions.

This is something I’ve written about many times. Pubs with kitchens mostly serve traditional, pub-style food, which has not kept pace with Britain’s rapidly evolving

Sometimes people go to the pub specifically because they fancy pie and chips, or a Sunday roast, so the pub should never lose that. But when people want something a little more varied, or eclectic, or healthy, they go somewhere else. Can’t pubs offer a wider range of food alternatives?

And still, most pubs fail to offer anything between a full meal and a packet of crisps. Increasingly, people want to snack. Even if you don’t have a kitchen, you could do a deal with a local butcher or baker and offer sandwiches or pork pies or samosas or a whole host of other satisfying grazing options.

After the Beer Innovation Summit, we adjourned to Pure, a new bar with strong connections to the Purity Brewing Company. We were served, among other things, Indian spiced sausage rolls that are delivered each day from a small producer in Walsall.

They were so good I begged to bring some home with me.

Indian-spiced sausage rolls: now that’s innovation. And I promise you that if you stocked them, anyone who tasted them would be coming to your pub a lot more often than once a month.

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