Garden Fillers: how to maximise summer drinks sales in your pub

By Emma Eversham

- Last updated on GMT

Helping hand: Visual prompts such as PoS are vital during the summer months
Helping hand: Visual prompts such as PoS are vital during the summer months

Related tags Cider

What Brits drink in pub gardens has evolved dramatically over the years, with promiscuous punters swapping their favourite tipple as frequently as the summer weather changes. But with hopes of a scorcher this year, operators and suppliers are already predicting which drinks will set sales on fire

Nick Deverell-Smith – like many of us – is looking forward to the summer and its promise of warmer weather, which he hopes will bring throngs of customers to fill the terrace and gardens at his Cotswolds pub, the Churchill Arms.

“We have some stunning views from the terrace so, on the right day and with the perfect sunset, we will have lots of drinkers,” he says. “Although we’re food-led, we’re not stuffy, so we welcome those who might just want a drink and some home-made pork scratchings.”

Preparing for warmer weather

In anticipation of the warmer weather, Deverell-Smith is amending his drinks menu. A few “lighter whites and a rosé” are replacing “heavier reds” on the wine list, while his bar manager is experimenting with recipes for new cocktails and mocktails. The predicted star of the summer at the pub in Paxford, Gloucestershire, however, is pink Prosecco.

“Last year, we had a beautiful rosé blush called Paradis and customers couldn’t get enough of it,” he enthuses. “I think the new pink Prosecco will be the hit of the summer. It will grab customers’ imaginations because pink reminds everyone of summer, plus everyone loves Prosecco.”

Finding that summertime drinks winner is the wish of most publicans and while there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, there are some key areas to focus on that could help facilitate it.

While it’s not an area exclusively reserved for summer, the interest in craft drinks will nevertheless play a strong part in this season’s offering, as customers continue to seek products brandishing messages of quality and authenticity.

“Consumers are increasingly becoming more discerning about the products they are purchasing – they want to know and understand not only where products are from, but what makes them unique,” says Meriam Alnaman, senior marketing manager for Swedish independent cider maker Kopparberg – which has recently introduced its first new fruit cider flavour in three years: Kopparberg Blueberry & Lime.

Post craft-beer society

James Law, co-founder of Longflint Drinks Co, who has used his experience of craft brewing at Crate Brewery in Hackney Wick, east London, to produce a range of long drinks, such as Rose Hip & Gin Fizz, and Rhubarb & Vodka Seltzer, agrees. Law believes we live in a “post-craft beer society” where drinkers have “witnessed a revolution” in quality, taste and design and won’t settle for less.

“Even if you don’t happen to drink craft beer, people are looking for better things to drink that taste amazing and are authentically produced with an interesting back story,” he says. “The game has changed.”

The importance of premiumisation also means a move towards more complex flavours, particularly with soft drinks, believes Jen Draper, head of marketing at Franklin & Sons.

“We know that consumers are becoming more discerning in their choices, so offering a ‘traditional’ lemonade or orange flavour just isn’t enough,” she says.

Seeking further innovation

Draper says secondary flavours and tertiary food-led flavours, as seen in Franklin & Sons’ Cloudy Apple & Yorkshire Rhubarb with Cinnamon or Wild Strawberry & Scottish Raspberry with Cracked Black Pepper, will become more commonplace this summer as consumers seek further innovation.

Stocking novel soft drinks and getting creative with mocktails are essential for those who will not only be serving non-drinkers and children this summer, but also the session drinkers, who may seek an interlude from alcohol and much-needed hydration on a balmy afternoon.

“Mocktails can be just as creative as cocktails, and licensees should make the most of flavours from adult soft drinks like Appletiser or the Schweppes 1783 range to keep their offering fresh and exciting,” says Amy Burgess, trade communication manager at Coca-Cola European Partners. “As almost a third of people say they’d consider ordering a mocktail if offered, this is a great opportunity for licensees to maximise sales.”

When it comes to suitable alcoholic drinks for an afternoon of drinking that could stretch into the evening and beyond, drinks producers recommend something ‘non-cloying’ and with a low ABV.

“If you’re with friends for three or four hours, you need a drink that matches the moment – below 6% ABV is key, or maybe lower,” advises Longflint Drink Co’s Law.

“The health agenda will also start to impact the category,” continues Alnaman of Kopparberg, whose alcohol-free range commands 18% of the alcohol-free category. “As consumers become more health conscious, brewers and cider makers need to ensure they are prepared by diversifying their portfolios to address these trends.”

Other lower-calorie and lower-ABV options on the market include Sekforde’s botanical mixers, which come in at 17 calories per serve and have a sugar content of 4g/100ml, and WKD’s NKD range, which contains 95 calories per bottle.

Sophisticated tastes

Sekforde co-founder Talula White notes that pubs have already been using the rum mixer with white rums like Havana 3 to create a Mojito-style pitcher to much success.

“The whiskey mixer also works really well with summer classic Pimm’s as an alternative to lemonade, giving a more sophisticated taste and ‘wow’ factor,” she adds.

Those, like Deverell-Smith who are hoping to fill their outside space with customers this summer, have two further elements to consider around drinks: speed-of-service and promotion.

As Law says, when the sun’s beating down outside, drinkers don’t want to waste time waiting at the bar, so have drinks pre-made or in easy-to-serve formats, such as cans or bottles. And consider chiller buckets, jugs, or even installing an outside bar to speed things up further.

“Batching is a popular way to get drinks out efficiently and consistently,” suggests Bacardi Rum’s UK brand ambassador Metinee Kongsrivilai, who also highlights cocktails on tap as a growing trend.

Draughting in some backup

Cocktail brand Funkin is ahead of the curve in this aspect, launching four pre-batched draught cocktails earlier this year – Pornstar Martini, Piña Colada, Pink Grape-fruit Gin Collins and Mojito – in plenty of time for the busy summer months.

Funkin managing director Andrew King says: “Funkin’s Premium Batched Draught Cocktails are simple, fast and use existing infrastructure, minimising licensee investment.”

If you have invested in new products for the summer months, you will also need to apply some innovative thinking to promote it, as guests won’t be spending long inside to view the usual PoS.

At the Churchill Arms, chalkboards are dotted around inside and outside the pub to promote the wine or cocktail of the week, a move that Amanda Grabham, head of brand marketing for alcohol at SHS Drinks, advocates.

Grabham whose company has released a new variant of WKD this spring – WKD Mango Crush – says it is important to consider the role of PoS and chalkboards for pub gardens if you really want to sell the products you’ve invested in.

“When groups of friends are seated outside, they need visual prompts to let them know what’s available inside,” she says. “Without these indicators, consumers will often revert to their default choices so as to make it easy for the person actually trekking to the bar.”  

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