How pubs can have themselves a cracking little Christmas

By Jo Bruce

- Last updated on GMT

Cracking Christmas: Advice for pubs over the festive holidays
Cracking Christmas: Advice for pubs over the festive holidays

Related tags: Christmas

Whether your pub is more mistletoe and wine, O’ come all ye faithful or Fairytale of New York, we’ve asked festive-loving operators and suppliers to share their best advice to make sure your Christmas sparkles like the baubles on a rather fantastic tree

With this summer’s hit and miss weather delivering flat or poor summer sales for many licensees, the success of the forthcoming festive trading period is vital for operators.

So if you haven’t got your Christmas menus sorted yet then it’s time to nail them and start marketing your offers to ensure you grab your share of profits during this key sales time.

The calendar is again being kind to hosts because Christmas Day falls on a Monday so the preceding three days occur over a weekend, providing a double sales opportunity for operators.

Diageo head of category and insights Faith Holland says: “In a similar situation in 2016, total beverage alcohol (TBA) sales on the 23 and 24 (which occurred on a Friday and Saturday) were 12.1% higher than the previous four years and the average outlet generated an extra £829 from TBA sales over these two days.”

According to CGA data, about 30% to 40% of annual alcohol sales take place in the 12 weeks to Christmas so licensees need to be smarter than the three wise men with their drinks lists to maximise the opportunity.

Spirits on the up

In recent Christmas periods, CGA research shows that of the average additional serves sold in on-trade outlets, half of these are spirits.

Pernod Ricard data also shows that consumers are willing to spend an additional 12% on a cocktail at Christmas (£8.74 verses £7.83).

Pernod Ricard UK channel director Mark Harris says: “Bars have traditionally been the heartland for cocktails, but opportunities also exist to leverage cocktails in both pubs and food-led establishments, by offering them as a Christmas treat with friends or a great after-dinner alternative.”

The company has launched an app called Menu Creater App to help licensees drive festive sales.

According to Diageo’s Holland, an important focus this festive season should be on serving cocktails alongside food.

“Across on-trade occasions where the main reason to visit is to eat, 58.8% of cocktails drinkers would drink cocktails and 59% of cocktail consumers are likely to drink cocktails that have been listed as a suggested accompaniment alongside the food menu,” she says.

Holland recommends coffee-flavoured cocktails and winter warmers such as the Flat White Martini with Baileys as after-dinner options and adding seasonal twists to classic cocktails.

She also suggests serving food as a one-bite garnish with cocktails to accelerate the drink to a new level such as mini minced pies served with hot toddies or chocolate truffles with an Old Fashioned.

Pimping Prosecco

Unsurprisingly, Prosecco sales are tipped to be big news again this Christmas. CGA research shows on-trade sparkling wine sales recorded a volume increase last Christmas.

Offering bottomless Prosecco for an hour for bookings made earlier in the evening or for early-bird Christmas party bookings can be a powerful marketing tactic. Operators can also drive interest by encouraging customers to ‘Pimp their Prosecco’ with a range of different flavours and garnishes available on a table for customers to get creative.

Broadland Wineries UK sales director Peter Bisley says: “Prosecco will continue to be an important product along with flavoured products such as mulled wine. We anticipate last year’s growth at the premium end of wine will continue – New Zealand wine, especially Sauvignon Blanc, continues to be in great demand.”

Beer pairing could also add to your Christmas cheer. Hogs Back Brewery managing director Rupert Thompson says: “We’re urging pubs to suggest beer as well as wine matches with their festive menu this year.”

Sharing-size bottles of beer are ideal for meal occasions and dark beers, such as porters, make an ideal accompaniment to Christmas pudding.

Rise of non-alcohol drinks

With the number of people opting for non-alcoholic drinks continuing to rise, licensees should ensure they put significant time and effort into this part of their festive drinks offer.

Coca-Cola European Partners (CCEP) trade communications manager Amy Burgess recommends a focus on mocktails. “They are an increasingly popular non-alcoholic option in out-of-home venues as people look for a more indulgent soft drink – and this is a great opportunity during a traditional party season,” she says.

“A growing trend across Europe is seeing many consumers personalising Coca-Cola by adding other ingredients, such as fresh mint or elderflower, to create a unique new drink.”

Adding innovative twists to traditional Christmas dishes is the advice of leading food suppliers.

Gail Bridgeman, campaign controller at wholesaler Bidfood, says: “Mixing up flavours in a ‘merry mash-up’ is set to be a major trend this year.”

Among dishes in Bidfood’s range are a Farmstead turkey ‘cushion’ with pork and orange stuffing; individual turkey and duck ‘cushions’ with Morello cherry stuffing; and, for buffets, Farmstead ‘Christmas on a stick’ skewers with pork chipolatas, turkey and stuffing balls. Desserts include alcohol-infused cheesecakes including gin fizz and elderflower and whisky mac flavours.

Wholesaler Brakes new products include a turkey ballotine with a gluten-free pork, sage and onion stuffing, covered with streaky bacon and encased in Savoy cabbage.

For something different, dairy products supplier Kerrymaid recommends offering a Christmas-themed afternoon tea menu featuring all the Christmas favourites.

Fun with festive outfits

Staff dressing up in festive outfits is a popular tactic adopted by some licensees.

At the Poets Ale & Smokehouse in Hove, East Sussex, staff wore Christmas jumpers on Macmillan Christmas Jumper Day and elf ears during the party season. Licencee Zoe Rodgers says: “I would 100% recommend it. Staff and customers really like it and it helps build a great atmosphere.”

But for some hosts wearing fancy dress, including Christmas jumpers, is to be avoided by both staff and customers.

Last year, Keith Wildman, licensee of Bradford’s Record Café, banned customers wearing Christmas jumpers from his bar, a tactic he would recommend to other operators who don’t want to attract customers on the party drinking circuit.

“We are a niche type of venue with a well-curated beer list and record shop,” he explains. “You must have a blanket policy and not allowing Christmas jumpers is a way of preserving the atmosphere that our regular customers like about us, rather than having big groups in who only visit at Christmas and drive everyone else away. This policy has worked really well for us. We have a no-fancy-dress policy all the time anyway, so it’s an extension of this.”

Offer ‘Christmas elfies’

If you are taking Christmas party bookings, which most pubs will be, then you can help people get in the festive mood by having an area with elf hats and props for customers to take ‘Christmas elfies’ while having fun at your venue. Fun beer mats such as ‘Face Mats’ are another way to create a lighter atmosphere and get people laughing. Encourage people to tag your venue when posting pics on social media.

There’s nothing wrong with traditional paper hats but material Santa hats are the way to make a bigger, more colourful impact and look great when hooked on chair backs or on
place settings.

On Christmas Day, you can set the right tone by supplying tables with a party bag including trivia and games and giving every customer a small Christmas gift.

Sourcing the right decorations and putting them up can be a time-con-suming task. It’s worth considering a collaboration with a local crafts business to make, source and put up decorations for you.

And if you’re looking for a more natural touch, the George Payne in Hove, East Sussex, does this to a T. It turns itself into a ‘Winter Wonderland’ every year with real tree branches hung over the bar area with bags of festive treats attached that raise money for community projects.

Whatever food, drink and events you choose to put on, however, it’s never too early to start planning the perfect pub Christmas. See the Grinch off early we say.

Star bar: the Greyhound, Halton, near Lancaster

At Star Pubs & Bars’ pub, the Greyhound, three weeks of average takings are delivered in the Christmas week by putting on events including a Christmas grotto, breakfast with Santa and a children’s Christmas party.

Licensees Anthony and Angela Rooker offer the events in addition to their Christmas food and drinks menus to help maximise profits and raise money for a local charity.

Anthony says: “The biggest benefit of the events is the fact that the local community gets involved with the pub and it gives them somewhere everyone can come to make memories for their children at Christmas. For many operators, New Year’s Eve is the biggest trading night of the year, but for us it is like having six NYEs with events that appeal to different people at different times of the day.”

The pub’s Santa’s grotto and winter wonderland walkway created in its beer garden will this year feature around 20,000 lights and will open on 22-23 December between 4pm and 7pm, with entry costing
£4 per child.

The walkway to the grotto, which 600 children are anticipated to visit this year, is also being extended this Christmas and will take visitors around five minutes to walk through, taking them past a new outside bar selling hot pot and mulled wine, and leading them back into the pub.

Anthony says: “The grotto has a big benefit on food sales. People with younger kids come in before the grotto opens and those with older children after their visit as the grotto finishes at 7pm.”

Anthony’s tips on creating a great grotto are to use lots of lights and mirrors, keep an all-white theme, have a snow machine and picking someone with the right personality for Santa. They use a local school teacher.

He says: “It is about creating an experience and memories from a child’s height, so they are making discoveries at each stage and is only the adults who can see ahead. If you get your grotto right in the first year, you don’t need to do too much to market it for years to come because children will ask their parents to take them.”

The Rookers also put on a children’s Christmas party with games, food and disco that costs £5 per child and runs from 4pm to 7pm on 21 December.

Anthony says: “It is a win-win because the parents also have food and drink with us. We also sell kids’ sweet bags on the bar, which are very popular. We find this time works well to hold it because you catch people after school.”

Related topics: Events & Occasions

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