MA Leaders Club

Standard of food key as consumers return to the pub

By Gary Lloyd

- Last updated on GMT

Pub insights: Ed Sibley, right, of Lumina Intelligence with a consumer panel at the MA Leaders Club meeting
Pub insights: Ed Sibley, right, of Lumina Intelligence with a consumer panel at the MA Leaders Club meeting

Related tags Finance Multi-site pub operators Pubco + head office Food Beer

Consumers admit Covid has altered the way they visit pubs but it is the expected standard of food that has proved the biggest talking point.

That was the view from a five-strong consumer panel hosted by Ed Sibley of insights expert Lumina Intelligence at the MA Leaders Club conference held at Fabric nightclub, in Farringdon, London, on Thursday 24 February.

When asking the panel whether Covid has changed the way they use and visit pubs, panellist Keith said although his habits had not changed, he had noticed many changes at pubs and he now visits more different pubs post-Covid.

He said: “I’m more picky as to where I go now. We’ve always eaten out once or twice per week but Covid has affected the quality of food so I have had to trade up to a gastropub if I want a decent meal – and the price gap between pubs and gastropubs seems to have narrowed.”

Anna said she was eating in pubs now but never used to. “My attitude has changed because I appreciate it more,” she said, adding she is now more likely to meet friends and spend longer in the pub so eating has become part of that culture.

Panellist Wendy said there is now a desire to get together with friends at the pub and the difference between restaurants and pubs has changed, allowing her to eat at the pub plus there’s the bonus of “lots of chatter” at the pub too.

More relaxed atmosphere

“I prefer the pub vibe. A restaurant is more of an occasional thing,” claimed Emma. “The pub offers a more relaxed atmosphere with good food and you can be with good friends.”

Meanwhile, Steven said from having house parties with friends, his group has simply moved such gatherings back to the pub.

On the subject on Covid fears on the return to pubs, Keith said he wanted to go back to a relaxed atmosphere while avoiding a more crowded scene. However, Emma said she was “enjoying going back to more normal times” and enjoys the busy nature because it creates a more friendly space.

Wendy praised pubs’ inventiveness during Covid in the way they pivoted to serving takeaways and although she loves the atmosphere created in a pub, it can be a little too much if it is too loud.

The outdoor spaces that have been much improved by pub businesses as restrictions first eased have been appreciated by the panel with Anna joking that if a pub’s outdoor space has blankets and is welcoming, she is “going to live there!”.

Drop in quality at chain pubs

Most of the guests were not particularly aware of whether they were visiting a chain pub or independent businesses, However, Keith said it was the skill of the publican in ensuring the beer is good that counts and claimed foodservice at chain sites had gone down in quality, going so far as to say he and his friends will not visit a chain pub post-Covid.

Emma agreed that a pub company must ensure all its sites have the same standards while Wendy was happy to admit she had no idea if a pub was part of a chain or not. Anna added: “I love supporting local businesses. I’d rather go to pubs for younger people and although the quality does differ at different pubs, if it feels local and everything is locally sourced, it feels better and more interesting to me.”

Lumina’s Sibley asked whether the panellists carry out any research before visiting a pub. Steven said he will look for at the reviews on Google before deciding to go there while Anna said she never looked at reviews and was more interested in whether they serve cocktails and have happy hours as key factors in influencing her choice to visit.

Keith said: “I go by my previous experience at a pub or a friend’s. I would never dream of Googling a review for a pub but I would do so if I was going to a restaurant.”

On prices at pubs, Emma agreed there has been a big variation since pre-Covid but Steven has not noticed increases because he is “a value guy and always looking at deals”.

“Pubs feel pretty good value versus a restaurant for a night out,” said Wendy, who also said some restaurants seem extraordinarily expensive for sub-standard meals.

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