Drinks are the building blocks of a pub’s make-up. Whether that pub is wet-led or food-focused, a strong drinks list can entice customers in and stay for longer.
This continues to be the case when operators are putting plans in place to reopen. For pricing, the latest Hospitality Leaders Poll by MCA Insight/HIM, which asked 438 hospitality bosses – including 278 pub leaders – found 3% are looking to lower drinks prices, 13% are unsure what to do, more than a quarter (28%) said they are increasing prices and 56% aren’t looking to adjust them.
But, when it comes to reducing the number of drinks on offer, some operators are considering reducing variety when the doors open.
The number of wines on offer is subject pub owner Brendan Padfield is currently scrutinising.
Padfield, who runs the Unruly Pig in Bromeswell, Suffolk, is significantly cutting his wine list when reopening but this will be open to adaptation and what customers want.
He says: “We are reducing our wine list and that is with an extremely heavy heart but the reality is, times are tight and we need to hang on to as much capital as possible.
“With a drinks list where all 65 wines are by the glass, that means we carry a lot of stock. We are going to reduce that to half, try and remain as eclectic and quirky as what we are known for but there are some obvious items [to remove].
“We have analysing the sales, looking what didn’t sell as well, those are the easy picks, the low-hanging fruit.
“It’s going to start when we open up, the majority will still be there because we are going to run off stock but when we get to a level of about 32 to 35, that’s when we draw the line and keep those on as the core stock.
“We will adjust according to how sales go. If we open in the summer, we are not going to cut the three rosés but, come October, we will be back down to one.
“It’s a bit fluid but with a core angle of bringing it down to 35, there’s a principle target of controlling investment of capital.”
He goes on to outline how the decision to halve the list was due to two reasons – the impact of social distancing on staffing and stock.
Padfield adds: “We won’t be able to have the same amount of staff, not least social distancing won’t allow us effectively to have the same amount of staff because our covers are at least going to half or go down by 60%.
“Therefore, we don’t need as many bar staff and need to be more savvy in how we manage our labour cost and part of that is reducing our wine list. The second reason is we won’t have as much capital invested in stock.”
However, Padfield also says wine pairing will still remain a top priority at the pub, which took home the title of Best for Wine at the 2019 Great British Pub Awards.
Moving from wine to the pub’s cocktail menu, this will be reduced too, with the best-sellers remaining.
The former lawyer says: “We are going to have special cocktail, we will be reducing the cocktails but we will still be keeping the core ones.
“The Bad Piggy is the best-seller but we are going to have a cocktail called Back On Your Trotters. This is a variation on an Apollo 11 and it’s ‘thermonuclear’.
“It’s grapefruit, a huge slog of Grand Marnier, Champagne, Angostura bitters, a little lemonade and a little shot of vodka.”
The pub’s soft drinks offer is a staple of its values, with it being a destination venue, serving many drivers.
“We are going to be sticking with what we are known for, which is our home-made cordials and home-made lemonade because those are the things people keep coming back to the Unruly Pig for,” Padfield says.
“I don’t see any particular need to reduce our other softs because we haven’t gone big on softs, we have gone big on home-mades and we are going to keep to our core values because that is what the Unruly Pig is about.
“Drivers’ measures are absolutely a key thing because we will still be a destination pub. Every table has a driver pretty much, drivers’ drinks, drivers’ measures, no reduction there whatsoever.”
No rush to replace
Mark Bridgen, fellow pub owner of the Dog at Wingham, Kent, won’t be making any major changes to what he stocks on his drinks list.
He says: “It does seem to be a perception that we are going to have to reopen with very different products and offerings on the wet side and food side. I understand it but, on a personal note, I don’t see it’s a route we have to rush down.
“Recently, I spoke to one of our major drinks suppliers that said it was concerned people were going to really shorten their drinks list and offerings.”
When it comes to the back bar, Bridgen isn’t looking to immediately reduce his offer but won’t be rushing to replenish stock when it does run out.
He adds: “Spirits are already on the shelf so no real reason to shorten that. With our gin bar, we had more than 50, maybe I won’t rush out to replace some.
“You have to use this as an opportunity to get some cash back in so we might for a while, let the gins go down to 30 and let it dwindle just to get a bit more cash in and less stock in the property.”
However, with wine, the issue isn’t reducing stock but more about the practicalities of having a large list.
Bridgen says: “Wine is our major wet product because we are very food-led but because everything keeps quite well, it doesn’t matter if we have same offering.
“We might keep a slightly shorter stock of the very high-end stuff and, because we use the Le Verre De Vin system, I’m not concerned about losing any wine that we do by the glass or any wastage. I don’t see a reason for us to drastically alter our wet offering.
“The only reason we might shrink our wine list is we might need it to fit on two pages and then we can laminate because we won’t be able to pass our big fancy wine list around the restaurant – that won’t be possible.
“It’s a big, heavy wine list with metal covers, we won’t be able to give that to a table then take it away and sanitise every page.
“The only reason we may have to shrink our wine list is the practicality in sanitation. Or we may have to strip out the descriptions so it will just be the name of the wine, the year and the price rather than a paragraph about it.
“The wine list will have to be a two-sided A4 laminated that we can then, very visibly clean afterwards, to use again.
“This is the kind of minute things we are having to think about with regards to reopening and what we stock, how we stock it and how we deliver it.”
Beer options won’t change much, both operators say, due to it being part of the fabric of being a pub.
Padfield says: “We won’t be reducing our beer offering, we have a core offer and that’s part of being a pub so we are keeping with those.”
Echoing Padfield’s comments, the Dog at Wingham will also be keeping beer options at a similar level to what they were pre-lockdown.
Bridgen says: “Maybe on the bar, yes we did have two cask ales, we are probably definitely going to reduce that to one.
“Through less drinking, the price might have to go up and we will have to stomach a bit more waste.
“But that’s at the heart of us being a gastropub – people like the fact they can have a pint of ale before a fine-dining meal.”