Pubs and bars face many challenges. This is illustrated by new data from CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) indicating that 31 pubs are closing across the country a week. A dangerous combination of increasing rents, more choice for consumers and stricter spending means that the local publican is struggling for trade, most likely even on weekends. People are spending more time at home drinking and entertaining, and less time going out. Times are changing, but the silver lining is that it's provided us bar owners with an opportunity to think of creative ways to entice customers through the door.
Our industry is unrecognisable to what it looked like 20 years ago when I first started out in the licensed trade. Having good food, reasonably priced drinks and excellent customer service are no longer virtues to brag about, they are now the norm and the expectation of every customer who comes into our bars. The days of just opening our doors and taking money are gone, we need to do so much more. We need to engage with our customers in so many more ways than we used to. Social media has taken away the old excuse for catching up over a pint, everyone already knows what their friends are doing every minute of every day, either through posts and tweets. Our customers look to have shared experiences, they want to learn, they want to be challenged. They enjoy going to events and experiencing new and fun things. They are our community and we are the 'community pub' for them.
Here at Mothership Group, we try and fill every square meter of our bars every minute of every day. Our basements are clubs at the weekends but during the week we put on 'Thinking and Drinking' cultural events. The Book Club, Queen of Hoxton and Stories organise everything from talks by the Science museum, craft workshops, screen printing, film nights, gamer disco and many many more across the venues. They're not always lucrative, but it means we are busy and gain return custom. Pubs and bars need to constantly invest in their spaces to improve the experience to keep it fresh and appealing. Hiring the right staff, training and retraining them, engaging with them and rewarding them for their hard work is key. To create a fun environment to work in doesn't meant it can't be a professional environment. Staff are consumer-facing, so if they're happy, they're likely to provide a good service to customers.
Customers are well-educated, knowledgeable and more curious than ever through the internet and many other sources of inspiration. We have to recognise this and engage them in more ways than we have traditionally done in the past. We've had great successes from implementing a cultural events program; customers are sharing by word of mouth and social media their experiences, which in turn brings them and their friends back for more visits, which is the whole point of running a pub!