Drinks on the go

By Nikkie Sutton

- Last updated on GMT

Pop up drinks: All the secrets of taking your drinks offer outside and off site.
Pop up drinks: All the secrets of taking your drinks offer outside and off site.
Taking your drinks offer outside with a pop-up can provide a spike of excitement and pizazz, as well as adding another revenue stream

Having a great drinks offer inside your pub is one thing, but making it accessible to a wider audience across multiple locations in the venue and beyond can increase brand awareness and add more profit to the till.

Think creatively though, it’s not just about building a bar outside. Sharon ‘Tink’ Longshaw bought a horsebox and converted it into a portable pub to create Tinks Tipsy Tavern.

She outlines the reason behind the conception of the vehicle: “The number of pubs that are closing is ridiculous and it is really hitting villages hard.

“I do charity work for mental health and one in four people are now experiencing mental health issues a year (according to mental health charity Mind). All these pubs closing means people are becoming lonely and isolated.

“I can fill that gap, I’ve got wheels and can go anywhere.”

Longshaw highlights the importance of knowing your audience – an aspect that is even more crucial when operating a mobile business as the demand from the crowd can be constantly changing.

She says: “We can offer a huge range of drinks thanks to my drinks dispenser. It is very compact, it gasses and chills as it draws the beer through.

“I can stick on any keg that I like –
from Guinness to lagers or bitters – depending on where I am going and what I am doing.

“I recently went to a Pagan event and knew they would want bitters, ales and dark porters to drink rather than lagers [so I put these on the bar].

“When I did a motorbike festival, I knew they would be lager drinkers, so that is what I offered. Because I am not tied to anyone, I can be flexible and deliver what people want to drink.

“I tailor it to the audience, but if I have no indications I can gauge it on age. If I find out it is for an over-40s crowd, it will generally be more ales. If it’s for under-40s, I will offer more lagers.

“If I have no inside knowledge of the area, I would bring a mixed bar, which includes one lager and one bitter on draught, a few ciders and the rest would be bottled.”

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Understanding the challenges

Fellow mobile operator Sunderland-based Flamingo Bar and Café is the brainchild of Hannah Jackson, who knows these challenges all too well.

She echoes Longshaw’s comments about having a variety of drinks on the bar, but focuses her offer on one particularly popular spirit.

She says: “We can serve pretty much anything, but we try to steer towards gin. We like to use local suppliers so we use Fentimans for our tonics and mixers and for the spirits we use companies like Edinburgh Gin and Poetic License, which offer a range of different flavours.”

Longshaw also ensures she uses local suppliers but keeps her offer accessible for all customers. She adds: “I am essentially a freehouse and I get in touch with award-winning artisan drinks brands to keep my stock high-end but at regular pub prices. This way I can at least
get some brands out into new audiences as well.”

However, with opportunities come challenges and Flamingo’s Jackson hits the nail on the head when highlighting a potential issue in any pub, mobile or not – the customer.

She says: “The major challenge is the unknown audience and not knowing how busy the events are going to be, especially if you’re doing a cash bar rather than the pre-paid packages
we offer.

“You could serve two weddings, each of 100 people, but they will be two completely different crowds and that will determine what you end up taking and what your profit margins are.

“This could include a backlash on how many half bottles of spirits you’ve got left that you wouldn’t use for another event because you want fresh bottles.”

While weddings are one huge part of the catering market for operators looking to extend their offer into a mobile option, festivals are another.

Jackson adds: “Catering for festivals is something we are looking into. I was recently told there is a group of bands where a lot of them are vegan and are very particular about the caterers and vendors they allow on their festival sites because of their beliefs.

“We are hoping to get in touch with them and see if we can join forces over the summer.”

Can do approach

Head of brand marketing for alcohol at SHS Drinks, the parent company of WKD, Amanda Grabham outlines the benefits of serving ready-to-drink products at festivals and other pop-up events.

She says: “Canned cocktails are ideally suited to busy summer gatherings, from
pub events through to full-blown festivals.

“Festival bars are notoriously busy, so anything that helps staff serve interesting drinks quickly and helps festivalgoers spend more time having fun and less time queueing for drinks has got to be good.”

She adds that pre-made cocktails work well for a variety of reasons, but with festivals being deemed as special occasions, consumers are often on the look-out for drinks that are a little more celebratory or different.

Cans are quick for busy bar staff to serve and easy for festivalgoers to carry through the crowds.

Do your research

However, Jackson also urges pubs looking to mobile bars and pop-up pubs for inspiration to ensure they do their research.

She adds: “Not enough pubs do market research. We really looked into the demand in the north-east, into what already exists and what the area was lacking. If pubs did a lot more research into what is in fashion at the moment, they could up their takings.”

From a pub operator’s point of view, Publican Award-winners the New World Trading Company (NWTC) not only has sites across the UK, but last year launched mobile bar The Wanderer.

CEO Chris Hill says: “The Wanderer was born out of an idea to make sure we could spread the name of our different brands around the country and sometimes use it as a revenue stream, so we take it to festivals and events as well as use it for private hire.

“We also use it to go forward into a new city before we open a site, to use it as a base for pre-opening activity.

“We called it The Wanderer so we can link it to any of our brands without it having to be rigidly stuck to one particular brand and it gives us flexibility.

“For example, we branded The Wanderer to support the Florist openings so we were able to take it to Bristol and Liverpool in the weeks before those sites opened and serve Florist cocktails.”

The Citroën HY van is not only an extension of the NWTC brand but it will be taking a spot at pub chef Tom Kerridge’s Pub in the Park this year. The food-focused festival will be taking place in four locations around the country and The Wanderer will be at each of them.

However, transporting the vehicle is not as easy as it could be. Hill says: “[The biggest challenge] is the logistics of moving it. We are a national company and it can be tricky to get in to Manchester one day and Marlow the next, for example.

“The Wanderer is a vintage-looking vehicle and it isn’t roadworthy for motorways so we transport it on a trailer from location to location.”

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Look at all options

Operators considering launching a mobile bar should look into all options. Hill adds: “If you are receiving enquiries to provide a bar offering outside of your venues, it is something to consider. It is not the solution for everyone, but it suits us because we have a national presence.

“On a local level, maybe a temporary bar that you can transport easily may be more suitable.

“We decided it was an opportunity to be one of those brands and businesses that are seen at events. The reputation of our product and staff is such that people will want us to help them out at their events, outside of our venues.”

Related topics: Spirits & Cocktails

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