It wasn’t that long ago, when visiting a pub, that all parents could hope for their child was a colouring-in sheet and a well-used play area.
Now, in 2018, there are a plethora of exciting options for parents to choose from. From relaxed coffee mornings to baby yoga and massage, to comedy matinées, arts and crafts and choir groups.
Whether it’s putting on classes just for children, or events that include both parent and child, or simply sprucing up facilities and taking advantage of redundant space, there are many things a pub can do to entice families in.
Spaces that are empty during the day are a clear winner when it comes to offering parents and children an incentive to visit. These underused rooms are perfect to host targeted events and classes. And they will require minimum effort if you use an external company.
The Eastfield, in Bristol, the winner of the Great British Pub Award Best Family Pub 2017, has a packed timetable of events for children throughout the week.
Among its offerings are a Tuesday drama club and a music and movement class on a Friday, each of which are run by third-party operators.
“We provide the rooms and they charge people to go to their classes,” says licensee Graham Anderson.
“We don’t charge them for the rooms, we work with them because we sell teas, coffees and lunches to the people that come to the classes.
“They help make sure we generate income from people coming in rather than just room hire.
“They have gone out, without us doing anything, and come back with 20 people to the pub.”
The pub, which has been putting on classes for the past four years, says the main reason for doing so was to try to generate footfall and create “a reason for people to come into the pub”.
“All we have to do is make sure they see the menus, the drinks and what we do while they are here, which means they will come back,” continues Anderson.
“It’s the best advertising you can have when people come through your doors.”
The Half Moon, in Putney, owned by Geronimo Inns, has welcomed the ‘Bring Your Own Baby Comedy’ company to provide a different experience for parents with young children.
The promoter books stand-up comedians to perform a show for an hour or so, beginning at midday. The pub “baby proofs” the venue by setting up chairs for the mums and dads and puts down soft play mats for the babies.
“Importantly, it’s an opportunity for parents to get out of the house and be able to bond with not just their baby; but with people going through the same experience as they are,” says Phil Atkinson, events co-ordinator at the west London pub.
“It gets around 60 people in on a Monday afternoon. Most have teas and coffees on arrival and a good number stay for lunch after the show.
“Aside from the financial benefit of having good numbers in at a slower time of the week, it is also a good event for our community. There are a lot of young parents around here and those who have had children can understand the cabin fever sometimes associated with having a baby.”
Good community standing
Matt Dutson, manager at Fuller’s-owned the Half Moon, in Herne Hill, south London, says putting on events during the day for free – like its baby yoga and ‘singing mummas’ – isn’t just beneficial for the time these groups are in the pub. These visits help guarantee repeat customers and a strong position in the community, he says.
“Our events provide good will for our business and help to put our pub at the centre of the community,” he says. “It’s smart economic value.
“Lots of these parents will stay for lunch and breakfast– it’s a win-win situation from both sides.
“We don’t charge anything at all, there’s that feel-good factor in the community after providing that space for free. I’m obviously not going to let them have it on a Saturday night when I could get lots of money from a 30th birthday party, but it’s great to have the opportunity to provide space during the day times for free.
“The number one factor is not just the economic benefits we see directly, but being part of the community.
“We don’t expect all the mums and dads to have lunch and coffee before or after, but getting that return business on weekends with their friends is obviously a benefit to us.”
Once you have families in, the pub needs to be able to cater for them – and parents with young children come with many accessories. Prams, nappy bags, change of clothes, toys, and snacks.
The Snow Goose, Farnborough, Hampshire, has seen results from simply updating and upgrading their baby-changing facilities to help parents whose kids have been caught short.
Inside the changing room is a brand new table and a range of items that any mum or dad may need.
“We provide five different sized nappies, they are all free, baby wipes, sanitizer wipes, there’s head-to-toe wash if kids need it,” says publican Kate Haydn.
“We want people to stay as long as they can and feel relaxed and welcome. We try to provide as much as we can, to make it all as easy as possible.”
Haydn’s dedication to providing a family-friendly pub has not only won her a national Star Pubs & Bars award for Family Pub of the Year but has changed the customer base.
“It was a pub that people forgot really, it was so quiet. It did a complete 360° turn, and the amount of return business and new business we’ve had because people have spoken about what we do here has been fantastic,” she says.
“You can say you’re family-friendly and put a play area in, but do you really mean you are family-friendly? Are you catering for families? And that is really what we try to do, be it from cutlery, to cups, to beakers to everything we have that is family-friendly.
“By being family-friendly, it has absolutely made the pub a success. It’s definitely driven business and the kind of clientele we have.”
By opening up to families, publicans can expect repeat customers, a busier pub during quieter times, and to become a strong part of the community.
And, in a time where pubs increasingly need to be everything for everyone, doing a few simple things to attract families could make a world of difference.