Families are a key customer group for licensees: they can easily turn into loyal customers or become easily discouraged, never to return again. Families can bring a substantial profit to operators, not just at the weekends, but especially during key periods of the years such as school and bank holidays.
A recent survey conducted by parenting network Mumsnet, as part of its Family Friendly Programme, asked parents what makes a pub family friendly.
They were asked to share their opinions and experiences on how pubs could offer better facilities to attract families, from toddlers to teenagers.
A few small changes could help licensees create a friendlier environment for children which could not only strengthen relationships with valuable customers, but the reputation of the pub as a whole in the area.
Here’s some key areas that should be considered:
Food is a high priority for parents and many expressed their concern about the lack of healthy options when glancing over the menu. One mum said good wholesome foods rather than chicken nuggets would be preferred.
Another mum suggested pubs should include “children's meal options which include vegetables, I can cope with things in breadcrumbs, but it annoys me when there are no veg at all served (I don't count chips!).”
For those pubs who have a spacious outdoor area can set up an allotment to grow their own ingredients, or could locally source their ingredients from farmers or producers. The Bull, in Ditchling near Brighton, grow their own produce in a small built allotment and provide customers with a few fresh and home-grown ingredients.
Licensees not only need to consider the variety of dietary options- gluten free or vegetarian- they need to be flexible on this front. A few mums vented their frustrations saying there is a distinct lack of flexibility in children’s menus and were not able to swap or change any ingredients from a dish for those children who are fussy eaters.
Operator Heather Tidd, general manager at GBPA award-winning family pub Jolly Sailors in Norfolk, said: “Keep the menu simple; the food goes out very quickly, children do not want to be kept waiting.”
She added: “If the children are happy, the parents are happy.”
Whilst operators should consider deals and platters when feeding young ones and also take teenagers into account. Smaller portions and flexible choices could help boost sales and customer satisfaction.
This may sound trivial, but it is an essential factor for licensees to consider as it could lead to great customer satisfaction.
For those pubs which offer a generous indoor or outdoor space, a fenced indoor play area with soft toys would be beneficial to entertain toddlers and small children. You could also push the boat out and have climbing frame with a ball pool.
The South Causey Inn in Stanley, County Durham, was originally a farm and has made great use of their grounds and offer free pony rides to children on Sundays as well as during the school and bank holidays.
Manager and director Susan Moiser said there is also a big lawn for parents to sit and enjoy a pint whilst keeping an eye on the children playing.
Alternatively crayons, paper and shapes are your key weapons, keeping children entertained whilst waiting for their meal could ease boredom, tensions and delivers a great customer satisfaction for both parents and those customers who do not have children.
Operators should keep an open mind in this sector, board games such as Trivial Pursuit or Scrabble are great time-killers for families with older children.
Think also about teenagers: perhaps set up a small phone charger hub and a free Wi-Fi hotspot? Or a games console area? Or a mini-library for those who love reading?
Cleaner toilets will give a good impression to mums who are particularly sensitive about hygiene. One parent commented: “It always makes me wonder how clean the kitchen can be if the baby change is gross with an overflowing bin.”
Clean toilets will give an overall good impression on the rest of the pub, its facilities and baby-friendly equipment (i.e. high chairs).
It is worth installing baby-changing facilities in male as well as female toilets- this helps keep both parents happy and avoid the nappy bin from overflowing.
Investing in anti-bacterial sprays and hand-gels will help maintain a safe and hygienic environment and will shed a positive light on the hygiene standards of the business.
A family area could also be a potential solution to minimizing health and safety hazards. One parent suggested creating a gated area “to stop littlies making a break for dangerous areas like the stairs, kitchen, bar etc. and so that waiting staff are on the lookout for littlies under their feet when entering the family area.”
A family area in a pub has a great potential for attracting new customers: many parents in the survey expressed their concerns about the lack of large spaces between table for buggies, and having sofas or soft arm chairs for breastfeeding mothers.
While these small changes all help contribute to the pub’s family-friendly setting, staff behaviour is key when it comes to creating the right atmosphere.
As one mum suggested, “It's more about the pub's attitude than all the extras”, therefore having friendly, caring and understanding staff is key.
One mother in the survey said: “most important for us would be the attitude of staff to children - do they get treated as valuable customers, or as a nuisance to be reluctantly tolerated?”
Customer service is very important here, make sure staff is given regular training to brush up their skills.
Whether it involves making small, or more expensive and challenging, changes licensees should carefully consider ways to improve families’ experiences in their pub. Families are customers that should not be overlooked, despite being often quite challenging to accommodate. With the right attitude and know how it can make your business thrive.