It is that time of year again. After the cold winter months any sign of sun and people want to be outside eating and drinking.
The challenge for licensees is how to get these customers out of their own gardens and into the their premises. Pubs need to offer something a bit more sophisticated than a trademark pub bench and use their garden furniture to full advantage.
Star Pubs & Bars licensee Mike Hales of the Butlers Arms at Pleasington, Lancashire, spent around £90,000 last year replacing a “tatty patio” by adding a new terrace at the back of the pub on 6ft of his bowling green.
The result was that it doubled the income of the pub during the summer months from £22,000 to £45,000.
“I got the idea from Mykonos, Greece, where you get a lot of the infinity outdoor swimming pools,” says Hales.
The area has been designed to offer dining spaces, high bar stools and comfortable areas with fire pits, where customers can cook their own food.
“The furniture was quite expensive. I didn’t want something run of the mill because people are driving out here and want something special. Some people drive hundreds of miles to get to us,” Hales says.
“This year, we have bought contraptions that can turn the fire pits into barbecues. We rent these out with a Prosecco package and you can have even have gin and 12 different tonics to celebrate birthdays.”
Hales says it is crucial that the outside area has something different to the norm and insists the secret is to offer that wow factor.
“There was a big open space in the middle of the terrace and I wanted a big tree but couldn’t find anything. In the end, I found this beautiful Japanese Red Acer tree that we hoisted up and created an eating and drinking area underneath,” Hales says.
Bin store conversion
Dianne Irving, licensee at the Crown in Carlisle, Cumbria, who was finalist in Great British Pub Awards Best Pub Garden 2018 category agrees, the outside area needs to be special.
When she took on the pub, the garden was a bin store and dumping ground for the kitchen. The creation of its outdoor area called ‘Courtyard@TheCrown’ has allowed the pub to add an extra 30 covers.
“Firstly, I wanted it tidied up to stop it being an eyesore and then realised it was an area that could be used to increase our covers and, ultimately, our revenue,” says Irving.
She chose a mixture of high barstyle tables and chairs with some low-level sofas.
“The gas fire pit tables provide a suitable talking point but, most importantly, the furniture is also comfortable,” she says.
“Being a community pub, we have a mix of ages of our regular customers, some of our older regulars prefer the lower furniture while our larger high tables are particularly popular with larger groups.”
The fire pits, as well as being aesthetically pleasing, offer an atmosphere that allows summer evenings to be one of the most popular times for usage of the area.
“The time and investment made in this area has paid dividends with the additional revenue the area brings.
“It’s something I would thoroughly recommend doing but it has to be done with a degree of creativity and imagination, otherwise people will choose to stay at home in their own gardens,” she adds.
An ‘extra’ room
Thwaites pub the Grey Mare, in Oswaldtwistle, Greater Manchester, has made the most of the stunning views of the Moors in its outside space, which proves popular in the summer.
“The biggest factor for us is that we utilise it as another room,” says licensee Becky Prince. “Even though the British weather is not always that fantastic, we put a marquee outside and use it in that way.”
She updates the furniture every year and says that practicality as well as functionality is essential.
“We have nowhere to store it throughout the winter months so it has to stay outside and it has to be of a high quality. This saves money in the long run, if you are willing to do that,” she advises.
Brolly good show
This is a view supported by Bradley Jones-Chapman, company secretary at Alfresco Europe, which supplies parasols and umbrellas, who agrees that licensees need to focus on good quality, whatever the budget.
He says that the financial situation along with concerns over Brexit has meant that licensees have been a bit slow to look at investing in their outside areas this year.
“If you have 100 covers and you can fill 50 to 60 covers outside, you are increasing capacity significantly,” he says.
“The return on investment is incredible. A £5,000 umbrella is the price of selling an extra pint of beer a day over the year.”
However, if budgets are tight he advises licensees to consider buying good-quality items second-hand.
“We offer a second-hand service and have around 70 umbrellas in stock. If a licensee says ‘I don’t have the money’ we will adapt and try and find them something that will suit,” he says.
He advises licensees to look closely at the outside area, consider their customers and make an investment for the longer term.
Leisure Bench marketing manager Pete Bennett agrees. He explains: “Quality furniture can turn outdoor space into profitable space and, as a result, increase profits rather than leaving it as ‘dead’ space. Commercial-grade furniture has a longer lifespan than retail and represents better value for money.”
He advises licensees with larger spaces to look at furniture such as picnic tables, teak benches and rattan sofa sets.
“In smaller areas, consider stackable furniture and dining sets, rather than picnic tables,” he advises. “They take up less room and many of the different designs can be stacked away neatly when not in use.”
Bennett says a growing trend for many pubs is to ask for more bespoke furniture such as tables to be sprayed in specific colours with logos.
While focusing on furnishing the outdoor area, having that default food option to grow the business is another area to consider.
Cinders Barbecues marketing director Karen Swift says its own Gorkana survey of 1,000 consumers found that almost half (47%) think pubs need to improve and use more imagination when offering barbecues.
Swift says having a fast cooking grill, such as its own ‘Classic’ that can cook 1,000 burgers a day, can help.
“This allows pubs to maximise their revenue, not losing the quarter of diners who might take a look at a queue and leave,” she advises. “It also means less space in the outdoor area needs to be provided to accommodate a queue of customers and reduces the risk of upsetting other seated diners, who cannot relax with a line of people standing right by them.”
The summer months are beckoning, and pubs needs to be making sure their outdoor areas and furniture are fit for purpose. With a bit of imagination pub gardens are a great income driver.