Why are London bars giving out free drinks?

By Amelie Maurice-Jones

- Last updated on GMT

On the house: Operators of London bars explain why they are giving away free drinks (Getty/ Sol Stock)
On the house: Operators of London bars explain why they are giving away free drinks (Getty/ Sol Stock)

Related tags Technology London Alcoholic beverage Callooh Callay Bars

Bars across London are giving away free drinks in a bid to increase footfall through drawing in customers who wouldn’t otherwise visit the pub.

Bars including Callooh Callay, Near & Far, the Duchess of Dalston and Tonight Josephine have joined the El Tab app which puts a £750-£1000 tab behind a different bar each night where members can redeem up to four free drinks. 

El tab pays a significant portion of the tab spend each night.

Operation Director at the Shoreditch-based cocktail bar Callooh Callay Mahit Anam said joining the app has helped bring new people to his bar. 

“It’s no longer about staying in your niche market, it’s about trying to reach as many people as you can,” he said. 

Members, who pay a monthly £12.99 subscription fee, are notified of the new Zone one or two London bar each evening where they can redeem up to four free drinks before the tab runs dry. 

Anam continued: “Coming out of lockdown, nobody was really sure when people would start coming back to bars.  

“We're trying to give them an extra incentive to come out.” 

A Christmas treat

Anam said Callooh Callay used the app on quieter nights to add revenue and cover labour costs. 

Enticing people to the bar for free drinks encouraged them to pay for full-price food and drink, with the runup to Christmas making it vital to showcase the bar. 

Anam said: “People come in and potentially think, ‘that's a great night here, maybe we can book our Christmas party here, or birthdays’”.

The El Tab app was created 13 weeks ago by Oliver Carew as a means of “driving footfall” for the bar industry. 

The app currently has about 300 members, the majority of which are between the ages of 21 and 28. According to Carew, each night could see five to 20 members turning up to collect their drinks. 

Creative director of the Near & Far bar in Peckham Sarah Holgate said the app gave them a “win-win” opportunity for customers to discover the bar, and for staff to show them “a really good time”. 

Holgate said the app was just one part of the company’s “heavy promotion”, which also included happy hour, free first drinks, and working with other apps such as Star Square. 

She said: “In London, you have to be particularly competitive: you're not just the one pub in the village.  

“If people want to have a drink, they've got more choice in London than anywhere in the UK, so you’ve got to have really strong offerings.” 

Word of mouth

Holgate believed word of mouth to be key to business, even in a digital age, with visitors telling others about positive experiences at the bar, prompting many more bookings. 

For customers, there was “nothing better” than arriving at the bar and getting four free drinks, according to Holgate, who said the feedback was “the best thing ever.” 

She said: “It’s an amazing experience and people leave incredibly happy.” 

For Holgate, the only drawback of the app would be if 500 people arrived at once, and the bar struggled to accommodate them all.  

However, so far, this hasn’t been an issue: the founder of the app claimed that whilst £700-£800 had been spent on an El Tab night, the full £1000 tab had yet to be redeemed.  

Nonetheless, Carew said this was a “push in the right direction”, and as soon as the member numbers rise up, the app would likely become “super beneficial” for pub and bar business. 

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