How big was Christmas 2018?
According to figures from Barclaycard, while non-essential consumer spending grew by just 2%, pubs saw an increase of 12.9%.
- Pub operator Mitchells & Butlers – the pubco behind well-known brands such as Toby Carvery, Harvester and Miller & Carter – raked in a record-breaking £12m on Christmas Day, while Bury St Edmunds-based pub company Greene King saw a 10% increase in seasonal sales on 25 December, taking £7.7m across its estate
- What’s more, key trading days in December – including Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve – yielded an average 8.3% sales increase across Stonegate Pub Company’s estate of 735 wet-led pubs – with the two weeks from 17 December delivering average year-on-year increases of 12%
- Additionally, the operator of 14 sites across London – ETM Group – recorded a 16% increase to overall revenue and like-for-like sales rising by 13.1% for the five weeks to 31 December, while Arc Inspirations – the operator of brands, including Manahatta, Banyan Bar & Kitchen and The Box – revealed unprecedented festive trading.
With the average Brit getting their Christmas Day-drinking under way with a glass of fizz at 11.54am according to craft gin producer Masons Yorkshire Gin, one thing you can’t accuse revellers of is reluctance to start celebrating early.
Yet as the explosion of festive décor in supermarkets and adults getting teary over stuffed animal tragicomedy Christmas adverts creeps ever closer to the warmer end of autumn every year, pubs can benefit from following suit and getting a head-start on seasonal preparation too.
Heralded as Britain’s most photographed, and most festive pub, the Churchill Arms in Kensington, west London, notoriously goes all out, early, to transform itself into a seasonal social media sensation.
“We usually cover the Churchill Arms in hanging baskets but, during the festive season, we swap these for Christmas trees,” the pub’s manager James Keogh explains. “Every year, we’ve added more and more trees.
“We started 28 years ago with just 10 trees and last year we had 93 covering the pub and four inside – decorated with 21,500 lights.
“Of course, this is an operation that we have to plan well in advance. Our suppliers, City Plants Ltd, source trees from Denmark and it takes about three weeks to get them up and twinkling, as we can only work on this in the early hours of the morning.
“It’s definitely worth it – the Churchill Arms is a really special place to be at Christmas and I’m very proud that it’s been named as the most festive pub in the UK. ‑ e trees, lights and decorations create a real buzz around an already exciting period. People travel from all over to join us for the festive season – including international journalists and television crews.
“This year, we will switch on our Christmas lights on Monday 18 November – with an official event on ‑ Thursday 5 December with mince pies, mulled wine and Christmas carols.”
Getting your seasonal prep underway early doors could give you and your staff enough time to put your festive heads together and come up with a plan to help your pub stand out this Christmas.
Here’s some inspiration from 2018:
The Fuller’s-owned Churchill Arms in Kensington, west London, became a social media sensation after staff adorned the West London pub with more than 21,000 lights and almost 100 Christmas trees.
The Crown & Anchor in Bromley, Kent, opened its doors to senior citizens who would otherwise be alone by offering lonely OAPs free dinner and transport on Christmas Day.
The Long Arm Pub & Brewery in Shoreditch, east London, served mince pie & gingerbread-infused beer, Mince Pie-PA, to gift Londoners a glass of festive nostalgia for Christmas 2018.
Chefs at the George Pub & Grill in Stockton-on-Tees, County Durham, rustled up what it claimed was the ‘world’s biggest’ Christmas dinner – a 16,500-calorie feast featuring a 5.4kg, 8,000-calorie, ‘turkey heavier than a baby’ served alongside an array of vegetables and 20 pigs in blankets.
The Inn Collection Group teamed up with charities The Abbeyfield Society and Age UK Durham to throw 100 older people living alone in the north-east a free Christmas lunch and party on 3 December at its Durham city centre pub, the Kingslodge Inn.
The Oust House in Manchester launched a seasonal search for someone to taste its pigs in blankets, offering £500 as payment for taking the ‘taste test’.
Brewer and pubco Greene King and a specialist dietitian from Macmillan devised 10 Christmas recipes for people living with cancer who experienced eating difficulties either from the cancer itself or from treatment side effects.
Hungry Horse unveiled new creation ‘cows in quilts’ at 286 pubs nationwide to ensure their festive menu stood out from the herd.
Pub chain Farmhouse Inns, owned by Greene King, unveiled a sweeter version of the festive favourite – its Mince Pie Yorkshire pudding.
More than 1,000 Greene King pubs across the UK took part in an annual anti-drink-drive campaign with Coca-Cola by offering nominated drivers free soft drinks during the festive period.
Free up your seasonal staff
According to software developer Access Collins, it pays to get your Christmas schedule finalised and online for pre-booking as soon as possible – not only to nail down early income but to free your staff from admin as festive feet cross your pub’s threshold.
Based on all completed bookings made through the software developer in 2018, the total number of covers booked in December was 23.6% of the annual total, with advance bookings made through the site showing an increase in the party size, rising from an average of 8.01 people per booking between January and November to 11.28 people during December.
“The profit potential of getting Christmas and new year right can’t be ignored, therefore, and the starting point is to make sure you get advance bookings confirmed or everything else will be in vain,” Paul Hayes, head of sales at Access Collins – a subsidiary of Access Hospitality – explains.
“Whether it’s office parties, a catch-up among friends or families getting together on Christmas Day, there’s a great opportunity to use technology to make sure you’re getting the most out of the lucrative Christmas trade.”
Hayes adds that If you’re still using a manual booking system, the chances are that you’re missing out during the busiest time of the year.
“When you’re dealing with close to full capacity for several weeks, having the technology to manage reservations from start to finish means there’s one less thing to worry about and you can focus on providing the great experience your guests will be expecting.
“The ability to take deposits reduces admin time for general managers and front-of-house staff, and helps guarantee you don’t have a run of no-shows.
“Technology also lets you track the progress of enquiries, set reminders, add packages, take deposits, print function sheets and invoices.
“When the kitchen is at its busiest during the festive season, your reservation system should also allow you to take pre-orders and provide allergen information with ease so that advance preparation is able to reduce pressure on back and front-of-house teams.
What’s more, operators are encouraged to use a range of web services to manage seasonal traffic and allow staff to focus on hosting.
“One of the latest innovations to exploit is ‘Reserve with Google’, which allows potential customers to book directly from Google listings and Google maps, so they never have to leave the search engine to make a reservation.
“Licensees should also look for a booking system that integrates with other discovery websites so that anyone looking for a great venue to hold their party will automatically find their details and be encouraged to book by an enticing listing.”
For example, Access Collins’ sister site – Design My Night – has more 6.5m visitors every month and links directly into Access Collins’ booking system.
Festive licensing queries
According to Andy Grimsey of specialist licensing solicitors Poppleston Allen the festive season throws up a plethora of licensing considerations to throw into your pub’s seasonal prep.
- There may be more enforcement – test purchases for underage sales or visits to monitor levels of drunkenness or check licence conditions
- The police often reach an informal quota of temporary event notices (TENs) beyond which they may routinely object – so get your TENs in early
- Increase employee numbers, both with bar staff and if necessary, door staff. Allow time to train any new staff
- People tend to drink more at Christmas so refresher training to staff on signs of intoxication is sensible. Bars will be busy and customers may starting to drink earlier so give your staff the resources to make those important checks for drunkenness and age verification
- Remember your licence may contain extended hours for special days around Christmas or new year so there may be no need for a TEN
- Bear in mind customers from other (perhaps less well-run) premises may end up in your premises, or try to get in, or cause problems immediately outside. It’s always wise, therefore, to make yourself aware of any special promotions or functions at nearby premises and if necessary, take appropriate measures
- Beer gardens and outside areas may need more control, due to higher numbers and levels of ‘festive cheer’
- Licensees may wish to provide additional training for staff to spot customer welfare or vulnerability issues
- Check your licence for permitted hours since Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve are on Tuesdays so you could have shorter permitted hours than your weekend hours.