Why pubs are winning - informality and flexibility
3 February, 2011
By Peter Martin
The eating and drinking-out market continues to keep its head above water – just. As figures from the Coffer Peach Business Tracker show, the out-of-home market remains more resilient than the retail sector, but a look behind the numbers reveals that growth is coming predominantly from the pub and pub restaurant market.
High street casual dining is generally having a harder time. So why are pubs – or to be precise managed pubs – doing relatively well in these tough economic times? Some of it is down to value – but that’s only part of the story.
The Peach BrandTrack survey has shown that while food quality remains the main reason for consumers choosing a particular brand, ‘value’ has increased in importance. It’s a trend that’s also been reflected in the performance of fast food chains.
The major pub groups have been investing heavily in their estates, with new concepts, refurbishments and heavyweight promotion, which in the case of Mitchells & Butlers has included TV.
Youngs, Fullers, Marston’s and Greene King have all reported healthy like-for- like sales increases, driven by an improved food presence.
The success of the likes of Fullers and Youngs, which a year ago bought the Geronimo chain, and the emergence of more upmarket London pub groups like ETM, Rennaisance and Grand Union is not just about value. It’s about getting the balance right in the whole ‘quality & value equation’. It’s about delivering high quality food and drink in a relaxed, informal environment. The flexibility of the pub and the control
it gives to customers is crucial. The British never stopped liking pubs, but pub operators are now rediscovering what ‘pubiness’ is about and making it relevant in a new age.
It is interesting that the country’s biggest pub and restaurant operator M&B is keen not to let the pendulum swing too much towards food and to keep the right balance between food and drink sales.
The importance of quality drinks, and not just food, is encapsulated in the burgeoning craft beer movement, which is taking beer appreciation wider than real ale and Camra into interesting, big-flavoured micro-brewed bottled beers and lagers.
North-West based restaurant and bar operator, Living Ventures, has just opened its first pub, the Oast House in the Spinningfields development in the heart of Manchester. It incorporates Living Ventures usual sense of style, alongside a quality food and drink offer, including an impressive range of local micro- brews in bottle and on tap. It’s also not playing at the ‘cheap’ end of the market – but is doing sales of £50,000 plus a week.
Pubs have found their relevance at both ends of the market – and it’s no surprise that casual dining chains have started to notice – as the likes of La Tasca, Café Rouge and even Carluccio’s and Gaucho are putting bars into their restaurants. Informality and flexibility are the new buzzwords.
A version of this article first appeared in the December/January issue of Peach Report magazine. To subscribe, call Christine Martin on 01704 550383, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or click through to subscriptions