While it may seem the UK has just a three-week window of warm weather every year, summer is a great chance to use customers’ desires to sit outside and boost your profits.
But there are also opportunities to make outside space appealing throughout the entire year, operators argue.
Additional trading space
Pub gardens have been somewhat neglected historically, according to Toni Naylor, pub marketing executive at Thwaites Brewery. Here, she visits the brewery’s sites to discuss with operators how to maximise their outdoor space.
“A big thing for us at the moment is encouraging pubs to use outside areas as an additional trading space rather than a second thought,” Naylor says.
Keeping an outdoor space clean and well maintained is key.
“Making a garden really attractive and trying to make it as comfortable as being inside will mean people don’t feel like they’ve got a second-class offer by sitting outside, they’re equally as happy and comfortable irrespective of whether it is hot or a bit fresher,” she adds.
The power of ‘chill’
There is money to be made in this. Licensee Glyn Bufton operates the Bridge Inn, on the edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park, Wales, and says his site’s beautiful riverside garden is a lure for customers to make a trip to come visit.
He explains: “We are in the middle of nowhere, not many chimney pots around and no passing trade because we are on the backroads – not on the way to or from anywhere.
“Having a river out there and a nice beer garden area is a really big draw for people on a nice summer’s day,” he says.
“People are more chilled if they’re sitting outside and, if they’re eating, they’re just really relaxed.”
Weird and wonderful elements in a pub garden can help a site make a name for itself and attract trade from far corners.
One site that has done just this is the Standard pub in Northallerton, North Yorkshire, which features a 1960s RAF jet in its beer garden.
Licensee Paul Greigbought the retired 1966 Jet Provost T3 on eBay for £100 and said customers comefrom as far as the Netherlands to see it. Great British Pub Awards finalist in 2017, the Boathouse, Chester, also created a USP when it extended its riverside outdoor space with the addition of a floating barge terrace.
The extension added 200 covers to the outdoor area and helped solidify its identity as a waterside venue.
Divide and conquer
Zoning is a tactic that can be used outside as well as inside. Dividing a site’s garden space can make the area appeal to different demographics while keeping a harmonious balance.
Bufton advises: “Separate areas up so it’s not just one big space, and there are lots of nice little bits for people to make their own.
“Having a separate smoking area is a good idea so non-smokers don’t have smokers right next to them. If you have a big area, it doesn’t matter so much.
“All our tables are well spaced out but if you’re in a really tight area, you want to have people smoking in one area away from everyone.
“It can be a big draw as well for people who want to go to the pub and smoke if there’s a nice outside area.”
South London site the Ship, Wandsworth, has invested in tailoring different outdoor segments for different types of customers. “Being on the banks of the Thames, we make the most of our glorious riverside location, with space to sit and drink in the sun on all sides,” explains Gemma Chandler, the sales and marketing manager for the Young’s site.
“We have our outside Doolali Bar offering all a vast range of perfect summer tipples including Pimm’s on tap.
“For private parties where people want to do something a little different, we have our Riverside Cabins, seating up to 15 revellers for the night and each containing a plasma screen.”
Naylor agrees that separate seating can be an attractive offer.
She explains: “We have one pub with a big outside area but a lot of it was grass space so we have put pods out there that are like five little wooden rooms with a table and a heater inside. It helps to draw customers in as an all-year-round asset using the outside space.”
Improve the service
Pricey and quirky elements aside, one of the most important aspects to making the most of a pub garden is the fundamental basic of good, attentive service.
Getting drinks has to be easy for a customer, says licensee Bufton.
“If you’ve got the staff, and the potential to do it, actually take orders and serve them at the tables.
“Get your sales up, get your staff out among the beer garden and check to see if there’s anyone just sat there chatting without a drink.
“It’s better for the customer, it’s better for the business.”
There are technological solutions that can help give parity to customers outside too – if staffing levels are a concern.
“I get the impression operators are a little mindful around the service level so the customer experience is inevitably a little bit different when people sit outside,” Naylor explains.
“Some of our managed properties have looked at call-to-action buttons to get around that element of requiring additional members of staff, so it’s a physical button people can press for service and then members of staff will come out and help them and serve them,” Naylor says.
Everything is Ship Shack
Another pub to use technology in this way is the Ship, in Wandsworth. Chandler explains: “If you’re hungry, we have our outside kitchen – the ‘Ship Shack’ – serving burgers and street food dishes from midday until 10pm, no need to hang around just give us your mobile number and you’ll get a text when your food is done.”
Call Systems Technology (CST) managing director Eloise Sheppard says technology can be incorporated into service in a way that means staff are not unnecessarily leaving the main pub.
She says: “To achieve that feel-good atmosphere across the pub and maximise the impact of garden seating, front-of- house teams should be readily available without being constantly in view.
“Communication between teams should be almost invisible yet still allow the venue to operate at its best.
“Modern pagers, designed specifically for the pub industry, are allowing just that, with the technology having a real impact on front-of-house efficiency.”
There is a huge opportunity for pubs to make the most of their outside areas in the winter months, Naylor believes.
She says: “Traditionally, we don’t tend to really optimise them during winter but if you go to European cities like Berlin or Austria, they sit outside and use those all year round. They are just much more prepared for it.
“Quite a few of our pubs have really great views so it is really nice to still sit outside during those winter months and be able to look out.”
Operators can make outdoor areas more appealing by purchasing blankets, hot water bottles and outside heaters, Naylor says. Selling hot drinks offers is also an effective way to promote outside areas.
And although most customers would rather be close to a fire or not even exposed to the elements during seriously bad weather, Bufton says it is worth investing in some covering. “People will still go outside on warm nights if it’s raining if they have got a bit of cover,” he says.
Jacob’s Inn, the winner of last year’s Great British Pub Awards in the Best Pub Garden category, expanded its outside bar and dining space. It covered these areas in sails to complement outdoor fire pits so that customers would be warm and dry no matter the weather