Once dismissed as a bit of a gimmick, nowadays Father’s Day is big business. Phil Mellows reports
Dad has tended to play second fiddle when it comes to being treated to a trip to the pub for Sunday lunch to celebrate his existence. But some family-friendly operators are finding that
Indeed, depending on the kind of pub you’ve got, Father’s Day — this year it’s on Sunday 21 June — can be even bigger than Mothering Sunday, and one of the on-trade calendar’s busiest occasions.
Pubs are probably well-placed to take advantage of any urge to take dad out for a treat. As Amy Ledger, marketing manager at Continental Wine & Food, says: “The pub environment is one that men usually feel very comfortable in”, adding that pubs can also provide good value at a time when families continue to be deterred from dining out “by the prospect of paying exorbitant rates for a meal”.
Another factor is that old British variable, the weather.
For Steve Haslam, who heads the growing TLC Inns chain, with eight large pubs in East Anglia, Father’s Day has “turned into one of the biggest days of the year”.
“It’s massive for us now. We’ll always have the cake, but the sun dictates whether there’s a cherry on top. And the weather on Mother’s Day is not usually so much on your side.
“Because they’re working hard, a lot of fathers find they don’t spend as much time with the family as they’d like, and Father’s Day becomes a natural fit,” he explains.
“Our venues lend themselves to the family occasion, and that’s a big plus for us. Having big beer gardens is an extra advantage because it means families can just come and chill out — it’s less about the food and drink.”
It’s also less about the Sunday roast. TLC pubs keep the regular menu on for Father’s Day, simplifying it somewhat if they expect to be extra busy, but there’s a shift towards items like burgers and ribs.
“We still sell a lot of roasts but it tends to be a less traditional occasion, more eclectic,” says Haslam. “That’s partly about the time of year, too.”
Iain Moran of 500-year-old Epping freehouse, the Theydon Oak, also puts the growth of Father’s Day down to the potentially good weather.
“Last year it was 20% busier than Mother’s Day for us,” he says. “The time of year definitely helps — we have 250 seats outside.
“We’re finding that more people are coming out for Father’s Day, and in bigger groups. The whole extended family seems to make a thing of it, not just mum and dad and the kids.
“We keep our usual Sunday menu on — four courses for £18.95 — but we do decorate the pub a bit and we make sure we’re ready for more sales of ales and red wines, which fathers seem to prefer.”
And while the Theydon Oak doesn’t really need to market Father’s Day, Moran does warn his regular customers they need to book to make sure they get a table.
Chris MacDiarmid, lessee of Punch Taverns’ house, the Inchcolm Inn, in South Queensferry, West Lothian, adds a free gift for dad to the regular three-course Sunday lunch.
“We give mums handmade chocolates for Mother’s Day, so we choose something like a personalised golf ball for Father’s Day. This year, I think it will be a bottle of beer from a local microbrewery.
“We’ll add some dishes, too, such as roast sirloin, and a dessert like local cheeses served with chutney from a local farm.
“Last year, we also put on live music. It can be a great day for the whole family, and it helps us to build a reputation for being family-friendly.
“But it can be a tough one to crack,” he goes on. “It’s not as popular as Mother’s Day for us — but it’s definitely growing.”
How to make the most of Father’s Day
Advertise well in advance with posters around the pub and on social media and email.
Encourage your customers to book tables by warning them you could to be busy.
Sunday roast is always a safe bet, but a barbecue could make a tempting change if the weather’s nice.
Offer a deal. Link a bottle of wine to the meal, or perhaps offer dad a free dessert.
Consider a gift — something manly, of course.
This year, Father’s Day coincides with the Austrian Grand Prix. Can you combine the two?
Think about promoting your beer offer. Lay on a special guest ale for the occasion. Or how about a beer tasting for dads on the Saturday night?
Don’t forget the kids. Make them happy and dad will be happy too, and the whole family will stay longer.
The origins of Father’s Day
Wikipedia is blunt about it. In the UK, Father’s Day “has no historical or cultural relevance”. When the idea was first floated, a little more than a century ago, people laughed.
While Mothering Sunday has roots in the Christian Church dating back centuries, Father’s Day has, from its late start, been regarded by many as an artificial celebration concocted to sell ties and socks. An American thing.
The truth is more ambivalent. In his 1995 book Consumer Rites, Leigh Eric Schmidt tells the story of Sonora Smart Dodd of Spokane, Washington, who came up with the idea while listening to the pastor pay tribute to mothers in his sermon on Mother’s Day 1909. It so happened that Dodd’s own mum had died young and it was her dad who was left alone to bring up six kids. What about something for him?
Her local church took it up, but beyond that she struggled to get people to take it seriously. Gradually, though, and not without Dodd’s encouragement, manufacturers of ties, socks and cigars spied an opportunity, though there was still a tongue-in-cheek air about their promotions.
Father’s Day wasn’t signed off as a national observance until 1972, by President Richard Nixon, and only after that did it gain credence on this side of the Atlantic.