What trends are driving pub footfall in 2018?

By Fred A'Court

- Last updated on GMT

Driving footfall: increasing footfall at your pub results in more sales. Check out the latest trends to get people through the door
Driving footfall: increasing footfall at your pub results in more sales. Check out the latest trends to get people through the door
Getting people through the door is crucial for any pub. But what are the trends driving footfall in 2018?

Pubs need to look beyond the regular choices to attract new customers, if the latest trends scale up as expected. 

Far from the traditional offerings, growing trends include vegan food, low-sugar soft drinks, and no or low-alcohol beverages according to research. Pubgoers still want a pub with traditional pictures and features though, and not a restaurant-like venue. 

Ironically, it’s the wide choice of potential developments that poses one of the main challenges – can a pub be all things to all people?

Car parking spaces are important. This applies to passing trade and locals. Market intelligence agency Mintel found that 58% of pubgoers cite parking spaces as an important consideration, peaking among village/rural dwellers (70%). Almost a quarter of pubgoers cite children’s play areas as important, a figure driven by 25 to 44-year-olds (37%) and those with children under the age of 18 (47%), the agency’s latest report on pub visiting says. 

Emma Clifford, associate director for food and drink at Mintel, sums up the challenge of catering for all types of customers, saying: “Millennials are particularly likely to view pubs as all-round leisure experiences and are receptive to new and more unusual forms of entertainment. The difficulty for landlords will be to cater for these open-minded pubgoers while also meeting the needs of traditional patrons.”

World of sports

UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls acknowledges most ideas may appear done to death, but adds that plenty of pubs are finding new ways to drive footfall. “We’re seeing lots of pubs put a new spin on familiar ideas, so venues like Flight Club offer an activity that has been a feature of pubs for decades, but in a fresh and vibrant way. 

“Some, like Bounce, have harnessed a sport that has certainly never traditionally been seen in pubs. While others have become known for board games or vintage video games, blurring the line between the pub and the arcade.”

Televised sport is one of the biggest attractions. CGA Strategy client services director Jonny Jones told a Morning Advertiser ​conference earlier this year that football is the most popular pub sport, with 73% of respondents to CGA’s BrandTrack 2017 survey preferring it. Rugby is the second most popular, with one in five watching, while 18% watch boxing. Mintel claims 28% of pubgoers cite live TV sport as an attraction, rising higher among men and the AB higher-income demographic.

As well as having numerous TV screens and a projector, the Thirsty Bear, in Southwark, south London, has beer taps on tables, allowing customers to pour their own pints. Customers can also order items using an iPad, which doubles as an additional viewer to monitor other match scores and sporting news.

Nicholls reckons more pubs are moving away from just live football. “Some pubs have tapped into mixed martial arts, American football or wrestling. All-nighters showing live US sports are increasingly popular and events like the Super Bowl can help draw customers who might not usually watch sport in a pub.”

Food, of course, has been a mainstay of the pub trade for decades but tastes are changing. CGA business research found that leaders believe the biggest emerging trends in food and related issues are vegan food, cited by 69% of those who answered, followed by ‘free-from’ options (54%), food waste and sustainability (50%), vegetarian (47%), small plates (34%) and super foods (24%). 

Mintel says 87% of pub visitors rate high-quality food as important, but warns that 12% of visitors feel pubs have become too similar to restaurants. Traditional features such as fireplaces are important to 48%, rising to 53% among upper and middle class (A and B) groups, 54% among 25-34s and 57% of consumers with a household annual income over £50,000.

The Sunday roast seems as popular as ever despite its decline at home. 

Food in sports pubs and bars, though, is not the most important consideration. It rates only fifth in importance in driving visits, according to CGA. Most important is the quality of the overall experience, followed by service, value for money, and value of the experience. 

Premium provides rise in wet sales

The ‘wet’ side of the trade has developed significantly over the past few years. A high share of pubgoers regard a good range of alcoholic and soft drinks as important (75% and 65% respectively – Mintel). Cheers Cafe, Bar & Tavern in Fraserburgh, north-east Scotland, for example, features more than 900 spirits. 

Craft beers continue to lead the field in continuing or emerging trends according to 46% of business leaders surveyed by CGA. Although the next two findings may surprise some – low-sugar drinks is mentioned by 45% and no or low-alcohol beverages by 38% – the fact that one in three admit to drinking less than in the past may be a contributing factor. 

Brigid Simmonds, chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association, makes the point that the rise in high street coffee stores has prompted pubs to install state-of-the-art coffee machines, and to serve breakfast, tapping into café culture. 

Cocktails, cocktail-making classes and the rise in gins provide a potentially better mark-up than other drinks. Just over a quarter of pubgoers typically spend under £10 on drinks, 44% between £10 and £20, and 12% more than £25, says Mintel. Cheers Cafe, Bar & Tavern said cocktail-making classes have proved a big hit, generating strong publicity and marketing.

Pets win prizes

Some pubs are potentially barring as many as one in three customers by not allowing dogs into their premises. Mintel puts the dog-owning community at 31%. It says: “Proactive landlords can cater for these consumers and make dogs welcome with water bowls and treats, or even selling small dog-related items as an additional revenue stream.”

Similarly, closing for one day a week doesn’t sound too bad a deal until one realises that it translates into one year in seven! Slow on a Monday? Consider something totally different such as a takeaway or pizza delivery service. CGA says 58% of the population had food delivered in the six months to April. Research suggests the two most important factors are not the quality of the food, but the speed of delivery, and products delivered at the correct temperature. 

If that proves too big a step then consider a different direction, if only to boost quieter evenings. Hermitage Rd Bar and Restaurant, in Hitchin, Hertfordshire, launched a £5 cocktail menu for Sundays while Smoke & Mirrors in Bristol has five in-house resident magicians on hand with the pub proving a strong draw for lovers of sleight of hand. It also hosts visiting magicians. At The Mad Hatter in Oxford, drinks are served in a wide range of vessels from teapots to top hats with drinkers posting photographs on social media.

Teaming up with another business can benefit both of you. Ei Publican Partnerships and Star Pubs & Bars, recently joined forces to promote National Pub Fortnight. Individual pubs can team up with other nearby businesses to promote local events.

Finally, toilets are among the most important considerations for customers when deciding whether a pub is good. According to Mintel, the cleanliness of the toilets scores the highest share of importance among pubgoers, cited by 93%, rising to 97% among women. So spending more than a penny on the loos can pay dividends.      

Know your legal limits

Clare Eames, partner at specialist licensing solicitor Poppleston Allen, says: “We are seeing ever-more creative methods by operators to attract customers. Events and promotions are a great way to bring in new business and offer something new to existing customers. It is important, however, to make sure that a business knows the limits of its permissions and stays within the law.

“Drinks promotions are consistently popular but there are rules that must be followed to ensure premises do not participate in irresponsible promotions. For example, if operating under a premises licence then some promotions are restricted or, in some cases, banned. Others, including happy hours and bottomless brunch, are permitted in certain circumstances and prudent operators will conduct appropriate risk assessments. 

Low level, non-commercial gaming is permitted in pubs, including poker and casino nights, although strict rules, stakes and prizes vary. 

Certain entertainment, including live music, can also be provided without specific authorisation. However, again, a business must keep within the conditions which stipulate, among other things, timings and audience numbers. 

The above relates to the law in England and Wales. Scotland is different. The key thing is to check permissions carefully, engage with neighbours and relevant authorities, and take legal advice if unsure.

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