Now though we’ve had time to think harder about how our businesses work and many pubs are bringing in money-saving equipment and software to help boost the bottom line.
In the middle of the coronavirus pandemic pubs had to switch their businesses into more tech-focused operations for various reasons, but the main driver was the need for booking and payment systems.
Countless apps rose from the nowhere and were taken up by desperate operators who needed solutions to problems they’d never encountered before – mainly ordering and paying from tables but also the need for more intelligent booking software.
New horizon of tech
Such a move by operators has also revealed a new horizon of technology, which offers countless opportunities for them and their businesses to help make things run more smoothly, efficiently and most importantly with more profit.
In The Morning Advertiser’s new Pub of the Future webpage, which is filled with exclusive content about technology for the sector, we have explored all kinds of tech for pubs.
But it doesn’t stop there, we’ll be updating this page regularly to ensure pub operators can stay on top of the latest tech trends, software and other gadgets in the sector to help their businesses run as smoothly as possible.
We’ll also be sending out a weekly newsletter with more news stories and features covering technology to ensure you don’t miss a single important piece of information.
It’s easy to navigate the page; use the contents section on the right of this page by clicking on the section you’re interested in to easily get to the information you want. When you’re done, click on the ‘back to top’ tab beneath each section and you’ll be brought right back to the beginning.
‘Relentless’ pandemic focus shouldn’t distract from broader pub hygiene questions
As the hospitality sector continues to battle through the Covid-19 pandemic, operators must remain focused on broader hygiene and customer safety issues on the horizon.
According to research by global intelligence platform Streetbees in August, 85% of pubgoers believe their local has followed Covid-secure guidance – such as maintaining social distancing, collecting customer contact details and providing hand sanitiser where possible – to the letter.
The same research found 13% of respondents believed pubs and bars they’d visited since the easing of lockdown restrictions had adapted to guidance “very well” while a further 31% believed their local had done “well” in shaping their business for the new normal.
However, entering the new year in the throes of the pandemic and facing a degree of uncertainty over Brexit, among other things, is a reminder that operators must continue to focus on maintaining a squeaky clean, and all-encompassing, view of site hygiene.
“Entering 2021, the landscape is still uncertain, but there are reasons to be optimistic as the UK steps up its vaccine programme,” Food Alert’s technical director, Julia Wilson says. “This time we are armed with key learnings from the events of the last 12 months and better understand how to defend against an external threat of unprecedented scale.
“Hygiene and safety protocols, while always a critical part of an operator’s business, have been taken to a whole new level,” she continues. “This is a good thing, with customers and employees needing visible reassurance that a venue is doing everything it can to maintain the highest levels of cleanliness.
“From regular cleaning of toilet facilities to swift clearance of tables after customers have left are all good practice, with or without Covid-19.
‘Virtual’ hygiene protocols
However, Wilson warns the “relentless” focus on the pandemic could mean that operators miss new legislation due to come into force in 2021, such as Natasha’s Law.
“As of October this year, any business in England must clearly label all foods packed and produced on their premises with a complete list of ingredients,” she says. “With the rise in at-home kits (make-aways) and take-away services this alone is going to have a huge impact on pubs and restaurants."
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Why now is the right time to switch to digital safety
Business as usual is not a phrase that has held much relevance during the Covid-19 outbreak, and none more so for those working in hospitality.
Survival skills have come down to creative thinking, tenacity and being quick to adapt.
Also crucial has been implementing enhanced hygiene and safety measures. Always an important part of a hospitality business, but now the frontrunner when it comes to employee and customer safety and confidence.
That’s why food and health & safety specialist, Food Alert, is urging publicans and operators to use lockdown to review their safety provider and procedures so they have everything aligned and ready to go when the restrictions are lifted.
Technical director Julia Wilson said: “The pandemic has disrupted the norm and technology has been a lifeline for many pubs, from order and pay to click & collect and delivery.
“Switching data from a paper-based safety system to a cloud-based, digital format, such as Alert65 makes this all much easier.”
When staff numbers are limited and strict travel restrictions are in place, being able to easily update and share the latest legislation, send updates and reminders, create checklists, access certificates and even employee training schedules remotely, from any location, such as a home office, is a huge benefit.
But Wilson points out that despite the clear benefits of switching to digital safety compliance there are many preconceived obstacles the Food Alert team come across that operators are reluctant to make the switch. These include “too much hassle”, “lack of time” and the fear of losing valuable paperwork.
“At Food Alert we understand operators’ concerns about switching, and that’s why we help our clients every step of the way. We manage the implementation process with them, and if there are worried about costs, they don’t have to pay a penny for the first three months during the onboarding process. By automating time-consuming and costly manual tasks, we make tackling complicated compliance a breeze,” added Wilson.
As a sector, we have seen how quickly changes to the status quo can turn our world upside down and being able to respond quickly and effectively is vital.
As hospitality emerges from this pandemic and venues reopen, what operators are doing to keep their customers safe has become even more important and visible.
Switching on to the benefits of digital compliance is no longer an option, but a must.
Wilson continues: "But even before it becomes cemented in law, allergen management is critical. Mismanagement can have unintentional tragic consequences, such as loss of life from anaphylactic shock.
“With venues now operating largely virtually, with no or minimal face to face contact with customers, it’s even more essential that the strictest protocols are in place,” Wilson continues.
“Does your online ordering clearly signpost the allergens in your dishes, is it clear who customers can contact to find out more and are your teams adequately trained? Do you carefully package and label the allergen prepared meal, so customers know which is which?”
Wilson adds that this is also where Brexit could potentially rear its head, with product sourcing a real issue for many suppliers.
“Do you have procedures in place whereby you are automatically notified of any ingredient changes, even to regular, day to day products such as tomato sauce?
“And if that’s not enough, the Government is pushing ahead with plans to force pubs, restaurants, cafes and takeaways with more than 250 employees to add calorie labels to menus,” she continues.
“Covid-19 rather than dampening the Government’s appetite for introducing the new legislation for hard hit hospitality, has in fact galvanised its desire to reduce obesity in England. Research has shown that being overweight puts people at greater risk of serious illness or even death from the virus.”
While she acknowledges that the hygiene landscape can seem “overwhelming”, Wilson adds that compliance can be made easy with the right support in place.
“Having that 24/7 expert consultancy to guide you every step of the way is invaluable – from adopting robust cloud-based safety management software, Alert65 to audits, Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) development, incident management, employee training and food sampling, labelling and nutritional analysis services.”
‘Old school, rigid booking systems are just not cutting it anymore’
While Covid-secure measures such as track and trace have hastened the uptake of reservation systems in the on-trade over the past 12 months – their integration into ever-adapting pubs is far from in the books.
Could the days of blithely wandering into a pub, clocking a table number and sauntering to the bar to place a food order be, well, numbered?
While the ongoing pandemic and track and trace requirements have tasked pub goers and operators alike with being far more meticulous in their evening plans, Lorna Wilcox, business development manager at hospitality reservation and booking system AccessCollins, argues that having flexibility within bookings processes and systems has never been so important.
Yet when it comes to making and taking reservations, arguably the biggest issue faced by operators – not just in pandemic times – is that of no shows.
At a time when businesses are already financially squeezed and more than likely reopen to at limited capacity due to social distancing measures, no shows prevent operators from maximising their already disrupted cover count at a time when every penny matters.
“No shows have always been somewhat of an issue, however as we come out of the pandemic and hospitality can reopen, we need to make sure no-shows are at an all-time low so that venues can recover as quickly as possible,” Wilcox explains.
“Failure to tackle this can lead to some pretty rubbish consequences when considering limited capacity and a lesser likelihood of walk-ins.”
Though 95% of Brits consider it rude not to let a pub, bar or restaurant know they won’t be making a booking, operators nonetheless faced a wave of ‘no-shows’ during the small summer window in which they were able to welcome customers.
According to CGA’s Consumer Pulse survey, roughly one in six people who headed out to pubs, bars and restaurants after lockdown one failed to fulfil a dinner or drinks reservation.
What’s more, the out-of-home leisure expert’s research found one-in-20 (5%) respondents who booked a table since the first national lockdown not only failed to show up but didn’t inform the venue, while a further 5% cancelled plans after making an initial booking.
Rigid systems ‘not cutting it’
Making it easier for customers to cancel is a great start to tackling no shows, according to Wilcox, who highlights one of Collins’ innovations as a prime example of how tech solutions are adapting.
“Collins Bookings, alongside a wealth of other functionality, has a ‘No Show Buster Tool’ that will send customers a reminder text prior to their booking, allowing them to either confirm or cancel in a couple of taps,” she explains.
“If a customer confirms, then fantastic, if they decide to cancel then this booking will be deleted from the system therefore freeing that table for another booking or walk-in. Giving your customer this choice can also boost customer journey and engagement – winner!”
Deposits are also a great way of weeding out time wasters, according to Wilcox, as they deter people from deciding against attending last minute and can filter diners that are not all that serious about coming to your venue anyway.
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At Access Collins, we have created a market leading reservations, bookings and events system, working with operators to help solve some of the most pressing problems, including getting customers back into venues. The technology has resulted in an average increase of bookings of 23% and an average increase in group booking enquiry conversions by 25% for our customers. We aim to take away the admin headache, helping you save over 700 hours a year, enabling you to focus on what’s important to you, your customers.
Our fully integrated system looks after customers at every stage of the customer journey, from the very beginning when they are looking for inspiration, to booking their visit and even post-visit follow up. Access Collins makes reservations, enquiry management, table management, comprehensive reporting, pre-ordering and payments easier for you to manage, as well as simplifying the customer enquiry and communication process. It is the ideal tool for independent operators, growing businesses and established large multi-site groups.
We know the frustrations that many reservation management systems have including poor functionality, the concern of missing out on a booking when someone is dragged away from the front desk, or if a phone call or email is missed. From talking to our customers including Azzurri Group, Stonegate, Fuller's, Dirty Bones and Brewdog, we’ve found other complaints on alternative booking systems included:
- Being unable to drive/manage larger bookings easily
- Becoming bogged down in manual processes
- Struggling to report on these across their estates
With the right, intuitive system in place, you can take away the headache of no-shows and empty tables and get set up to take on large bookings and events, as soon as our industry is back in business!
“You will find customers who will book a couple of venues and then go to the one which takes their fancy on the day or night, without realising the detrimental effects of leaving the other venues in the lurch with potentially nobody to fill their table,” she says.
Global intelligence platform Streetbees recently found this to be a growing trend, with one-in-four pub goers revealing that they make multiple bookings for the same time and date in order to pick where they go on the day – with 18% of them doing so only on special occasions and 7% doing so frequently.
“Using a system like Collins, can give you the choice of whether you take full payment of a deposit or just hold the card details (card authentication),” Wilcox adds.
“It can also allow you to choose all sorts of parameters around when you do or don’t take deposits and what for, to suit your offerings and clientele. It all goes back to having the power and flexibility over how you want to run your venue.
“The industry now, more than ever, needs a system to fit around them and not the other way around,” she continues. “Old school, rigid, systems are just not cutting it anymore.”
A ‘daunting’ move?
“One thing I would add, if this is for those new to adding a bookings process, is don’t be worried about the consumer adoption of adding a system,” Wilcox continues. “Consumers will be far more accepting of booking online and paying deposits than you think.”
What’s more, Wilcox says that the pandemic has opened the eyes of operators who previously relied on paper diaries or taking phone and email bookings.
“This is quite a daunting move for these venues so can be a struggle to overcome,” she explains. “However, offering a super user-friendly solution as well as excellent training facilities tends to overcome this hurdle.”
Wilcox adds that it’s not just operators that have been forced to reassess by the pandemic. “As a business we have adapted hugely to make Collins as helpful as it possibly can in response to Covid, e.g. introducing Track and Trace into the booking process,” she says.
“I think track and trace will be here to stay until we are fully clear of Covid-19. Not only because this will be a Government requirement, but because it instils a sense of confidence in venues. It projects a sense of responsibility and safety. Although there is the NHS, I do feel that having the extra step within a booking system is a great idea that many venues have been doing.”
She explains that Access Collins has also had to adapt to work for the pub takeaway boom, and forecasts that booking solutions will need to evolve to in a way that’s increasingly sympathetic to the rollout of order and pay apps.
“Pay at Table has inevitably become really popular due to the restrictions; however, I think this will continue to blossom and improve in terms of functionality,” she says.
“It has been very successful with Wetherspoons prior to Covid, as naturally a lot of consumers prefer not to stand in huge queues at the bar. I think that we will start to see more integrations between booking systems and pay at table systems.
“Overall, I think that the booking process will become much more relied upon,” Wilcox continues. “I think that consumers are now much more open to the process of prebooking, rather than just walking into a venue.
“Of course, given the circumstances this is a more effective way of getting a table (with venues having limited capacity) however I think this will stick! Pre-orders and deposits have also becoming more widely accepted too.”
Covid-secure table apps to shift pubs towards European café culture?
While a number of Covid-secure pub measures have been hard to swallow, the rollout of order and pay apps and shift towards table service could be front of the queue for staff and customers alike in the ‘new normal’.
Gavin Peters, CMO of mobile order and pay solution Wi5, is confident that the Covid-19 will herald a shift in behaviour and see table ordering prevalent in Europe’s café culture become similarly integral to the UK’s pubs and bars.
“Even pre-pandemic, customer attitudes towards acceptable waiting times and ways of ordering were already changing,” he explains. “Our research shows nearly three-quarters of 18-34-year-olds told us they would sooner order by mobile than wait just five minutes in a queue.”
This is reenforced by research from global intelligence platform Streetbees which found that more than half (59%) of pub goers want table service seen in continental beer cafes and bars to continue post-Covid, with just one-in-five (22%) happy to see order and pay taken off the table.
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Streamlining operations and increasing profitability, Wi5 offers more than just a digital menu. It brings the most advanced software to the sector, providing the tools to simply manage and market a premium mobile Order & Pay solution. Dominic Chapman, Chef and Proprietor of The Beehive in White Waltham explains the benefits seen during lockdown and his long-term plans for the solution.
“It enables us to continue trading. We can offer our Signature Menus to enjoy at home, ready meals for customers to keep in the fridge, as well as premium groceries.” The simplicity of mobile ordering has led to increased basket value. “Customers might come to order a meal, and while they are there, add some fresh bread and store cupboard ingredients”.
Dominic sees long-term benefits in continuing the Click & Collect service beyond the pandemic.
“Offering takeout doesn’t add any complexity to our operations and will be a great way to top up revenues during the week.” Not to mention the pressure relieved from staff once hospitality reopens, “Mobile Order & Pay meant our customers could order at their tables with minimal contact. It also made life easier for both staff and customers.”
Dominic ends on one piece of advice: “Don’t be scared of technology. Embrace it. It does the hard work for you.”
"That sweet but all too brief window of reopening we saw in the summer, where table service was compulsory, came with its challenges, but also for many highlighted a lot of previously unseen opportunities,” Peters continues.
“It means not having to break away from friends and family to go to the bar or lose that comfy corner to someone else.
“As pubs increasingly see a rise in customers using their premises as a workspace, a trend starting to emerge before Covid-19, not needing to leave all your possessions behind to go and order will be very welcomed and beneficial.
“That scrum at the bar could become a thing of the past as customers embrace a much more relaxed way of ordering.”
Behavioural change opportunity
Peters adds that he believes that the rollout of mobile order and pay solutions will further accelerate the shift towards a table service and order ahead culture – which he believes can improve both staff and customer experience.
“People will get used to sitting down and ordering straight away without waiting for their order to be taken,” he says. “Those in a hurry will embrace having things ready for them when they arrive.
“When pubs could open, operators appreciated the technology's efficiency in terms of speed, the turnover of tables and customers, and the positive refocusing of staff time. We have pub clients who tell us it makes life a lot easier for staff to manage orders from beer gardens.”
Andy Wingate, senior category manager at Heineken UK, believes that, like staff, visitors to pubs and bars have also leant on technology to make them feel safe during the rare periods when sites have been open.
“This behavioural change can unlock opportunities for operators as they become less reliant on staff to place and process orders and take payment, allowing employees to focus on guest experience and value-adding activity,” he says.
“Connecting and reconnecting with customers is arguably more important than ever before. While operators should be taking advantage of innovations in technology that help ensure a safe and efficient reopening, it’s important to remember that the pub is a social hub at the heart of the community.
“Having spent months at home, consumers will be looking forward to the well-rounded on trade experience they have missed; from the perfectly poured, quality pint, great conversations and the friendly faces of the bar staff,” he adds.
“Operators should prioritise adhering to guidance in terms of social distancing and reducing contact, however any opportunity to welcome customers, offer food and drink recommendations and engage more personally must not be forgotten.”
Increased spend and customer data
However, it’s not just customer experience that could become all the richer for focusing on order and pay and table service. According to data from tech platform Vita Mojo, customers are spending on average 20% more through digital ordering channels compared to EPOS sales.
The key driver behind this increase has been the ability to customise and add extras allowing customers to design the perfect meal, according to Vita Mojo, offering pub customers additional time to explore a full menu without the pressure of holding up a queue.
“Before the summer, order and pay accounted for a tiny proportion of actual transactions, and now it has become an accepted habit,” Nick Popovici, co-founder and CEO at Vita Mojo says. “It’s remarkable how quickly this has become rooted in our everyday lives.
“This behavioural change can unlock a whole new world of opportunities for operators as they become less reliant on staff to place and process orders and take payment, allowing employees to focus on guest experience and value-adding activity.
“It also opens up the ability to collect large quantities of valuable customer data with these rich insights potentially transformative for businesses, allowing them to make smarter decisions and personalise the customer journey.
“Digital ordering will continue to play a huge role in the hospitality customer experience in 2021,” Popovici adds. “The operators who are thinking holistically about tech and are able to unlock its full potential will be those who survive the short term and thrive in the long term.”
Power of choice
Table ordering apps have quickly become the norm and operators should now be looking for resources that meet their long-term business objectives as well as the short-term need, according to Wingate.
“Basic options will help save time and money, but consider additional functions to incentivise consumer visits, encourage loyalty and gather insightful feedback to enhance your business beyond reopening,” he says.
Socially distanced pub cellar best practice must be ‘smarter’ and ‘save money’
As pubs recover from Covid-19, its likely that social distancing will see responsibility for cellar management vested in a small, dedicated team. But what can operators do to prevent the workload from spilling over?
According to figures from the British Beer and Pub Association, 8,059,495,997 pints of beer were sold in 2019 – meaning that pubgoers in the UK bought almost 1.5m pints an hour on average, taking into account 16 hours trading time per day.
However, a November 2019 report by Vianet titled The Profit Opportunity Through Game Changing Insight, found that one-in-three (29%) of these are served through unclean lines – with an estimated £593m in profit poured away annually through ‘substandard’ beer quality.
With a third (64.2%) of operators surveyed by Christie & Co forecasting that it will take up to three years for pubs to return to pre-Covid trading, watching vital funds flow down the drain on this scale could very well stifle pandemic recovery.
“With the industry taking an absolute battering as a result of the pandemic, the outlets that have survived 2020 will be looking at ways to work smarter and save money - but without cutting any corners or lowering any standards in quality,” Beer Piper’s Jeff Singer explains.
“This can be a tough ask, of course, but there are some ways that landlords can save money behind the scenes without losing staff members, closing the doors at quieter times or sourcing lower quality products.”
A one-person job?
Looking to the cellar can help, Singer says. The Cask Report 2019, for example, found that having good cellar practices improves yields by 7%, and that good beer quality adds 3% to beer sales – which can add an extra £5,500 to the average pub’s bottom-line.
However, with social distancing best practice dictating that, where possible, only one member of staff will be able enter the cellar per session for the foreseeable future, it’s essential that operators do whatever possible to make it as manageable as possible.
“Adding insulation to equipment, doors and cellar hatches can help to save money in the long run and ensuring refrigeration equipment is working as efficiently as possible is also something else to consider,” Singer continues. “Making sure all equipment is maintained by professionals is also something that will save you money in the long term.
“Additionally, installing a high tech, automated beer line cleaning system instead of cleaning lines manually will save you a lot of money, a lot of time - and staff hours - and, more importantly for cost saving, can help to substantially reduce beer waste.”
Thorough routine and assessment
Andy Wingate, senior category manager at Heineken UK adds that a good cellar management routine is an essential part of any pub’s success, helping to produce quality pints, boost profitability, and make the process more manageable.
“Due to the long periods of closure over the past year, cellars will likely not have been maintained as regularly and consistently as usual, meaning a thorough, deep clean and safety assessment should take place prior to reopening,” he tells The Morning Advertiser.
“It’s important to consider the way cellar equipment was left during the periods of closure to ensure the hygiene of the bar and cellar, and to re-start dispense systems correctly for the reopening phase.”
He adds that pubs should consider having a dedicated person or couple of people for cellar management throughout the week and that they should be reminded to wash their hands thoroughly beforehand and afterwards.
What’s more, like Singer, Wingate advises thorough line cleaning and temperature management routines to hopefully make their workload more manageable.
“Ensure line cleaning is carried out to correct procedures every seven days using brewery recommended detergent,” he says. “Remove and clean nozzles in hot water after every session, use sanitiser spray for keg couplers, keg wells and cask taps, and ensure the sump is clean and working correctly.
“Always wear the correct PPE when line cleaning,” Wingate adds.
“Keep cellars at a constant temperature of 11-13°C by installing a wall-mounted thermometer, regularly topping up cooling equipment with water, checking fans and condensers are free from dust and blockages and keeping a planned schedule of maintenance to avoid costly breakdowns,” he continues.
Covid-19 has fast-tracked move to a cashless society ‘by around ten years’
Though cash remained the on-trade’s king right up until the pandemic shuttered sites in March, the spread of Covid-19 and new anti-virus measures appear to have hastened a contactless coup in Britain’s pubs.
According to Paymentsense, more than 7.4m Brits are living a “cashless” life – a number which UK Finance claims has doubled in the past two years and appears to be rapidly increasing due to the ongoing pandemic.
The merchant services provider’s data also states that the average increase in contactless card use was 79.15% in 2020 – a 9.35% spike versus the previous year – while Apple Pay and Google Pay held an average of 6.5% of transactions in 2020.
What’s more, data from Vita Mojo found that ordering and paying at table has seen an extremely high adoption rate amongst customers during the Covid-19 pandemic and, on average, accounted for up to 90% of transactions while sites were able to trade last year.
The consensus seems that with more and more businesses reluctant to accept cash, and consumers preferring contactless methods to stop the spread of germs, the decline in cash payments is poised to continue at pace.
“Coronavirus has undoubtedly forced change in our lives and shopping habits,” Jon Knott, head of customer insight at Paymentsense says. “As more businesses refuse cash as a precaution against Covid, it makes perfect sense that the use of contactless cards are on the up this year, more than ever.”
Paymentsense data also revealed that while major cities are transitioning to cashless payments at a “rapid” rate, smaller cities have kept pace, with St Albans, Halifax and Brighton the UK’s top three adopters.
“Smaller towns are increasingly choosing contactless methods,” Knott adds. “With the pandemic ongoing, it seems that a cashless Britain may be here sooner than we thought.”
Covid has ‘killed off cash’
Anne Boden, CEO and founder of digital challenger bank Starling Bank estimates that the pandemic has fast-tracked the move to a cashless society by around ten years.
“Trying to roll back cashless is like trying to hold back the tide,” she tells The Morning Advertiser (MA), “the challenge is making sure it works for everyone.”
“Working for everyone” includes ensuring that pub operators are equipped to cope with the quiet loosening of king cash’s grip on the UK on-trade.
While Piers Baker, owner of the Sun Inn, Dedham and Church Street Tavern in Colchester, Essex, tells The MA that Covid has “killed off cash” at his sites, he explains that the coup has yielded a number of pub positives.
“It came about as a bit of an accident as going to the bank to get the change needed for cash transactions was taking up a lot of time due to queuing, so we just gave up and thought we would try cashless for the first weekend,” he says. “No complaints on the whole so we have kept it.
“As a result, we have decreased the time taken on end of day accounting, improved till reconciliation as no errors on card sales, decreased the cost of our insurance as we now have no cash on site nor the liability of transporting it to the bank and reduced fees as card transactions fees are lower overall to bank fees for change exchange and cash lodgements."
What’s more, Baker adds that going cashless has saved a considerable amount of time going to the bank for change exchange and cash lodgements, reduced the risk of theft and sped up customer transactions.
Kings Arms race: how can pubs keep up with the rollout of new CRM systems?
On-trade measures implemented to stem the Covid tide in pubs have thrown up a stream of new tech solutions to help operators stay on top of customer data. Here’s what publicans need to know.
According to Wi5 Technologies’ CEO Prask Sutton, “times of unusual circumstance” such as a global pandemic yielding the blanket closure of more than 40,000 pubs, are generally accompanied by a “great push forward” in tech.
As such, in almost a year since Boris Johnson called last orders in pubs and enforced the UK’s first lockdown, a swathe of new table ordering, track and trace, hospitality booking, staff management and customer relationship management (CRM) solutions have materialized.
However, Sutton explains while the advent of new apps and technology behind closed doors has been rapid, the fact that publicans preparing to resume trade don’t necessarily have the time and resources to expand their digital knowledge – and ask the right questions – at the same pace is a concern.
“That's my biggest fear,” he told The Morning Advertiser (MA) in June, “the digitisation of these businesses and people not necessarily knowing what they don't know.
“If someone is proffering a digital solution ask them about safeguarding, ask them about what measures are in place,” he added. “What accreditation do they have? Who are their partners? Who is actually accepting the payments, who is the acquiring bank? All these sorts of things.
“You want to make sure you're dealing with experienced players in the space and it isn't just somebody whose knocked up a website because they've seen the opportunity and have suddenly come up with something to service a clear need.
“There's so much that's sprung up since the pandemic hit, so many solutions,” Sutton continued. “I'll probably see dozens every day and you just think anybody using that could be in for a real nasty shock at some point.
“It's just sad because you think a lot of businesses have probably gone for them because of price – but if anything they're inviting a whole host of other problems that they probably don't realise exist just to compound the struggles that have been created by the pandemic.”
Surge of new customer data
According to Airship CEO Dan Brookman, many businesses were already using several CRMs before Covid, covering areas such as booking, feedback, click and collect and even WiFi to manage customer relationships.
“There is a whole world of data available through these platforms which means so much of the hard work is done,” he says. “The final step is to bring them all together to truly understand your audience.
“A CRM is valuable because you own it,” he continues. “You have the ability to be reactive, to leverage your audience and let them know what you have to offer.
“Most businesses have many new revenue streams, and automations that welcome customers as they sign up and tell your story will help drive these opportunities.
“When customers return, behaviour is likely to have changed. It may be that we reopen under tiers and with restrictions in place, such as the ‘rule of Six’. If this is the case then pre-booking will be prevalent and this will give you a surge of new customer data to engage with.”
The ‘value exchange’
Brookman adds that any new pub CRM installed off the back of the track and trace drive towards digital “must be connected to the platforms that are already used in the business”.
“Otherwise, you’ll create a mountain of work in extracting data from these platforms and importing it into your CRM,” he explains. “It will be constantly out of date and much, much harder to maintain GDPR and consent.
“What will make a CRM sing is the transactional data, like the booking, purchase, feedback and WiFi detail, as this proves the customer's presence in your business which means you understand, and can affect, visit frequency,” Brookman continues. “It also means that automated journeys and campaigns can be targeted – and also suppressed.
“Finally, it needs to be easy to use. Most businesses don’t have a dedicated CRM manager, or in a lot of cases digital marketing manager, so the platforms need to be intuitive and filled with features that save time.
“Automation really is the key,” he adds. “Automated welcome, birthday and recency and frequency journeys will deliver real revenue opportunities. They run and run automatically.”
For operators who are totally new to CRM systems, Brookman advises them to think about how they are going to frame their efforts with your customer – or “the value exchange”.
“For instance, ‘Friends of the Travellers Arms’, ‘Gusto Gold Club’, ‘Byron Club’ and ‘Alexander's A-List’ all provide a wrapper for your efforts,” he says. “A lot of operators start out with a simple Birthday Club, but it's good to chat to customers at the very outset to see what would resonate with them and get them to visit more often.
“It means that you can easily explain to the customer what they are going to get in exchange for them giving you their data. It enables you to ask for a date of birth so you can send them something nice on their birthday, and it gives you a connection that you can then use in your marketing to bring your customers together into your embrace.
“Finally, don’t try to do everything at once. Build up your programme, brief your team so they understand it and can chat to customers about it, measure and understand the results.”
Human Resources has come to the front of almost all businesses in recent months, but there is scope for long-term changes.
Trading under coronavirus restrictions has increased the demands on the UK pub workforce, with additional health and safety regulations to adhere to.
However, as pub employers struggle to make ends meet and keep their business afloat, redundancies in the sector have risen by a significant amount this year. Around 60,000 hospitality jobs were lost in 2020 according to sector software provider Fourth, representing a 28% drop in overall hospitality staff headcount compared to December 2019.
Organising a team is more important than ever but with mass collaboration days and training conferences out of the picture for the foreseeable future, virtual training is the way forward.
The rise of online training sessions may be a good thing though, according to the head of training at Star Pub & Bars.
Tracy Bickerdike told The Morning Advertiser (MA) that delivering courses online meant that prospective Star publicans were more engaged in the content of the pub company's Innside Knowledge workshops.
She said: “It was important to us to make sure that it was as good as, if not better than the face to face course. From our experience of running the courses over the month of May, we feel that there are definite benefits to do it online. Everybody gets to participate.
“In classroom environments, you sometimes get the person who answers all the questions and knows everything, whereas in this virtual environment they have to wait to be asked. They all have to participate. We have a greater level of participation in the virtual course.”
Online platforms can also be utilised for wellbeing and team-bonding purposes. Many operators have been running regular catch-ups with their teams on video platforms like Zoom since the first lockdown or inviting staff to take part in virtual activities such as yoga sessions or pub quizzes.
What’s more, founder of the Burnt Chef project Kris Hall says pub employers must recognise the huge challenges of staff retention and how workplaces that prioritise staff wellbeing encourage staff retention.
He said the project has been working with employers to “navigate conversations of mental health” within businesses. “People are their assets,” he said.
Lucy Do, founder and owner of the Dodo Micropub in west London, told The MA she believed the pub sector needed to do more to tackle racism.
“Sadly, racism has affected me personally in my own micropub which I’ve specifically set up to be a welcoming and inclusive space for all regardless of gender, race and sexuality,” she explains. “From your ‘everyday’ micro aggressions like someone asking, ‘where are you really from?’ when Brentford clearly isn’t the response they were hoping for, to plain outwardly racist remarks like the time I was told you don’t often see Asians running a pub, it’s normally a takeaway business.”
“Ending racism and being actively anti-racist is a challenge that everyone should be taking responsibility for and that includes the UK pub sector,” she said.
“It’s very apparent to insiders and outsiders of the industry that it is very white, male dominated so there can definitely be more work done to represent and champion diversity.”
What marketing lessons has the Covid pandemic taught hospitality businesses?
How have pub, bar, restaurant and hotel operators tailored their marketing strategies during the coronavirus pandemic, and what takeaways can help shape post-pandemic branding?
In the early stages of the first lockdown in March 2020, creative agency Wunderman Thompson UK examined tens of millions of posts on sites such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Mumsnet to gauge what impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had on how, why and what people are sharing on social media.
It found that the number of posts on social media using the word ‘community’ jumped by 82%, that almost half (47%) of social posts mentioning ‘community’ or ‘community spirit’ were shared by those aged 55 or older and that references to the spirit of the Blitz increased by 70 times year-on-year.
What’s more, it found that the number of social media posts mentioning fashion or travel almost halved, the number of posts about sport fell by 46%.
Additionally, while pub giant JD Wetherspoon saw its mentions soar by more than 3,000% following Tim Martin’s announcement that he didn’t think pubs should close, the sentiment score of JDW’s social mentions plummeted from 61% positive to 80% negative.
“The analysis shows that we’re beginning to see the green shoots of collectivism and people pulling together in the interests of their communities,” Neil Godber, joint head of planning at Wunderman Thompson said in May 2020.
“If the national mood is shifting to one where all of us are a little more mindful, doing what we can for each other and wanting to lift everybody’s spirits, this is also likely to have an impact on how we’re spending our cash.
“We’ve already seen how sentiment can sharply change when a brand is perceived to do the right – or the wrong – thing.”
Personal branding ‘exponentially more important’
Historically, pub operators have been the faces of their communities – something that Tonya Eberhart, founder of branding agency BrandFace, believes could be due a comeback post-pandemic when it comes to site marketing.
According to Eberhart, while business branding is important, personal branding has become “exponentially more important” since Covid-19.
“A consumer's relationship with a business is enhanced by the 'person' who represents the business,” she explains. “That person can be the owner or founder of the business, management, or a customer service representative that customers are dealing with in the moment.
“Many times, that particular person is also the reason people choose one business over another.
“We have been affected on many levels with regard to human interaction, so personal branding takes an otherwise cold approach and turns it into a warm opportunity,” she continues. “One example of that is the massive growth of platforms like Zoom.
“Though these are unprecedented times, businesses can embrace opportunities like this to become more real, more engaging, and more personal.”
‘Steady stream of relevant, authentic news’
Speaking to The Morning Advertiser (MA) in May, Jaime Gee of hospitality communications agency Jam suggested that the pandemic had put onus on pubs to provide steady stream of relevant, authentic news will keep their business front of mind with consumers and stakeholders.
“Keep your target media up to date with news stories about any initiatives you are taking part in, charity or community work and any news about how you may be tweaking your offering to provide new services in light of the situation – offering take-out food for example – or discount vouchers for future meals or drinks,” she explained.
“There may not seem to be much positive news about at present, and it can feel a tad tricky to navigate the landscape to ensure that your tone is sensitive, but at the same time, the news outlets still require content – and uplifting stories might be exactly what’s required.”
Be ‘tactful and timely’
Molson Coors’ head of digital, Jack Daniel, also told The MA that while social media is a vital link between a pub and its local community, it’s important that you have something tactful and timely to say rather than trying to break the internet.
“All content needs to be sympathetic to the current situation, but also be true to your usual tone of voice – it’s a balancing act,” he said. “Be clear about what you want to talk about by planning content in advance and map out those key themes and topics your customers would want to hear about, but also stay close to what’s going on in your local community during this current time.”
He added that publicans – especially those in more rural locations – are more likely to see their social pages serve as community hubs and should factor this into any social media content, especially as the country recovers from its Covid symptoms.
“Helping people stay connected, whether that’s through virtual pub quizzes, sharing food and drink pairings, or just creating an online place for customers to keep in touch with each other through this difficult period keeps pubs at the heart of the community even in these unusual times,” he added.
Keep relaying ‘appropriate information’
Owain Powell of UP Hotel Agency – a specialist digital agency for hotels across the UK, Europe and USA – has been supporting a number of hotels sustain “brand presence” during the pandemic, when travel intent and bookings have bottomed out during extended periods of site closure.
“Seems common sense I know, but many hotels are not relaying the appropriate information on their homepage, or even updating their Google my business listing to state - temporarily closed,” he says.
“Where hotels have been open during the pandemic, messaging around being 'safe and secure' has been a must, whether incorporated into a banner or pop out on the homepage.
“Also, for those hotels closed during lockdown, messaging to indicate so,” he adds. “Those that remain open for key workers or essential business travel – likewise.
“I've been shocked to see a number of hotels rewriting their homepage content to indicate that they're closed which, in rewriting their website copy, is detrimental to their short- and long-term SEO.
“Also, a number of hotels have not been offering anything to try to whet the appetite for those of us who can't wait to travel, just indicating they are closed.”
Dialling down spend, but not pausing activity
Powell adds that while the pandemic has put financial pressure on hospitality businesses, operators who’ve shifted into low, rather than no, marketing spend have reaped the rewards.
“Dialling down marketing, ad spend, has been a common theme - but pausing activity – definitely not advised,” he says. “If anything, there's an opportunity to pick up and takeover presence both through paid and organic versus competing hotels whose marketing activity has ground to a halt during the pandemic.”
In terms of lower cost, but impactful marketing opportunities, he pinpoints vouchers and gifting as having been particularly successful alongside spring and summer 2021 offers on room rates
What’s more, he advocates maintaining brand visibility through Google Ads and Facebook Ads – tailored with appropriate messaging.
Finally, he states that “maintaining a story” is a low-cost approach that can yield results. “A number of the hotel's team may be on furlough, but perhaps use down time for a Q&A with the chef, if the food and beverage offering is particularly popular, about a prospective new menu, using local suppliers and supporting businesses local to the hotel,” he says.
“Great time to relay corporate social responsibilities, so has the hotel been supporting key workers during this time? Populate the blog and get this information out!
Do androids dream of electric stockkeep?
Though expert stocktaking will – for the foreseeable future at least – involve a largely human element, accompanying technology has become increasingly prevalent behind the bar.
When asked if there are any areas in which stocktaking in hospitality businesses can be more streamlined, Brett Websdale, chairman of the Institute of Licensed Trade Stock Auditors, states that the “simple answer” is no.
Though this may be the case, the fact that so many tech and software solutions have been developed over the years to assist the process means that the rug hasn’t been entirely pulled from under this attempt to take stock of taking stock in futuristic, more tech savvy, pubs.
“When EPOS systems were introduced over 30 years ago, it was sold as the business tool that will solve all your stock deficits, increase profits and you would not require the services of a stocktaker,” he explains.
“This would require an employee trained to carry out the counting and data entry as well as interpreting the results usually at a higher cost to the business than the original stocktaker.
“Thirty years on, the EPOS systems available have increased the number of reports you can produce, help you change your selling prices quicker, but you still need the services of a professional Stocktaker to analyse the results.”
Tech solutions ‘should be embraced’
Venners’ managing director Scott Hulme concurs that, today, EPOS systems are “probably the most significant and frequently” used technology to support pubs in stock management.
“They’re certainly here to stay and are likely to continue to develop and be perfected to make the journey of stock data input and output more efficient, accurate and user friendly,” he tells The Morning Advertiser (MA).
“Such developments should be embraced and they’re why Venners as a business have introduced an online client portal, which aims to assist in that journey, by integrating both the stocktaking process and stocktaking data with client EPOS systems.”
Hulme adds that the “technology of things” is probably the next step that many operators may consider moving towards in the future.
“Purchasing automated bar measuring devices and systems are likely to become more popular in pub stock management as these technologies continue to develop,” he says. “They’ll certainly be great in helping businesses reduce shrinkage and control stock more effectively.
Human element won’t be fully substituted
Hulme adds that when talking about technology, most of our minds “wander to the future utopia where we’ll use a fully-fledged AI operation”.
“With the speed at which technology develops this often doesn’t seem to be too far off in the future,” he says.
“The truth is though, that until we reach that stage of AI and robotics, and until every aspect of your operation is integrated into that process, we’re quite a long way off.
“The human element of stocktaking won’t be able to be fully substituted by technology until every gap in the operation is closed.
“Particularly when it comes to analysing and interpreting the data and the operation’s functioning, stock management will continue to need a personal touch.”
In keeping with Hulme’s assessment that the “human element” will remain irrespective of AI’s relentless onward march, Websdale concurs that a trained eye is needed to paint a comprehensive picture of business performance from stockkeeping.
“It is a generally held view that stocktaking within the hospitality industry involves counting what is on the premises and generating a list of those items,” he says.
“This is a common misconception which belies the truth that an effective system of stock control can be the most effective way of tracking the progress of a business with regard to its profitability.
“EPOS systems are able to tell you what items have been registered as sold, but they cannot tell you what the actual physical movement of stock has been.
“The only way to track this is to count what is on the premises on a given date and return some time later to count again.”
‘Cannot get away from a physical stocktake’
Websdale also outlines that the reality of stocktaking is somewhat “complicated” and that the professional stocktaker – with the assistance of enhanced technology – has the ability to delve deeply within a business and provide the managers of that business with an insight not available anywhere else.
“Looking to the future, the hospitality Industry cannot get away from a physical stocktake of food and drink being carried out and verified,” he says.
“The stocktaker may use their own software or an integrated EPOS system but the physical count still needs to be carried out by a trained professional.
“To help speed things up they may have the software downloaded to a handheld tablet or bar code scanner which are all available within the industry now,” he continues.
“Other streamlining areas could be digital direct entry of goods received invoices into the stocktaking software, but these still need to be manually checked to confirm the goods have been received and the auto entry has allocated the product to the correct item.”
Man and machine
Websdale adds that while the founder members of the Institute of Licensed Trade Stock Auditors wielding pen and paper 60 years ago ultimately achieved the same results as man and machine working in tandem today, the speed and efficiency of modern stock taking technology is unmatched.
“They both produce the same result except the latter can produce it quicker with the ability of also producing a range of analytical reports for the client, he explains.
“This also gives an immediacy that is far ahead of the production of financial accounts, which can be months or even years away.
“The hospitality industry contains products which are easily lost through shrinkage, wastage and carelessness and this can drastically affect profitability in a very short time unless checked,” he adds.
“There are now apps available for your smart phone that say running your bar has never been easier with an inventory app. These are aimed at the American market but it still comes down to having an understanding of what data you are entering into the system to produce a meaningful result.
“Seasoned stocktakers have seen over the years that often the people responsible for analysing the in-house software reports have it in their own interest to tell their superiors that it’s all okay.
“This is why with a top line EPOS system and an independent professional stocktaker the owner of the business can be sure his business is in good hands.”
The cost of security can be measured in multiple ways, but getting it wrong can be costly for your business
When it comes to pub security, operators must consider more than their bricks-and-mortar assets and think about the long-term of the business.
Yes, preventing disruptive and costly issues such as burglaries and vandalism is one part of security, but there are other layers that must be considered to ensure an operation’s successful future.
As already stated, there are layers of security when it comes to keeping premises safe; think about your license and reputation as well as the building, the stock within it and your staff and customers.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty, let’s consider reputation and how to ensure security in that sense. Who runs your social media channels, who has access and is there any guidance, checks and balances in place to prevent damaging tweets and posts from being published under your pub’s name?
Social media has proven itself to be of significant value to businesses due to the fact it is in essence free marketing. However, one wrong post could land you and your business in hot water and risks landing your brand in jeopardy.
But this can be easily prevented and for free, aside from a little time on your part. Here are some things to consider:
- Set up templates for social posts and consider the tone, frequency and content of what can and cannot be posted on your social channels
- Don’t give every member of staff access to the pub’s account, but keep it to yourself or charge another, trusted, member of staff to run it
- Make sure that nothing is posted without your prior permission, but if you are the person in charge of posting then run the words and images by a few people to ensure it makes sense and doesn’t strike the wrong chord
- Set out a content plan that encompasses all of your pub’s events and clearly state which activities will be shared and outline how they will be shared – i.e. an image and a few words
- Will you be posting about new dishes and drinks available at the pub? If so, plan which you will be sharing and outline how this should look
- If you do have a marketing budget, then consider contracting a social media expert to run your pub’s channels. There are many great agencies and experts offering these services, but remember you can also do it yourself for nothing
Probably the thing you think of first when it comes to security, and often a requirement of many pub licenses. It can be as simple as dotting a few cameras around in areas you feel are most at risk, but delve a little deeper and you could find other parts of the business that need another watching eye.
Done right, security cameras can do more than protect the outside and inside of a building, they can potentially safe you money and a significant amount of hassle should the police come knocking for information relating to an incident.
National Pubwatch, the voluntary organisation that supports existing Pubwatch schemes and encourages the creation of new ones, says that while the same issues of refusing entry, refusal to sell, drink spiking and domestic violence continue to crop up, there has been an improvement in dealing with them. Getting pubs to work together to identify the main problems, better communication and working with the police and enforcement agencies to resolve issues have all gained traction, says National Pubwatch chairman Steve Baker in a previous Morning Advertiser interview.
The rise of CCTV and social media has played a crucial role. There are several million CCTV surveillance cameras in use in the UK today. Richard Smith, licensee of the Roundabout in Plymouth, Devon, and a regional rep for National Pubwatch, says: “In Plymouth, we communicate with all our sites on a daily basis via Facebook. If we hear of a break-in then we can share CCTV, we can share information and we can try to obtain a description or a name.”
Drugs are a serious problem that could lead to other criminal activity including extortion and violence. Ultimately, it could result in closure of an outlet. High standards of cleanliness and service, and keeping a high profile at the pub by being there regularly, knowing customers, making your presence felt and staying alert, are powerful deterrents to the drugs trade, a guide produced by the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) says.
Called Drugs and Pubs: A Guide for Licensees, it says a ‘don’t care’ management attitude, and premises with uncollected glasses and sloppy service, are as good as a written invitation to those involved in the drugs trade.
The guide, available on the BBPA website, lists dozens of tell-tale signs of drug use, customer behaviour patterns and ways staff can monitor their premises. It advises licensees to take control by working with the police and joining local Pubwatch schemes and by keeping company management informed of incidents or suspicions.
Doormen can provide an added layer of security, of course, and technology is a key driver here too.
Software already exists to deliver instant ‘blue light’ notifications to venues, which are cascaded down to key members of staff as soon as an incident has been reported.
The licensed door industry was growing fast, but in 2018 it was revealed there had been a 40% drop in the number of Security Industry Authority licenses being issued for the previous six years.
But to deter criminal activity, CCTV is the biggest and most recognised benefit. Outside of being able to monitor your premises, CCTV cameras are a deterrent for burglars.
According to Broadsword Security Services, studies have found that using CCTV in car parks resulted in a 51% decrease in crime; in public transportation areas a 23% decrease in crime; and in public settings, a 7% decrease in crime. Even the lowest figure in these categories – 7% – is a significant improvement.
A camera system provides an increased sense of security, reassurance and peace of mind, particularly in areas where the crime rate is high.
It acts as a comfort blanket and gives you confidence that your property is being watched when it is closed up for the evening or just not in use.
Things to consider are:
- Identify any areas of your premises that may be vulnerable to forced entry and have them made more secure, paying particular attention to windows and doors
- Make sure any service doors are locked and secure when not in use
- Make sure you have a monitored alarm and that it’s fully operational
- Ensure your CCTV works, provides facial recognition as well as good-quality images, and covers any vulnerable areas – 24-hour digital CCTV is also highly recommended
- Wheelie bins, and the like, should be stored away as these can be used to climb on to gain access to the building, especially via the first floor
- Sufficient lighting around the premises can be used to deter criminals and also help to improve CCTV images captured
- Prune any overgrown bushes or nearby trees as they can provide cover for anyone trying to hide from view
- External shutters, although effective, may require planning approval. We would encourage the use of attack-resistant laminated glass in sturdy frames where possible. Alternatively, film can be applied to glass to make it more resilient
- Anti-ram raider bollards mounted externally can be used to protect the front of premises but may require planning approval. Owners of businesses that may be subject to smash-and-grab-style burglaries, due to high-value stock being kept in their windows, should consider looking into this option
- Consider moving high-value goods away from display windows overnight
- Try not to keep cash on the premises and always use a bolted-down safe with a time lock and anti-tamper sensors that trigger an alarm
- Make sure stockrooms are locked and, where possible, keep stock out of sight
- Smoke-generating devices that activate on unauthorised entry create a smokescreen and foil burglary but are designed not to damage stock
- Make sure your keys are not left on the premises and that only designated staff have access. In case of emergency, make sure there’s a list of keyholders who can be contacted
And then there’s the potential issue of terrorism focused on the hospitality sector.
Systems, however, can be put in place to mitigate risk and potential safety issues, such as basic good housekeeping, which cuts opportunities for placing suspect packages and helps deal with false alarms and hoaxes, says the National Counter Terrorism Security Office (NaCTSO), the police unit that helps support the Government’s counter terrorism strategy and which works with the Home Office.
It recommends that licensees search premises inside and out before, during and after opening hours; remain vigilant during opening hours; and ensure emergency exits are secured when not in use.
Evacuation responsibilities and roles must be clearly communicated to staff, routes and exits must be well defined and evacuation plans exercised regularly.
NaCTSO also advises that it may be safer to stay inside a building if the threat is outside, and to consider the possibility of a multiple attack and the need to move people away from other areas of potential danger, which may include glazing.
We all like a little fun and that's the same for punters in the pub, but what can you do to bring a little extra to your gaming offer?
Will it be skittles, darts of dominos? Or how about a VR shoot-em-up game, a round of golf or a go on Pacman?
It is safe to say pub games have moved on significantly in recent years, with thanks to the rise of more affordable tech as well as the consumers’ desire to find new and interesting entertainment offerings from the pubs they visit.
However, as the younger generations drink less and look for more experience-led days and nights out, pubs need to consider innovative ways of drawing in consumers and keeping them there.
Venues across the country have started to look at their empty spaces, the latest updates in technology and current trends in the market to help boost their entertainment provision and wow the crowds – moving away from more dated entertainment that people often associate with the local boozer.
These days nothing is out of reach, from crazy golf, cinemas and virtual reality to theatre and escape rooms.
In some pubs, a weekly pub quiz and a DJ at the weekend is all that’s needed for regulars to have a good time.
However, this wasn’t enough for the Laine's Pub Company (LPC), a business that has taken entertainment in its London pubs to the highest of levels.
The Four Thieves in Battersea is full of vintage arcade games, crazy golf, pinball, mini-motor racing and is the first pub in England to feature virtual reality gaming. The Aeronaut, in Acton, has a circus inside, and the People’s Park Tavern in Hackney, has a “twisted escape room” – to name just a few attractions in its London portfolio.
The company upped the ante in transforming its entertainment offer several years ago, and started to think about all the other reasons people might want to go down their local.
But then there is also realm of esports which at an event, organised by The Morning Advertiser a few years ago, operators learnt the potential business practicalities of the category.
Head of esports and gaming at Goat agency and CEO of Edge esports, Adam Whyte – looked at how pubs can embrace gaming and e-sports and tap into the Millennial market.
At the time, Whyte highlighted that not only are esports events attracting live audiences of 90,000, the level of audience interaction is unprecedented for crowds of that scale. “You haven’t seen audience interaction like this.”
Attracting around 400m viewers a year, esports is the fastest growing consumer industry in the world.
Whtye set out that the scale of grassroots gaming was enormous. It was estimated that 2.3bn people were gamers, ranging from friends playing on their couch, venturing into the world of online gaming and then competitive esports events.
The best gamers in the world were gaining traction akin to the biggest stars in sport with Whyte giving the example of Reckless, who he called the “Lebron James of esports”, winning hordes of fans and sponsorship.
Esports, Whyte explained, was a very age-specific phenomenon. If you’re running a “spit and sawdust” style pub attracting older footfall, it would not be a sound fit.
Esports videos such as ‘shoutcasting’ – commentating on esport videos – were regular chart toppers on Youtube.
What’s more a video featuring rap artist Drake gaming with esport star Ninja, attracted 15m viewers – 600,000 at its peak viewing time. Such figures dwarf Premier League audiences.
Whyte also highlighted that videos of people playing the digital game Fortnite Battle Royale, were among Ladbible’s top five daily videos – showing sustained demand for watching a game that Whyte described as “digital hunger games”.
It’s not just endemic gaming brands that are cashing in on, and sponsoring, esports events. Whyte highlighted Gillette and Bud Light have been involved in sponsoring huge scale esport events.
What’s more, with revenue from esports increasing roughly 40% year on year at the time, it’s an industry awash with cash.
Given the lack of a destination site, Whyte explained that there’s a huge opportunity to engage with gamers currently with no option besides sitting at home watching broadcasts on their own, looking for someone to share and discuss it with. If a pub can provide a place for them to get together, they could be on to a winner.
However, he warned authenticity was key in engaging a gaming audience. Anyone looking to work with the industry needs to learn the lingo and speak to gamers in their own language.
Yet Whyte explained that with the right audience in a venue, sampling esports could be as cost-free as loading up a Twitch broadcast and streaming.
Whyte pointed out that combining a social viewing experience, big screens and broadcast facilities, with the ready availability of alcohol means that pubs have a huge opportunity to capitalise on esports’ growing popularity.
Moreover, he felt that pubs were well placed to cash in on offering promotions to reflect trends and unfolding action – “free pints for headshots” for example.
It's not usually the most exciting topic, but Wi-Fi offers many perks for businesses
It’s not something we give much though to these days, and blindly take its existence for granted. But the internet and Wi-Fi have quickly become something Brits and businesses can’t live without.
To put this into perspective, recent ONS data shows 87% of all UK adults used the internet almost every day in 2019. Perhaps that’s no surprise, but the fact that over half (54%) of adults aged 65 or over shopped online in 2019 is.
In 2019, household internet access rose from a total of 90% in the previous year to 93%, and that percentage has risen steadily year on year since 1998 and by a staggering 23% within the decade.
Within a three-month reporting period, the ONS data shows that 61% of adults aged over 65 use the internet daily and 10% weekly. Why are we telling you this? It’s because this segment of the population, should you attract them to your pub, can make up a core part of a customer base during the quieter parts of the week due to their usually higher disposable incomes and the fact they are usually retired.
Those aged 55 to 64, showed similar results with the majority (83%) of the age group using the internet daily.
And of course, the further down the age line you go, the more frequent daily internet use becomes, starting at 93% of 45 to 54-year-olds, 98% of 35 to 44-year-olds, 99% of 25 to 34-year-olds and a whopping 100% of 16 to 24-year-olds, although perhaps not unsurprisingly.
And here’s where things get a little juicier, as 83% of adults polled by ONS said they had used the internet ‘on the go’ via a mobile phone, smartphone, laptop, tablet or another handheld device. And this is where we begin looking at how Wi-Fi and pubs connect.
In 2019, among all adults polled by ONS, 82% bought goods and services online over a 12 months period, a 5% increase on the previous year.
Of those buying goods and services online, 44% spent between £100 and £499 in a three-month period, while 9% spent less than £50.
The data shows that consumers are capable of making purchases online, not only for goods such as clothing, but also services akin to the likes offered by the hospitality sector – be it inhouse or booking and paying prior to arrival.
As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, online activity in pubs has increased as consumers have been urged by outlets to download or use online ordering and payment apps and software. This means that inline with the above statistics, usage of apps and software in pubs is now in the consumers’ repertoire and something they’re more willing to entertain in the future. Hence the need now more than ever for a strong Wi-Fi offering.
But it’s not just about the functions of a business, although a decent Wi-Fi setup can indeed have a positive impact on consumers using a business’ offering. No, some research suggests consumers will actively avoid venues that don’t have seamless internet connections, which is often mentioned on review websites.
Also, if you want customers to share their positive experiences on social media, then provide them with the basic tools to do so in your pub – how much nicer is it to be able to post an image of a beautiful drink on Instagram using a pub’s Wi-Fi rather than rattling through your own data?
There are keener business benefits to having a good Wi-Fi offering too, such as marketing. Implementing a data wall for consumers to fill out before logging into your Wi-Fi gives you data to use for marketing, so long as the relevant GDPR systems and checks are in place.
And finally, it’s the 21st Century, people expect to be able to connect to a strong internet network wherever they are, so there isn’t really an argument against Wi-Fi anymore.