Since pubs reopened for outdoor trade in England last month, operators have had to ensure customers are not deterred from meeting up for a pint on cold days.
Many pubs invested in outdoor heaters in addition to outdoor structures such as pergolas and marquees.
Some pubs have even ensured they have hot water bottles and blankets on hand if customers have not wrapped up.
At Yummy Pub Co’s sites, hot drinks and hot water bottles have been incorporated into food and drink offers.
Hot water bottles
Operator Tim Foster said hot water bottles had been a “massive hit” at both his Somers Town pub in between Euston and St Pancras, London and the Wiremill near Lingfield, Surrey.
“Customer are loving the fun and [it’s] a great way to start the conversation about how cold it is outside.”
One deal involves a Scotch egg and a pint (pictured), a call back to the Government’s unpopular substantial meal policy under the regional tiered system.
At the London site, customers can buy a hot cocktail in a thermos with a blanket for £10.
Communication with customers prior to their arrival has been the key, Foster explained.
“The most important thing we have done is hammer home it is April/May, usually you wouldn’t be sitting outside, wrap warm, thermal’s, big coats, hats, gloves, you name it and they have!”
“We had tonnes of questions about the heaters as the temperature has dropped and found the best way of communicating that we have them is [to say] ‘they take the chill off, but not designed to heat you, so wrap up warm' – this was from learning that if you said you had heaters people were then complaining that they weren’t near then or they didn’t give off enough heat.”
One operator to find customers complaining of the cold irksome has been Heath Ball, who operates the Estrella Damm Top 50 Gastropub the Red Lion & Sun in Highgate, north London.
Speaking with The Morning Advertiser’s editor Ed Bedington and West Sussex operator James Cuthbertson on the Lock In podcast, Ball shared his frustration at customers dressing for summer weather.
“This just sums up my customers. This guy turns up for his booking. He has ridden his fancy little bicycle, he is in cycling gear, in Lycra. He’s basically wearing a stocking to the pub. He sits down and suddenly he’s on the waitress, ‘you need more heaters around here, this is cold, what’s going on?'"
The operator added: “My level of tolerance is zero now for idiots with this.
“I walk over and say I hear there’s a problem. I said, 'you are wearing Lycra to the pub'. He’s wearing lycra, it’s all exposed and he’s hot and he’s cold.
“When [people] ring up now, I go ‘please please please, you need to wrap up’.”
Operator Bianca Rix, who co-owns the Fox & Hounds in Ware, Hertfordshire, advised other operators to “stand by what you have done.”
The pub decided against blankets as it would be too time consuming to wash them in between each customer.
Wrap up warm
Guidance from the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy advises such items should be disinfected or washed between customer use.
Pubgoers at the Fox & Hounds are advised when booking that despite being under a gazebo with heaters it will still be cold “as they are essential outside.”
Customers are advised to “wrap up warm, bring a hat, bring a blanket."
She added: “Everywhere has done things differently so customers will see such a range of heaters/ shelters, outside dining set ups – so you just have to stand by what you have done.”
The majority of customers were “just so glad to be out” but there had been the “odd moaner”.
“We have just explained that it is outside and that we have done our best to make it as comfortable for all in the outside dining restrictions.”
There have also been health and safety cautions about customers bringing their own portable heaters to beer gardens.