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Two key trends to expect in the post-lockdown pub

By Andy Wingate, Senior Category Manager On Trade at HEINEKEN UK

Since lockdown and subsequently reopening were first announced, here at HEINEKEN we’ve conducted a number of pieces of research to best predict and help you prepare for the changes we expect to see in the on trade over the next few months. Utilising the latest insights and data from our Star Pubs & Bars estate, we are in a unique position as a supplier and an operator to provide a broader understanding and perspective of the current situation. The outbreak of Covid-19 has resulted in the world talking consistently about the ‘new normal’. Naturally the big group occasions that we are used to seeing in the on trade are, initially at least, reduced but other trends we anticipate will be an acceleration of previous behaviours.

So, here are a couple of trends to expect in the post-lockdown pub and our recommendation on how best to prepare and adapt accordingly:

1.The highs and lows in footfall

Consumers have settled into lockdown life and living with Covid-19 in the midterm. So, as we move into a new phase, new anxieties are emerging. Firstly, the fear of a second wave is increasing (+8%) to 76%[1]​, as the resumption of normal activities increase.

This hesitation is reflected in the latest data. While more consumers are comfortable with the idea of returning to the on trade (+6% to 37%) there is still a sizeable portion of the population who do not yet feel comfortable (59%)[2]​. This is to be expected and is understandable, however that doesn’t mean there aren’t things you can be doing to reassure and encourage your customers.

The latest data shows women and older customers are the most concerned demographics and are more reluctant to visit the on trade. The most comfortable group are young men, who appear to feel less at risk and so have been quicker to return to previous behaviours[3]​. The difference between these demographic splits, in terms of intention to visit, is in fact increasing. Therefore, it’s crucial that operators can meet the needs of those who are visiting while at the same time reassuring those less comfortable to venture out.

Your offering ​– The current demographic split will have greater impact on products such as traditional Keg and Cask Ale, while venues such as Working Men’s Clubs and Community Pubs are likely to be more affected. Look at appealing to different customer groups during different day- or week-parts to help maintain footfall.

  • For example, consider running drinks promotions during quieter periods to encourage those customers not yet comfortable visiting during the evenings or weekends. We have previously been running Rhythm of the Week activities through our Star Pubs & Bars estate which generates footfall and loyalty with different consumer groups.
  • Recent data has also demonstrated weekday food occasions are down as much as 44%[4]​ versus the same time last year.  So, it’s worth considering changing your menus and prices to attract more customers at this time. Existing HEINEKEN customers can also make use of POS Direct​ to professionally print the government’s Eat Out to Help Out point of sale completely free of charge. For more information on this initiative, check out the Keg Talks podcast – Navigating the new normal​.

Your cleaning regime​ – When asked “What would make you more likely to visit the on trade?” respondents’ most popular answers were enforced social distancing, regular viral cleaning and staff wearing PPE[5]​.

  • In addition to displaying social distancing signage in your outlet, consider sharing these measures on social media, alongside images of people having a good time, enjoying your food and drink offering while following guidelines. For more information on this check out the last Keg Talks podcast here​.
  • Show that cleaning is being done regularly by having visible timesheets. Tick lists are commonplace in bathrooms but consider having these in other parts of your outlet at this initial stage of reopening.
  • Finally, although we appreciate the fine balance of managing costs versus revenue, ensure you have enough staff to maintain this regular cleaning process. Your customers will notice this and feel more at ease witnessing it first-hand.

Adopt barriers​ - The desire for a safe amount of space is reflected in the types of outlets customers are most comfortable in visiting. Overwhelmingly venues with garden seating areas are preferred (69%), with intimate bars and night clubs on the other end of the scale (22%)[6]​ .

  • When indoors, place screens in areas where there may be sub 2m interaction, e.g. the bar or between tables, as this is a great way to encourage physical distancing indoors.
  • The British public has embraced the value of facemasks. Consider making PPE available to your staff and encourage its use, particularly when handling food and drink.
  • Sealing or wrapping cutlery, condiments and food for take away indicates no unnecessary contact has been made.
  • Sanitiser and free masks available for patrons demonstrates your customers’ health is priority to you as a business
  • Use a simple contactless and at-table payment software solution such as Swifty​, to reduce unnecessary human contact, encourage reservation of tables in advance and manage capacity.

Tone of voice​ - After a period of uncertainty and difficulty, there is optimism for the future and that as a nation we’re over the worst of the Covid-19 crisis.

  • Using humour and positivity in signage or online implies this optimism and reminds consumers of the good times they’ve had in your venue.

Community minded​ - Being vocal and visible within your local community will help keep your business front of mind and therefore one of the first choices people consider when going out.

  • Embrace digital – including a great website and social media presence – to communicate your opening times, food and drink offering, facilities such as Wi-Fi and measures being taken to maximise customer safety.
  • Think of ways to engage with and encourage interaction with your followers on social media that are in keeping with your venue type.  For example, if you are a sports bar talk about iconic sporting moments that people may have watched in your venue.

Marketing to younger consumers - ​As mentioned, this demographic is far more comfortable visiting the on trade and have been the bulk of early adopters since reopening. Therefore, it’s crucial you market your outlet to them in the right way.

  • In the UK there are now 45 million social media users, this equates to 67% of the entire population. Of these, 39 million are mobile social media users[7]​, therefore, your online presence is vital.
  • Facebook has been proven to be the most effective means of reaching an audience. 40 million people – or 71% of UK adults – can be reached via Facebook adverts[8]​.  However, Instagram is typically the preferred platform among younger consumers. We would recommend focussing on three platforms – Facebook, Instagram and Twitter – to communicate with new or existing customers.  Make sure you devote enough time to your online presence, including advertising your venue, sharing photos or responding to questions or reviews.  Check out our social media advice on The Pub Collective​ or the recent Building your brand online and through social mediaKeg Talks podcast​ for more information and support.

Working from home has become the norm - ​The tech now in place for remote working has created a new normal for meetings. Remote workers will likely be tired of the same surroundings, so make your outlet a destination for them to work in, by:

  • Offering free WIFI, coffee refills and power points at table for customers to charge their computers and phones.
  • Consider also offering table-service to encourage that purchase of a second drink or perhaps stay for lunch or dinner. Customers won’t always feel comfortable leaving their items to go to the bar, so come to them and offer them something extra. Research shows that 80% of consumers would order a second drink if asked[9]​, so this is a great way to boost sales plus elevate your customer service. Alternatively, payment and loyalty apps like Swifty​ will enable workers to order and pay for food or drinks from their table.
  • Consider the layout of your outlet. Can this be adapted to provide quiet areas and single seat tables? Naturally most on trade venues are designed to encourage socialising, however during the daytime and other typically quieter trading occasions this is a great way to improve your income by creating a space for remote workers.

2.The importance of the experience

Although there will be challenges over the next few months, the pub is a core element of UK society, often seen as a pillar ensuring good mental well-being through encouraging socialising. The challenge will be whether this period has taught consumers that they can have an enjoyable night out without the associated costs of being in the on trade.

It is imperative therefore that the on trade markets itself effectively and delivers the one unique selling-point, the experience​. Whether it’s a knowledgeable member of staff explaining a new dish on the menu or a freshly pulled pint of ale, the on trade experience is one of a kind and not something that can be replicated at home. Here are some top tips on how to ensure you’re offering customers an unbelievable experience:

  • A perfect serve, every time. Perhaps most importantly following reopening, it’s crucial that you provide customers with a great serve every time they order. Whatever the drink, it has to be better than what they usually have at home to remind them why they come out to the on trade. A fresh, cold, perfectly poured pint is something that consumers simply cannot get at home and have sorely missed! Consider providing your staff with free mobile training, such as Hello BEER​, to upskill and upscale their knowledge of beer and cider.
  • Exceed expectations. At the very least, consumers expect friendly, knowledgeable bar staff, a good atmosphere, clean toilets and the use of technology for payment. They respond well to an extensive range of alcoholic drinks and soft drinks mixers, as well as table service. To deliver beyond expectation, consider offering new or different drinks choices, locally-sourced products or healthy food and drink options.
  • Deliver a unique experience. Outlets are shying away from traditional activations in favour of more memorable, bespoke activities. However, thanks to Zoom calls and lockdown events, the Pub Quiz is not dead and is in fact thriving! Quizzes can be either free to enter with a drinks voucher given to the winner, or subject to an entry fee with the money collected used as the prize fund.

In summary

At HEINEKEN we have absolutely no doubt that pubs will bounce back. It won’t be without challenges, but the Great British Pub holds a special place in the hearts and communities of the UK public. During lockdown we saw licensees pivot their businesses to provide vital services such as a local shop, takeaway and delivery, and supporting the NHS or vulnerable groups. Following reopening, pubs have adapted to make traditional spaces socially distanced for the welfare of their customers and staff. Pubs are hugely important to people’s lives and consumer positivity is returning. Through continued support, sharing of advice, new tools and services, we will give the hospitality sector the best chance of bouncing back and returning to the place we all know and love. During lockdown Brits went out of their way to support local businesses and retailers. Now, with the re-opening phase well under way, we expect the hospitality sector will receive a similar level of support from this nation of pub lovers.

While we acknowledge many businesses will now be open, we encourage all operators to continuously monitor sales, volumes and changing clientele and react accordingly. For example, if throughput is compromised then consider your mix of draught versus packaged and offer only your best sellers on tap until volumes increase. Check out Advice: what beer and how much should you stock for reopening? for a recommendation on how best to adapt your beer and cider offering.

[1]​ Ipsos Essential report May 21st to 24th, Kantar G7 countries perception of COVID 19 survey, Kantar Covid 19 Barometer UK Wave 5 n = 500

[2]​ Attest study 11.6.20, n = 480/308

[3]​ Attest study 06.07.20, n = 500

[4]​ HUK On Trade Weekly Performance Update 20.07.20

[5]​ Attest study 06.07.20, n = 500

[6]​ Attest study 11.6.20, n = 433

[7]​ Avocado Social, 2019

[8]​ Avocado Social, 2019

[9]​ Serendipity2, Cola Consumer Research in Licensed 2018