In fact, it was only a couple of years ago I gave up any alcohol at all for a whole year – albeit it was for domestic abuse charity Refuge, which made it an easier task.
Before you stop reading, this is not going to be one of those articles on how-to live-in sobriety guide while running a pub. On the contrary, I have just been reflecting on how we can survive in a rapidly changing market in our pubs that for many are also our homes.
I really believe, as a publican, that we need to consider the implication of this yearly ritual that has found a way to duplicate itself in October – there is no getting away from it, people like it.
Recently an article in The Guardian quoted Alcohol Change UK polls showing that more than 6.5m adults intended to participate in dry January – up from 3.9m the year before. Whether we like it or not, it’s here to stay.
Helping pubs evolve
Over the month we have been developing ideas and business plans based on the hypothetical idea of not selling alcohol in order to concentrate on other opportunities.
At least if all else fails, I feel I’ve compiled so many business plans, I could apply for a job at Barclays. Plus, when you consider we can’t sell alcohol in the current circumstances to our take-away trade unless delivered, it wasn’t that hard to do.
By the time we open once more, we will have a lot more to compete with than pre-pandemic days.
Although the majority are desperate to get out and socialise, our customers have become even more sophisticated, having time on their hands to experiment with drinks and food.
Thoughts have turned to ways of capturing trade that doesn’t involve alcohol. We then have to consider how these will work alongside the normal alcohol products you expect to see in a pub once opened – in dare I say ‘normal-ish’ conditions.
When you take into account that approximately one in five drinkers are leaning towards abstinence in January (it won’t be long before those same people consider October) It’s time to give this trade the same amount of respect as we now do vegetarians and an ever-growing vegan market.
This is not about giving up on alcohol and pubs but keeping them going and evolving for a future after Covid.
British pubs are as individual as the customers who frequent them, so there have to be alternatives.
Recently I have pre-ordered a bottle of Sentia, a drink designed to be a complex adult drink giving “better connections without the haziness. A feeling of release while staying in control”.
In a very brief description, it is said to stimulate the same pathways in the brain as alcohol without being alcohol.
Is this the future? Who knows? But for the month of February, I shall be giving it a try while we develop another business plan.