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Once upon a time, the local pub was considered the watering hole for the community – creating a destination where friends could meet for a drink; often serving pints of beer alongside snacks and local gossip. Over the years, not only have pubs been joined by bars in their shared focus on providing a social space propped up by the sale and consumption of alcoholic drinks, but they have also undergone a transformation of their own, with the rise in specialist bars, gastro pubs, pub chains, family pubs and local pubs all attracting different sections of the captive consumer marketplace.
When we look at the industry around pubs and bars, it is apparent that to the modern consumer, a bar or pub is a lot more than just a convenient place to go for a drink – offering everything from ambience to unique experiences, high end customer service, quality food as well as drink, and overall convenience.
While drink is the main thing associated with bars and pubs, one of the most notable thing about the industry is how it pulls together different hospitality sectors and areas of focus, including food and drink, customer service, experience and entertainment. Through the use of marketing and advertising specific events, pubs in particular have become the driving force in the mainstream popularity of pub quizzes and pub crawls – both simple concepts which lend themselves perfectly to the community spirit which surrounds local pubs and puts different locations on the map.
One of the leading features of both bars and pubs, and what makes them stand out, is the way that they provide their target consumers with an experience alongside their chosen drink. For example, in a pub this could be the local community atmosphere which leans on the consistent presence of characters and friends from a town or neighbourhood. Historically, pubs were simple meeting houses designed for families and friends to get together and enjoy the local ale or beer brewed by the Landlord. There was none of the imported and international beers that we enjoy today – back in the early days, the only drink on offer was that which the Landlord himself had made. Today, of course, the consumer is spoilt for choice – not only benefitting from a wide variety of different beers and ales to choose from, but also expanding that choice out into other areas of the alcoholic and soft drink sector; a move designed to continue to entice customers of all ages and demographics through the door.
In a bar, the overall experience is likely to be provided with a little more structure – with modern bar staff specialising in extravagant cocktail making with added showmanship; do-it-yourself experiences and events; more formal performances from hired entertainers; and even the shift from a bar into a nightclub on certain days of the week. One of the leading features of the bar industry in particular is the rise in specialist bars which cater to very specific target audiences and offer a very refined menu of drinks – capitalising on trends within the drinks industry and finding new ways of reaching these target audiences through experiences and unique offerings.
One of the focal points of the industry in recent years has been the rise in pub and bar chains – taking a successful marketplace model and inputting it into various locations on a national and even a global scale – replicating the success of restaurant chains by providing different communities and localities with the same experience; the same price list; and the same menu. In fact, did you know that of the 50,300 pubs in the UK alone, around 18,000 of them are now owned and operated by big chain brands. And while some of them are allowed to keep and celebrate their unique features and individual details, for the most part, being bought out by a big chain retailer means a complete overhaul in the way that the pub looks, in the way that it operates, and in the drinks and service that it provides.
Outside of these chain names, thousands of independent pubs and bars still exist – and these are the ones which benefit most completely from their local community. Of course, even the most community-led and ancient pubs have had to adjust to the modern market in some ways; with this meaning that many have had to expand their drinks offering, encompassing a combination of locally brewed beers and ales, alongside globally popular drinks like a variety of wines and spirits. These are also the pubs and bars where an in-house experience is driven by the crowds rather than organised formally by the Landlord or pub owner, and where the overall customer experience is very much focused on the natural ambience and atmosphere rather than on an aesthetic layer of decorations.
Despite the wavering spirit of these old community pubs which are unlikely to ever change completely, there are a range of positives which come with chain brands and which drive consumer loyalty towards these locations as well; with one of the most popular things about chain locations being the way in which consumers can utilise vouchers and discounts; with chains operating on such a scale that they use their online and high street presence in order to advertise seasonal and nationwide deals. By being given the chance to benefit from these deals no matter which of the chain’s locations they choose to visit, these pub and bar chains successfully manage to create a space in the market for loyal consumers to return time and time again regardless of location.
Some of the top retail names in the bar and pub chains industry include:
One of the interesting facts about some of these leading names in the industry is the way in which they sit somewhere across the pub and bar sector – essentially taking the best features and aspects of both models, and creating a new variation which offers an all-round experience. A good example of this in practice is All Bar One – a UK nationwide chain which has the word ‘bar’ in the title, and yet on many levels operates as a pub, with the big sports screen and inclusion of pub quizzes factored into the community roster in order to provide an experience which is inclusive and enticing for both bar and pub lovers.
Another thing that consumers will notice about the above list of leading pub and bar retailers is the number of names which are also renowned for their presence in the food industry – identifying one of the largest growing trends which has been an integral part of the development of the bars and pubs industry: food.
Food is one of the leading trends which is making waves across much of the hospitality and experiential industry, with consumers consistently looking for new ways of injecting convenience into their lives and daily routines through prepared food offerings. Pubs and bars already hold an important place in the socialising sphere of the hospitality industry, and thus provide the perfect foundation through which to increase their customer offering to include food as well as drink. This has been so monumentally successful in the past years, that gastro pubs and family pubs have become an integral part of the industry – focusing on food as much as drink.
Another leading trend in the bars and pubs industry goes hand in hand with the rise in technology and digitalisation – in this case, through online reviews and testimonials, mobile device maps and SEO technologies, social media, and the rise in blogs and articles which cover various locations and look at the prominence of pubs and bars as part of societal trends – like pub crawls and bar crawls. First to the online reviews and testimonials, drawing on the very real trend whereby consumers are most likely to use and visit a location which has been recommended to them by friends or family – or, in the case of the technological world, on Tripadvisor. Sites like Tripadvisor allow a captive consumer to search for top locations according to the kind of meal or drink they are looking for, how much they are willing to spend, and how highly reviewed the location is. Of course, opening your doors to such online scrutiny can be potentially damaging should a bad review come in – however the potential of this must be balanced out by the damage that can be done by consumers not even finding your pub or bar should they be looking in your local area. As such, sites like Tripadvisor are often regarded as high quality advertising for bars and pubs, with different locations not only highlighting their presence on review sites through their social media pages and on-site advertising boards, but also providing offers and deals to those who post a review and then return for a second visit.
Likewise, mobile apps and the inclusion of pubs and bars as part of local walks and trends is important in driving forward the marketing reach of these spots; particularly for those which operate alone and not as part of a chain. Businesses often overlook the value of being listed in local attractions booklets and website content blogs, however consumers – particularly those who are travelling – often use these kinds of outlets to find local facilities and places to go, making them an invaluable resource for advertising.
And then we have the trend which sees bars and pubs expanded into other industries – not only food but also mobile bars and events; following trends across other sectors in order to provide drinks services to a wider audience. An example of this is the provision of mobile bars at local events and festivals – creating a space in the market for local pubs and/or bars to operate a selling platform at these events, as well as opening up the floor to new and unique providers and small businesses which choose to focus on the mobile bar industry rather than the static community location. The rise in specialist events and mobile bars is something which has been born from the growing trend which prioritises specific drinks over others – for example mobile cocktail bars, mobile gin bars, and mobile champagne bars. These tend to be the specialist retail offerings which appeal to very tailored target audiences, but which understand and know their market well enough to advertise in the right places, offer the right kinds of deals and packages in line with consumer demand, and which are able to adapt and adjust in line with specific requirements.
Our final trend is one which is making waves across a whole variety of different retail industries and sectors – the increased importance of sustainability and consumer social responsibility. Consumers want to see pubs and bars which are taking these positions seriously – cutting down on waste food and drink products, finding ways of serving foods and drinks without relying on plastic and waste (for example the recent ban on plastic straws across all bars and pubs) and looking to provide locally sourced ingredients in cocktails, food dishes and other drinks where possible. One could in fact look at this last trend and draw comparisons between where the industry is headed and where it has come from – a few decades ago the biggest trend in the industry encompassed the widest variety of drinks possible, with pubs and bars constantly looking for ways of stocking and serving imported drinks from all over the world. Today, we are back to square one – focusing on those drinks which are produced by local brewers and vineyards, making the most of local produce and looking for ways of supporting local small businesses.
When it comes to the pubs and bars industry, we all have our favourite retailers and our go-to locations. Finding vouchers and deals may be more limited than in some other industries and sectors, however the expansion of pub and bar service offerings alongside various trends means that consumer requirements are consistently being noted and actioned where possible.
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