As pubs and bars across the UK are forced to increase prices in line with rising energy costs and inflation, businesses have become increasingly reliant on events to maintain custom.
Following the withdrawal of the Government’s Energy Support Scheme and increase in National Minimum Wage on 1 April, independent businesses are looking to the weekend for “temporary relief” from otherwise-dwindling custom.
Brendan Padfield, who owns the Unruly Pig, a family-run gastro pub in Woodbridge, Suffolk, said: “Easter Sunday is a major calendar event. Its going to be a welcomed fillip in an otherwise quiet quarter”.
While Padfield pointed to the benefits afforded to businesses in the region by the ‘staycation’ industry, he acknowledged a fall in discretionary spending as exacerbating the importance of the coming weekend.
“Certainly we have noticed a comparative decrease in numbers, but this has been perversely coupled with an increase in spending per head. When people are coming out less often, the cause for celebration seems to greaten. It’s no time for complacency, but our bookings are looking promising and we are hoping for the best,” he added.
Pressure to ‘create own events’
Beyond the steady roll out of flagship dates in the British diary, owners reported the need for innovative means of promoting a steady influx of customers throughout the year.
Steve Orme, owner of the Red Lion in Shepperton, Surrey, cited the challenge of maintaining the momentum, which he expects the bank holiday to help spike.
“Calendar dates are woven in to the fabric of our year, but what’s more important is creating your own events”, he said.
Citing the cost-of-living crisis, Orme highlighted the need to “work harder to get folks to choose your venue”.
“This will be the first bank holiday of the year, and folk are choosing carefully where to spend their money at the minute. We have to go the extra mile”, he said. “Last Easter, it was 22° and we weren’t in an economic crisis. These days, pubs have become more of a luxury. So I am expecting to make less than last year, but a steady flow throughout the four days will without a doubt make a difference”.
The creation of “new events” includes extending traditional ones; the Red Lion promoted Mother’s Day as ‘Mother’s Weekend’ this year.
“The idea was, see your own mum on Saturday, and take care of the in-laws on Sunday. Its about producing new occasions to make up for the situation we’re in”, added Orme.
Growth in competition
As more owners harness events to encourage punters, independent venues are also faced with growing competition.
The Phoenix Arts Theatre Bar in Soho, which has been running for 35 years, has experienced a “drop in attendance” to its long-standing in-house entertainment events, as neighbouring businesses have also begun running cabaret and comedy shows.
Phoenix Arts managing director Peter Dunbar said: “In the West End now, you can’t operate as a bar alone unless you’re a specialist cocktail bar.
"Saturday nights should be sold out in the theatres, but shows are at half capacity. That has a knock-on effect on us, so places have had to become multipurpose”.
While venues such as Phoenix have “survived through key tent pole events” such as its annual Eurovision party, competition has been driven up by the adoption of similar shows by other bars and clubs.
“We’ve really experienced the impact of bigger chains picking up on these events. While demand for our cabaret show has maintained itself, that heavily relies on people trusting what you’re offering”, said Dunbar.
As customers are making less trips out, independent businesses face pressure to “meet every expectation, not just one”, to land bookings.
“People will spend, but they want more”, added Dunbar. “There’s no room for second best”.
With inflation at 10.4%, and the business rates reforms expected to increase strain on the sector later this year, this bank holiday is set to mark the outset of a challenging second quarter.
For businesses across the UK, the coming weekend provides the opportunity to draw in trade amidst growing concerns for future profits.
“If you fill the place with people, the rest will take care of itself”, added Orme.