There’s something weird happening with sales at Will Everingham’s Christchurch, Dorset, pub the New Queen Inn. Almost a third of drinks sold there are non-alcoholic – strange for a pub, right?
Not really for a destination pub which, if you think about it, should have a heavier influx of drivers than one in a city centre or in the middle of a town.
Everingham, who took over the lease of the New Queen Inn early this year, is taking full advantage of his customers’ soft drinks needs by ensuring his range is as diverse as possible.
“You have to get interesting drinks in, whether it’s soft drinks or alcoholic drinks,” the landlord explains on a sunny day in his vast pub garden, which has just received a new children’s play area. “I would move away from filling your fridge with only one brand of bottles and a draft option, because it’s uninspiring for customers.
“Customers want something that’s different and interesting, even if it’s a non-alcoholic drink.”
The former Hall & Woodhouse pub has a wet:dry split of 30:70, with softs accounting for more than 25% of drinks sales, he says. But it’s only since Everingham took over the site that soft drinks have been taken more seriously, helped through working with Coca-Cola European Partners (CCEP).
When the landlord took over with his wife Lorraine, the previous drinks offer consisted of tomato juice, orange juice, blackcurrant juice and dispensed drinks, quite possibly his worst nightmare considering the time and effort he has put into perfecting his offer.
“The bar here is very tight on space, it’s small and there’s a lot going on,” explains Everingham.
“When we first took over, we changed the two draught dispenser systems to a slimline one that’s regulated at 13 and 16fl oz, which means bar staff can put ice and a slice in the drink, press a button and pour another drink before coming back when it’s ready to serve. It also gives us a lot more space. We replaced the second dispenser with a hand-held one, which helps when we’re just adding a dash to drinks and has also saved us more space.”
As well as switching the dispensers for one that’s easier on the eye and another that's more helpful to staff, a mission to stock 50% of his fridges with soft drinks began. Everingham’s mix of softs is eclectic, as a result of his belief that customers want a bigger choice of drinks that look good in the bottle and taste good.
In taking image to the next level, the pub boss also believes that drinks should be served in branded glassware. “It’s prevalent for me across all drinks for three reasons,” he passionately explains. “Firstly, if a company spends a lot of money on glassware, it’s for a reason. The glass is made specifically for the drink and adds to it.
“Secondly, it shows customers what others are drinking, such as an Appletiser, and might urge them to order the same drink. And thirdly it also helps us anticipate what a customer might be drinking when they come back to order at the bar with an empty glass.”
Branding does have a big effect on customers, so much so that the New Queen Inn has introduced the full range of glass bottled Schweppes because customers were asking specifically for the brand.
“We did start with just another brand of tonic waters, but we sat down with Duncan our CCEP sales rep and started to dual brand,” he says. “People were asking for Schweppes and the benefit of stocking the range was that we were not only able to sell the tonics that they wanted, but also slimline tonic and slimline bitter lemon, which an awful lot of people were asking for.”
What brand of soft drink?
When customers don’t know what type or brand of soft drink they want, the pub’s bar staff have been trained to talk about the range stocked as staff in any other venue would talk about an alcoholic drink. Customers are also encouraged to buy from the bottled range, not only because it’s better for stock rotation, adds Everingham, but because there is much more variety than there is on draft.
In bottles, customers can choose from a Schweppes to a Diet Coke or a Coca-Cola Zero Sugar. All staff are also told to ask customers if they would prefer draft or bottled when they order.
It’s not just about standard softs, though. Everingham and his team are set to experiment with cocktails and mocktails, with the help of Schweppes. According to the landlord, he is about to take part in training with CCEP to help him deliver a simple-serve cocktail menu to his customers, as well as a range of mocktails with exciting garnishes to make non-drinkers feel like they are having something much more special than a standard soft.
“This area [where the pub is based] is rife for people sitting on the decking with a cocktail in the evening, but our staff don’t necessarily have the skills or repertoire to make a wide variety of cocktails. The time it would take them to make cocktails would cause a backlog on the bar too, so we’re working on three-step cocktails with Schweppes.”
So, what does the future have in store for the New Queen Inn and its softs offer? Well, Everingham is eager to see more innovation from the “big boys” such as CCEP to keep his range interesting and his customers excited.
He says: “Soft drinks are an important and growing market for us. It’s growing because people are much more aware of drink-driving, but for us it’s also because a lot of parents come here with their children and will order a soft drink, such as a Diet Coke, Coca-Cola Zero Sugar or a Capri-Sun for their children.
“I think and would like to see much more innovation in soft drinks because it’s big for our pub.”
Comment from Paul Grace, CCEP director of field sales GB
Chatting to Will Everingham at the New Queen Inn was one of the more uplifting outlet visits of the summer.
A full car park and a pub bursting with families told a story in itself. The team knew its customers and matched the food and drink offer to them.
A great range of favourite brands was available with some curiosities thrown in for good measure.
A good familiar drinks range, sensible pricing, all served perfectly and clearly displayed on the menu so people didn’t have to hunt out the soft drinks for themselves.
The staff were well trained and knew the products they were serving and the best way to present them, which goes a long way. Only last week, I had a debate with a waiter in a high street restaurant who tried to convince me that Coca-Cola Zero Sugar wasn’t sugar or calorie free. I had to resort to the business card and a live coaching session to correct him, much to my wife and daughter’s horror!
From my days running bars and restaurants, I fully appreciate the desire for an outlet to achieve a certain amount of differentiation while also remaining efficient so that the customer experience is not compromised. Look at the trends and stock up accordingly, with low and zero-sugar drinks growing strongly, why wouldn’t you make more of them available?
When your host is as welcoming as Will and puts as much thought into the soft drinks as the beers, wines and spirits you know you are on to a good thing.