While brands are a statement of quality and consistency in the pub trade, the operators that celebrate the unique over the ubiquitous are best poised to surprise and delight. As Mark Reynolds, co-founder of London-based Three Cheers Pub Company, puts it: “We’re not a chain, we’re a collection of pubs. It’s important we maintain the individuality of each pub.”
Established in 2003 by Reynolds and his school friends Tom Peake and Nick Fox, the Three Cheers Pub Company has recently acquired its ninth site, the Bedford in Balham, south London – a mainstay of Britain’s grassroots music and comedy circuits.
Unique charm and features
With each Three Cheers pub exuding a unique charm, as well as features ranging from boutique bedrooms to picturesque gardens, the process of finding a site has been far from formulaic.
“All the pubs are different in their own right. We look at each pub’s location to work out exactly what we’re going to do with the pub. Having said that, there is a thread that runs through them.
“The history, the size and the location seem to determine what you do with it.”
Host of London’s longest-running comedy club and a launchpad for the careers of household names such as Michael McIntyre, Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith, the latest site in their stable, the Bedford, isn’t lacking on either count.
The famed live entertainment venue flung open its doors in late November after a multimillion-pound revamp, becoming Three Cheers’ newest venue and the second opening for Six Cheers – its managed investment partnership with Ei Group.
“The Bedford is going to be very entertainment-led.” Reynolds explains.
“There’s live music and comedy, there are five different bars and four different function room areas where people can have private parties. It lends itself to being a destination pub.”
While celebrating the site’s history as a mainstay of British music and comedy, Three Cheers has embraced the bricks and mortar that saw the Bedford granted Grade II-listed status in 2015, pumping in excess of £1m into the south London site.
“This has been a very big financial outgoing for us. If you’re dealing with a listed building then you’re dealing with the council and with listed building consent – it’s a very expensive business.
“We’ve tried to strip it right back and restore it to what it used to be – a lot of it has been about stripping it back, finding all the oak panelling and bringing that out in the pub, while ensuring it meets the increasing demand for unique experiences made by today’s customers.”
As such, the Bedford will reopen as a 250-capacity live music venue that boasts a state-of-the-art £80,000 sound system and 15 individually designed bedrooms.
“The industry continues to reinvent itself,” says Reynolds. “Pubs have to adapt. They can’t just get away with selling good food and good beer and wine – they have to offer the customer more.
“The customer wants an experience. They can now come to the Bedford, have some supper and a couple of drinks, they can then watch comedy for an hour and a half and then dance to a DJ until two in the morning and then go upstairs and stay in one of the fantastic bedrooms.
“Suddenly you’ve taken popping down for a pint and turned it into a full evening of entertainment – all under one roof – which I think people really want and demand nowadays.”
The ‘experience economy’ in association with Barclaycard
There’s been a lot said about the ‘experience economy’ in recent years, and Barclaycard research suggests that this trend is more prevalent among younger demographics.
For example, pop-up shops and restaurants, which tend to offer a unique or unusual experience, proved to be particularly popular for people aged under 34.
This suggests that pubs could potentially attract younger customers if they offer people something out of the ordinary.
Furthermore, Barclaycard consumer research shows that more than two thirds of diners (68%) believe that the experience of dining out is as important as the meal itself, so it’s important for operators to look at how they can improve the overall customer experience and offer people something new or unique.
We’ve seen a trend for new bars and pubs to centre their offering around a particular experience or activity, such as darts or crazy golf, while others try to offer quirky menus or unique entertainment.
The aim is to keep customers entertained, and to give them a fun space for socialising while they order food and drink.
And, of course, the longer they stay, the more they’ll spend.