The bar experience has undoubtedly changed dramatically over the last few years, let alone the last 10 years, and its important for those in the industry to ensure that they are keeping up with trends that reflect consumer attitudes. The pub has always been at the centre of the community, providing a location for special occasions, for casual meet-ups, for reunions with old friends, for family events after weddings, or – as with the Royal Wedding – a place to celebrate together. However, as specialist bars, late-night cafes, pop-up tastings and festivals are cutting into the traditional crowd, what can bars and pubs do to entice customers and who can they be inspired to stay fresh in a changing landscape?
The Changing Bar Landscape
To see how much the pub landscape had changed is to see how our drinking habits have changed. Lager across the board reported a decrease in sales – leading Carlsberg to dramatically redesign and re-market its new pilsner and Carling to focus on their British heritage. This could be due to an increase in drinks that are better for us – both ethically and taste-wise. The gin revolution is continuing, with fruity ciders and other fruit-flavoured drinks coming to the fore. Traditional pint drinkers feel more confident ordering a drink that isn’t a standard lager or ale. But changing what we drink when we go to the bar also indicates that our reason for heading in has changed too. We’re trading in the cheaper, calorific, lower-ABV traditional pints for fancier drinks that we can’t drink as much of, but which contribute to the experience of going to the bar. Indeed, lower-ABV drinks, organic wines, locally produced wines, and vegan alcoholic drinks are set to be more sought after this year as a direct response to the changing way we are seeing pubs and bars. The rise of low-ABV drinks shows that what we drink at the bar may now be secondary to what we are going there for. Instead of the focus being on heading to the pub to drink beer, it is now on the experience of going there and what we do while we’re there. As such, bars need to now focus on the experience of the venue.
The Bar Experience
Offering experiences is nothing new for pubs, but their consumers are largely under the demographic bracket of wanting to experience things more. Indeed, millennials – who make up a large portion of the intended audience – are known to value new experiences. Millennials are also seen to be shunning the traditional nightclub or going out past time for more milder experiences, which shows the direction that pubs and bars should be taking. Rather than focusing on drink offers, they should be focusing on appealing to those who use the bar space as a community hub where there is something to do that doesn’t break the bank or result in too much drinking. Pub quizzes are one way in which pubs have attempted to create experiences, and often report higher profits during such nights. Board games are being seen increasingly in bars while open mic nights, poetry readings, spoken word events and even variety shows or live music are becoming more popular. The bar makes the perfect setting for these kinds of nights and can help usher in customers who might have opted to go elsewhere or even stay at home. The range of pub games is evolving too, from the traditional Andy Capp machines to a variety of themed slot machines as Wink Bingo shows with their collection of the best slot machines that have given inspiration to those which grace the pub environment – including classics that get everyone involved like Deal or No Deal and Monopoly. Meanwhile, the Four Thieves pub in Battersea has taken our love of experiences and our desire to game to a new level by kitting the pub out with arcade machines and a games room to offer a full night experience.
Where Can Bars Take Inspiration for the Future?
The Four Thieves is an important one to look at when thinking about the future. Not only does it provide the standard bar experience for friends to gather and enjoy a drink, but it also provides entertainment. There’s something added-value on offer, which in marketing terms can entice customers over competitors. Themed nights in pubs also do well and should be used as further inspiration. The Royal Wedding packed out pubs with many people who were less interested in Harry and Meghan’s nuptials than they were with the atmosphere of entertainment, the commentary and the shared experience in the air. There are countless opportunities around the calendar – from St Patrick’s Day, New Year’s Eve and Halloween to Burns Night, Eurovision, Pancake Day, and even the airing of popular TV series. If you pepper your bar’s events list with themed nights and known quantities in entertainment – such as live turns or comedy shows – people will primarily see you as a provider of entertainment and positive experiences. Hosting summer festivals such as the Leeds-based Kirkstall Brewery’s summer beer festival, which serves the company as a chance not just to create a buzz but also to refresh their offering by selling off their old stock can also be a good opportunity for an event. Weekly quizzes or hosted nights are more likely to bring in punters, especially those who are out for something that isn’t just several pints. Even those driving or avoiding alcohol can find something of value in a bar experience if there is something else to do. Games bars, especially those with strong eSports-based communities that also happen to sell alcohol also do well. Secret cinema nights, bowling alleys, or even tangentially related sports events that give a theme to the pub-going experience can all be used to take inspiration from.
The bar will never be empty. People will continue to patronise but it’s still important to add to the experience currently on offer. Bar-goers care about good value and as the drinks landscape is moving towards drinks that might be pricier. It’s important to balance this with something else for them to do when they are in the venue. Whether this is as simple as a board game on the side, darts, an event on TV or a full-blown themed night. Getting people in and portraying your pub as an experience provider can help increase footfall, even for those who are just passing by for a quick drink.