The Morning Advertiser attended the Discovery Forum 2022, held at the Farmhouse Redcoats in Hitchin, Hertfordshire, to discover why pubs make great venues for meetings and how the sector can make the most of this revenue stream.
MeetingsInn managing director Andrew Winterburn said: “The way pub groups are looking at the opportunity has changed in the last couple of years, because if they get it right, it is a big opportunity to tap into.
“The pub group community needs to work together to build momentum on this and not look at each other as competitors, but as a meeting community.”
However, Winterburn, who estimated the UK spends some £17bn on meetings annually, added pubs need to consider corporate clients booking venues for meetings have very different needs and requirements to everyday consumers.
Fast WIFI, access to stationary, flipcharts, suitable furniture, and tech equipment such as projectors with hot drinks and water readily available were among top priorities for licensees to consider as well as the potential for a buffet lunch.
Having ‘quiet zones’ for drop-in meetings with booths and tables near plug sockets for solo workers as hybrid working continues post-pandemic was also crucial in making the most of the corporate market.
Additionally, ensuring brand match and consistency in service quality was of the utmost importance to Top Banana founder and CEO Richard Bridge, who added offering meetings was a “no brainer” for pubs to generate an extra strain of revenue.
Bring people together
He said: “Pubs are brilliant for communities around the country for drawing a destination to bring people together.
“Clients are looking for something different and pubs can be more approachable, when you go to a hotel its quite formal, it’s quite corporate, that might not fit the objective of that meeting.
“When trying to select a venue, the criteria will be ‘have they got space?’, ‘have they got the facilities available?’, regardless of if it’s a hotel or a pub.
“Brand match is important, if you are a solicitor the brand match might not be right, but one of our biggest clients is Bacardi, wouldn’t it be much better to meet where the client base is, where you can have a chat and a cocktail at the end.”
According to Bridge, attitudes surrounding the industry are changing, and with the popularity of low and no serves rising, pubs are no longer seen as a place just to have an alcoholic drink, but a place for people to be together.
The CEO also advised pubs should charge a day delegate rate somewhere between £25 and £50 to host meetings, increasing to around £70 in London, depending on what food, drink and facilities are being offered.
Another benefit discussed at the forum was staffing issues, with meetings offering the opportunity to utilise staff more efficiently during quieter periods.
Furthermore, Winterburn stated meetings also enabled employees to do something different and learn a new skill, which could lead to better employment rates and retention in the industry.
Commit to it
Additionally, Anglian Inns area manager John Cox stated pubs need to truly commit and invest in making meeting spaces appealing to the corporate market and not see the opportunity as a side-line.
He added: “Meeting rooms give people a reason to come to your venue when they might not have otherwise and you can generate more revenue of the back off that.
“You see people clustered in a pub, so they are coming to us already, and if we make it more convenient more people will come to us.
“If you are going to do it, don’t think of it as a side-line and hope for the best, commit to it.”
However, the event speakers explained, while they will take a commission, booking agents are a key tool to guide pubs and put them in contact with a broader range of clients.
Inntel director of commercial partnerships, people and projects Sian Sayward explained the benefits of booking agents, such as Meetings Inn, Inntel or Opentable, included saving time, potential increase in turnover, support and guidance, payment solutions, and mediation in case of disputes.
Winterburn added: “We don’t just see our role as a booking platform, we see it as a catalyst to bring meetings and pubs together.”