THE PUB BUSINESS IS CHANGING RAPIDLY, AND LICENCEES FACE A CHALLENGE IN KEEPING THEIR VENUE PROFITABLE AND POPULAR. CONOR KENNY LOOKS AT THE PROBLEMS, AND THEIR SOLUTIONS.
A quiet pint in the pub. Once upon a time, running a pub was a dream come true – easy money and great fun. In today’s competitive marketplace pubs can still be profitable and easy to run, but you can no longer sit back and just watch the money flow in. The pub business is more sophisticated than ever before, thanks to changes in technology, staffing, design and product selection, and the licensee is faced with some tough decisions. Do they offer food, and if so, to what standard, at what price, and in what style? Do they update their design to become more contemporary? Do they change their music to attract a different clientele? What about offering a good selection of wines or premium spirits?
One of the first steps many licensees take when profits are falling is to change their interior design. The price of a major refit or refurbishment can run into millions of euro for a large premises, but often the decision is made without fully researching what is going wrong in the first place.
Licensees need to sit down and take a good, hard look at their business before they start looking at expensive design solutions. Often it helps to bring in an external expert, who can look at the business objectively and recognise problems that the licensee might not have spotted.
In many pubs the problem is that there is strong trading over a few sessions, but other periods are dead. The reasons for this can be manifold – lack of local trade, wrong product offer, wrong price offer, unsuitable music or lighting, staffing problems, or lack of marketing. The key is to get to the real cause of the problem (or, more usually, problems) before identifying the best solutions. Simple fixes, such as a menu revamp, a bit of marketing and changing the music can work wonders to revitalise quiet periods. Changing the description of dishes on the menu to make them more appealing is a simple step, but it is amazing how many menus contain spelling mistakes, out of date dishes or unappetising descriptions.
In other cases, a refurbishment is undoubtedly the best option, and again looking at your business’s shortcomings is vital in helping you decide what design solution you need. Every bar needs some attention paid to its design after a few years, particularly if it’s busy.
Wear and tear gradually takes its toll, but if you’re living with it every day, it can be easy to miss. The cutting edge design you were so fond of (and paid so much for) can also begin to look dated, but it can be hard to say goodbye to that investment.
In the most successful bars, the licensee keeps checking up on their business and looking at how they can develop in the future. The Huntsman pub in Galway is a very busy ‘superpub’ operation, and they are looking closely at their strategic development and design solutions for moving the existing pub forward as the tastes and demands of their clientele change.
Paddy Kilmartin sees his ‘West’ concept as something which will continually evolve, both in terms of its design and its operation, which covers bar, café, restaurant and club. Identifying expansion opportunities and developing the concept’s brand values are key to his ambitions for West. He is always looking for the latest trends, be it live webcasts from other clubs around the world, or offering the latest drinks products.
The rural and community pubs are not to be forgotten and can equally benefit from some strategic thinking. Rural pubs across Ireland are finding it tougher to be profitable, but there are many ways in which this can be addressed. Not all of these need a radical overhaul – in many cases that would cause uproar locally. But subtle changes can reap instant benefits for turnover and profitability.
There are so many opportunities for bars and pubs these days to think outside the box, be it exploring new cuisines, incorporating internet services or providing entertainment. An interesting project in London will incorporate a theatre with four venues under one roof and is targeted at the acting profession. That requires some serious research into what they want from a venue.
WestIn all of these scenarios there are both trading and design solutions to be found, and these have to be unique to the type of operation and desired clientele.
Being the best takes a lot of effort, but once you’re in the position of second best, it takes a lot more effort to regain that top position. You will have already lost customers and reputation. By regularly analyzing your business and your operation you can keep ahead of the game.
Having worked with all shapes and sizes of licensed premises, I’ve seen people turn their business around at a fraction of the outlay they expected. Equally I’ve seen people ruin a beautiful and expensive refurbishment with a sub-standard operation. Maintaining standards is vital for a successful business.
The most important lesson anyone can learn is that a pub truly is a business, and too often in the past licensees haven’t treated it as such.