Pubs are having a very hard time. One recent report suggested that the UK has lost 21,000 pubs since 1980 - and half of those closures have happened since 2006.
While it looks like the closure rate may have peaked, the future of the pub is far from certain. What was once an important pillar of every town and village has become increasingly marginalised by the triple threats of chain establishments, cheap supermarket alcohol, and the economic downturn. So, as a publican, what can you do return your establishment to its rightful place in the heart of the community?
Chances are, many other pubs in your area will be struggling to come up with ways to draw in more punters. Instead of competing with them, why not form a partnership?
You could organise a ‘pub crawl’ between a few of the other local pubs, perhaps offering a discount for participants. There have also been instances where a few pubs in an area have decided to group together, and for all but one to close on certain quieter nights of the week. Drinkers are then directed to the open pub.
While this might seem like a drastic measure, many have found that it has significantly improved their bottom line on quiet nights – particularly in towns and villages with a high concentration of pubs.
If your pub is very quiet during the day, consider ways that you can encourage new customers. Many self-employed people, and those who work remotely, want to work in comfortable surroundings during the day – or simply relax somewhere quiet. Think about serving hot drinks and light sandwiches to entice these people in. You might also want to consider offering free wi-fi to lure in the laptop crowd.
It can be difficult to achieve this without attracting the ire of your regulars. You might want to think about designating a specific area of the pub as a ‘cafe’ during the day so that regulars can continue to drink uninterrupted.
Many pubs in small towns, whether justifiably or not, garner a reputation for being unfriendly or threatening. If there is a misconception about your pub amongst the local population, you will need to work hard to rectify it.
Consider running some community events to encourage families and older patrons back into your pub. These groups are often the key to success – not least because they tend to be the biggest spenders.
If you have garden space, think about running a weekend fair. If you have pool tables, consider running a tournament. Make use of what you have, to encourage punters to feel welcome.
Sometimes, gimmicks work. Publicans are traditionally reticent to adopt new technologies, but often they can help to boost business.
A particularly good example is the recent emergence of on-table beer taps. Instead of going to the bar, customers can pull their own pints at the table – or have a dispensing machine do it for them. This saves you time and work, and gives your pub a unique feature and talking point. Even better, customers tend to spend significantly more with these machines than they would otherwise.
These machines can be expensive, but they are likely to be paid off relatively quickly. Banks are also becoming happier to lend, so now may be a good time to make the investment.
The pub quiz is something of a cliché now. But, as is so often the case, it is only a cliché because it is popular. A good, regular pub quiz can help to bring in punters on what would otherwise be quiet nights. These new customers are also far more likely to pay you a visit during other times.
Of course, you need not choose a pub quiz. As long as an event is well-run and appealing to punters, you can let your imagination run riot.
Live music is a perennial favourite in pubs. If you have some space in a corner (or, even better, a small stage), why not invite some local bands to come and play?
Many bands will bring a crowd, and they are likely to be ready for a party. Amateur bands will often play for very little money – or, indeed, just for drinks. Try to fit the type of music to your customers, perhaps asking them what their preference would be first.
If you are considering live music, you should check the terms of your licence. You may need to apply for permission from the council before proceeding.
The last ten years has been a tumultuous time for UK pubs. Closures, changes in family life, reduced customer spend and sharp duty increases have all combined to create challenges. But with renewed confidence, a better economy and increasing focus on local community, the pub's place in British culutre is pretty secure.
It's taken creative thinking from landlords though, so keep it going with the tips above and ensure that you and your pub remain profitable, and firmly at the heart of the community. They'll thank you for it.
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