Pubs must up their game when it comes to their food offer if they want to attract new and repeat customers, according to new research.
High-quality food is the factor most likely to encourage people to visit pubs more, underlining the need for licensees to provide a dining offer that appeals to a wide range of customers.
More than half of the 1,485 adults polled said they could be encouraged to visit pubs and bars more often in the coming year if they had more tempting food. This polled ahead of both ‘cheaper drinks’ and ‘more special offers’, reinforcing the increasing importance of food to the trade.
The findings are part of the Pub Visiting 2015 report from Mintel. The research shows that the rejuvenation of pub grub is such that four in 10 (38%) of pubgoers now expect pubs to have a high-quality menu.
The report demonstrates how rapidly the trade has had to evolve through tough economic conditions in recent years to combat falling drink sales, with many operators putting a renewed focus on food.
“The quality and credibility of pub food has made notable progress during the past five years as operators have competed for consumers’ limited leisure spend.
“However, that ‘higher quality food’ is the leading enticement for visiting pubs more often suggests further improvements would still be welcomed. It also underlines how central food has become to the idea of going to the pub and how important it is in many customers’ decision-making processes,” the report states.
When choosing what to order, it is handmade, local food that seals the deal. Almost three quarters (72%) of those who have eaten in a pub say they opt for home-made dishes.
Meanwhile, more than half (54%) choose dishes with locally sourced ingredients and 38% pick plates with seasonal ingredients.
“While some pubco tenants are likely to have limited menus, they should try to use local produce and dishes wherever possible, something that independents should also be utilising fully,” the report states.
“Providing an experience more tailored to the local catchment area, by stocking products from local brewers and farmers for example, can be a good way for landlords to underline their importance and relevance to the community.”
Two other factors play a more limited, but still important, role in potentially boosting pub visits. Improving seating/decor is cited by almost a third of pubgoers as a top-six factor, similarly faster service (26%) is rated as crucial. With many consumers having fewer nights out, ‘wasted’ time at the bar becomes more of a frustration — one in 10 customers state they have been put off going to pubs and bars due to the time it takes to be served.
“These are factors that pubs should be looking to improve upon as a matter of course. Strong customer service can be difficult for pubs due to the young profile and transient employment nature of many bar workers,” the report said.
Despite the increasing importance of food, Mintel forecasts drink sales will remain the engine of the pub sector’s turnover. Just one in 10 consumers eat in a pub or bar at least once a week, compared to a fifth who drink there at least once a week.
Furthermore, the ‘Great British pub’ remains a quintessential part of UK national identity with about half (47%) of pub visitors agreeing that they are an important part of the British way of life.