Young people are drinking less frequently and many are abstaining altogether, providing both challenges and opportunities for pubs in university towns.
More than 25% of 16 to 24-year-olds classed themselves as non-drinkers in research published in the BMC Public Health journal last year.
Mark Sherman from the Monkey Suit, Exeter, said students now want a more civilised drinking experience during the first few weeks of term and appreciate good prices throughout the week.
The bar was shortlisted in the Best Spirits category at this year’s Great British Pub Awards and focuses on offering students affordable prices and a variety of entertainment.
Quality over quantity
Sherman explained: “Students, especially down in Exeter, [are] going for quality over quantity.
“That is where the key lies, for a lot of the businesses across the board, whether it’s bars or restaurants. People aren't so focused anymore on just getting smashed and drinking as much as they can for cheap.
“Those days are very much over, especially down here, we find people want more quality products they're more interested in paying for something a little bit better than just shovelling down cheap drinks.”
The site has 10 DJ nights planned in its upstairs space alongside seven band nights for the freshers’ period.
Sherman added: “We're trying to create a memory. It all comes down to that: create a memory of the place you went to, you know you had a good time and from that, that leads the way for us throughout the academic year.
“If you get it right in the first few couple of weeks then you get it for the year.”
For Brewhouse & Kitchen, which now boasts 24 sites across the country, ensuring students return throughout university is a key consideration in this time too.
Marketing manager Gail Bunn explained: “Many of our sites also work alongside universities and students to ensure a great experience during higher education for those that live and study around our sites.
“For example, in Nottingham, we have sponsored societies and offer space to help them meet and have a great time while experiencing an on-site brewed pint.
“Also, in Cardiff, for example, our burger nights are always popular with students.
“By hosting lots of different events, new and exciting products, and having a friendly team, pubs can offer a lot to the student and residential populations alike to bring them in and keep them coming back for the duration of their studies.”
Its sites want to “encourage an environment of inclusivity” for those new to the area, and has a strong low-and-no alcohol offering for the growing group of young people who do not drink, Bunn added.
She said: “The trend that younger people are drinking less is one that we have seen and our low-ABV and food offering has been a great driver in making all of our sites destinations in their own right, even for those who don’t drink.”
Another pubco with a lot of sites in university heartlands – including Bristol, Brighton, Bath, and Cambridge – is City Pub Co.
“We have welcome flyers and promotion packs in students’ bedrooms in halls of residence, including vouchers and ‘golden envelopes’ with discounts,” Jim Charlton, the group’s regional director in the west, explained the importance of working with universities to get marketing material out.
“It’s a way of them to come and find you, so we usually give them an offer. The main idea is so they can find where you are.”
Creating an experience that provides value for money in the first few weeks is integral, Charlton added.
He said: “We're not one of the companies that do £1 or £2 pints, we’re not crazy cheap but we do discounts on our own brews and our mainline lager and cider.
“In this day and age, kids want to have Instagrammable things, the place needs to be quite cool so they can take pictures of themselves. We have an app where they can earn reward points for free food and drink, which creates loyalty.
“We do quite a lot with clubs and societies, we’re quite fortunate to have quite a lot of spaces where we can divide up our pubs.”