Summer lovin': Planning your outdoor event

By Georgina Townshend

- Last updated on GMT

Whether it's a music festival or a fun day for children, outdoor events can make a huge difference at your premises
Whether it's a music festival or a fun day for children, outdoor events can make a huge difference at your premises
Make your garden sing by putting on spectacular outdoor events with advice from pubs that have made it their business to put on a successful show

Gone are the days when a pub garden’s main use was for a pint of something refreshing in the sun or a quick cigarette. Licensees across the country are utilising every single bit of outdoor space available to put on crowd-pleasing events, while bringing in much needed extra revenue.

Here, publicans and pubcos share their secrets on how they have mastered outdoor entertainment so you can replicate their success.

Music (makes the people come together)

Kevin Abbot, owner of the Anchor, at Wingham, Kent, has put on a music festival in his beer garden for the past 11 years – the first being a celebration for his wife Michelle’s birthday.

In that time it has gone from strength to strength and is now a three-day long extravaganza, held over the first weekend of June. 

“A festival can be extremely lucrative, it raises the profile of your pub and brings in lots of new customers – you’d better be ready to turn over in three days what you would normally take in three weeks,” he says.

However, Abbot explains that putting on a music festival isn’t exactly easy (like Sunday morning).

“You’ll need a fairly large space to stage a decent live music event, and there’s a lot of planning and hard work involved, but it can be very rewarding,” he continues. 

“As a pub landlord I consider myself to be a facilitator for people to have a good time. There’s nothing more re-warding than feeling that buzz you get from a packed pub, the sound of laughter, music and clinking glasses and it’s the same when you stage a music festival at your pub.”

The publican says it is important for pubs wanting to put on music festivals to not aim “too big”, but to be realistic about how many people will attend initially.

“The Live Music Act 2012 allows you to stage events with an audience of up to 500 people without a licence and in my opinion, that’s a pretty good place to start,” he explains.

“The logistics can appear to be a bit daunting at first, you need bands, and lots of them, a stage, sound system, lighting, a sound engineer and stage crew, all of these things cost money and so you’ll need to think how you will generate the additional income to pay for it all. This can be from tickets, catering or collection buckets. Then there’s advertising, extra staff and security to take into account.”

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Dancing in the street

If your music festival proves to be a big hit, there could be a time when you need to take over the whole street. 

This is what happened to Keith Treggiden, manager of the Stonegate-owned Rendezvous in Weymouth, Dorset. He put on a music event after a local event fell apart in 2008.

“It was such a busy weekend that I didn’t want to see the local people without anything going on at all,” he explains.

“We put on a few bands, and it kind of grew from there. It started with a band playing inside projecting outwards, and then it wasn’t too long before we needed to secure five parking bays for people to stand, then after that we needed the whole road. We just grew and grew.”

This year, Treggiden is blocking off the road outside his venue for several events, including five two-day music festivals, a one-day festival and England’s three group stage matches at this summer’s football World Cup.

“The first time I decided to close the road off, I got in touch with the relevant person at the council. I had to fill out forms, talk about square metres, the amount of people per square metre, and fill out risk-assessment forms. 

“However, it is nothing compared to what I do now. Back then it was very basic stuff. Now I have to create event management packs and attend safety advisory group meetings. Last year, after the Manchester bombings, I had to review all of my festivals and make sure that we were dealing with everything from a safety point of view.”

And, it’s not just hard work preparing for the day. During a road closure, Treggiden has nine extra security members, seven of which are based at access points. 

It’s also a big upfront investment, with a one-day festival costing him around £12,000 – although he sees a large profit from that, with the best return he’s seen on one day so far being £63,000 net.

“Bands can cost anything up to £4,000 a day, but then that all depends on which bands you book,” he explains. 

“Security is probably around £1,400; outside bars I hire are about £1,000; and a big screen I hire – that is around £1,000; then there’s all your bar staff on top of that and they are paid premium rate, and that is about £2,400 for one day”.

Commenting on the satisfaction he gets from putting on the show, he says: “I do it for the love of my town and the fact that when you look at the pictures, you can just see the wow factor, and I can stand there and say, I have created that.”

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What a difference a day makes

However, big isn’t always better, and an event in your garden doesn’t have to end in the word ‘festival’ to be a success.

Glen Duckett, owner of the Great British Pub Awards Pub of the Year 2017, the Eagle & Child in Ramsbottom, Lancashire, puts on a variety of events in his garden with his horticultural team to help spread his ethos of education around food and sustainable practice.

“This Easter we put on a Jack and the Beanstalk event, where we showed families how to make willow obelisks, and how to sow beans and peas. 

“We have a session on gardening for wildlife. For this, we will be making seed bombs to put in the garden as well as how to make bird feeders out of plastic bottles. 

“We are also doing a grow your own stir fry event, which is where people learn how to grow things like pak choi, peppers, chillies and bean sprouts.

Duckett says he tickets these events but puts on a reduced price lunch for those who take part.

“We tend to do things like this every year, and it goes down great with the kids and parents. We always get a good number of people.

“By using your garden to its full potential, you can really get people in. 

“And, when we do the events, obviously a lot of people will come and make a night of it then, they will come for food, beers, and stay for whatever event you’re putting on.”

 On putting on outdoor events, Duckett advises pubs to ensure they have a covered area – due to England’s unpredictable weather – and that it is a safe and clean space. 

This is especially important if you are looking at the family market, he says. 

“Gone are the days you can have a dingy beer garden with dirty ashtrays all over – it’s got to look the part.”

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The show must go on 

Theatre is another popular entertainment pubs can tap into, and for the past eight years, pubco and brewer Fuller’s has found a way of doing this with outdoor performances for its annual Shakespeare in the Garden show.

Nick Corden, head of retail marketing at the pubco, says: “It all started at the Rose & Crown in Ealing as a one-off event. It has grown and grown every year into the summer-long festival it has become, with more and more pubs requesting we include them in the programme. [It’s in such demand] that we can’t say yes to every request.”

This year, the summer-long festival will see 50 performances across 30 pubs, interpreting two plays; a classic version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream​ in its large pub gardens, as well as Much Ado About Nothing​ in smaller outside spaces.

“The pub garden and Shakespeare are uniquely British, and the key to the success is working with the theatre company to tailor the performance to a trip to the pub, with lots of laughter and audience participation,” explains Corden.

Jonathon Swaine, managing director of Fuller’s Inns, adds: “Watching Shakespeare in such an informal environment is as it was originally intended. It is the perfect marriage of pub culture and Britain’s finest playwright. [As it says in Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors​] ‘small cheer and great welcome makes a merry feast’.”

We are family

Outdoor events can offer the opportunity for pubs to help their communities raise valuable funds for charity while getting together for a good time.

Chris Maskery, owner of the Fighting Cocks in Horton Kirby, Kent, puts on events for the whole family, which do exactly this. His pub has a one-and-a-half acre garden with the delightful and relatively benign flowing River Darent at the bottom of it. 

Riverside access from the pub garden means they can host charity boat races with kids and parents in dinghies or duck races. 

Maskery says: “The kids buy yellow ducks, which they paint and we set them off from one end then they all go down from one end of the garden to the other. In the summer, with a relatively slow current, it can take 20 minutes. 

“It’s really quite exciting. All the kids are shouting, because they want their duck to win. We give them a prize, and the entry money goes to a charity of their choice.”

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Other events Maskery puts on include human table football in the garden – which includes an inflatable pitch, where participants are strapped to the bar, just like a table footballer would be; a bucking bronco competition; and a ‘motor ball’ football game – that includes motorised buggies and a very large ball.

“I try to do what I can to make it a little different. What makes this place special is the garden. It’s footfall at the end of the day, it brings people into the pub. These events help charity and it also helps the pub. 

“If you want to drive footfall, you can’t just simply open the doors anymore. You have to do things to get people in.” 

Maskery advises: “Just use the space as best you can. We invested a lot of money into it when we came here by building a large conservatory. So, even if it’s a cold day, you still feel like you’re sat in the garden.

“When you do something with the garden, that other people aren’t doing, like these games, it makes you special, makes you different – and that’s what it is all about.”

Music festivals can certainly get the party started, and quirky events enable all the family to come together. 

So, whatever type of event you chose for your garden, it’s clear that putting on extraordinary outdoor entertainment can benefit your pub financially, entice new people in, all the while ensuring the regulars continue to simply have Fun, Fun, Fun​, like the Beach Boys said

Legal obligations for outdoor events

Andy Grimsey, partner at law firm Poppleston Allen, highlights the main points licensees need to consider.

  • Every outdoor event is different, so plan accordingly
  • Start early – the authorities hate surprises
  • You may be able to use your existing premises licence if it has off-sales and no restrictive conditions, or on-sales and your outdoor area is licensed for alcohol sales
  • Define your outdoor area clearly – you can even use Ordinance Survey co-ordinates if necessary
  • If there are 499 customers or fewer, you can probably use a temporary event notice (TEN)
  • If there’s more than 499, you probably need a full premises licence
  • Be clear whether you want just on-sales or off as well 
  • Many authorities operate a safety advisory group who will offer advice
  • Consider letting your neighbours know and offer them tickets
  • Remember a TEN or premises licence is only one type of permission – you may need copyright permissions, food safety registration, fireworks/pyrotechnics, event insurance, etc.
  • The best place to start is your local licensing authority’s statement of licensing policy on the council website

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