Even as restrictions ease off and trading conditions become more and more normalised, it’s hard to forget that the trade was reduced to a complete standstill for large parts of the last year and then hamstrung by restrictions on trading when outlets were allowed to open.
However, with restrictions easing off right across the UK, bars and restaurants have enjoyed a taste of pre-pandemic life, bolstered by some great (but inconsistent) weather and a strong sporting calendar, the licensed trade has really sprung back to life over the summer so far.
And, looking ahead to the second half of 2021, there’s plenty of opportunity to build upon as operators can see out the summer in style and start working towards the ultra-lucrative festive season in outlets without barriers to business.
What can be done in outlets to make sure offers are on-point? We examined this with two hospitality stalwarts to get their thoughts on life after lockdown and how it can be as profitable as possible for those behind bars.
According to research by CGA, the out of home drinks market may become polarised with some customers naturally seeking out value in outlets while others will look to make trade ups in their selections wherever possible. To meet both demands and maximise takings, operators will need to think about how they can position a broad enough offer to suit each type of customer.
City centre bar manager, Stefanie Anderson, believes that focusing on how you use your outlet’s identity and profile and then thinking about how you can use it to cater to all rangers of customers should be an immediate priority for operators. Stefanie said:
When we start to differ our offering from our image there can be confusion for guests, so sticking to your original outlet’s vision, but developing creative ways to cater for customers of differing budgets, such as cocktail upgrades to premium spirits, helps create a great experience without overcomplicating the offering.
The growing soft drinks category is at the heart of this shift, with core mixers still an absolute must for outlets of all kinds. Yet, with more and more innovative choices available, balancing offers is essential to both deliver to as big a customer base as possible and also be versatile enough to complement a selection of mixed drinks and cocktails.
Head bartender at Michelin-starred venue Alchemilla in Nottingham, and former British Bartender of the Year, Daniel Waring, said having a great soft drinks selection has never been so important to outlets for a variety of reasons. “Offer good quality, great tasting soft drinks that fit any budget,” he said. “I would suggest really examining what it is that your customers are looking for in terms of range, what you are selling, what is being asked for and what you think would be well-received. And craft a range that not only fits your customers budget but also your needs as an operator.”
Due to current, and forecasted, consumption trends, the need for great non-alcoholic options is doubly important for licensed venues. This is due to the well-known thirst for low and no and because of conscious choices an ever-increasing number of customers are now leaning towards soft drinks when out in the on-trade. And are even looking to see them on a menu as opposed to just in the fridge behind the bar. Daniel Waring said:
I’ve personally found that a great soft drinks selection is even more important than a good range of beers or ciders and even a well thought out choice of cocktails. Soft drinks not only reach a wider range of customers but, as said, they also suit a lot more budgets and, in many cases, are better for bar operators profit margins.
To really boost the prospects soft drinks can provide for outlets, it’s necessary to increase the sense of occasion with hero serves, said Daniel.
“Implementing a solid range of soft drinks and delivering the selection to enhance the experience seems like a daunting task sometimes. Soft drink selections need to be more of a focus and creating iconic perfect serves or mixed drinks based on soft drinks is a great way to implement them onto a menu and make sure that they are more than ‘just a mixer’ and in turn reducing the FOMO feeling for those choosing not to drink alcohol.”
Similarly, Stefanie said that guests shouldn’t feel ostracised when they are trying to reduce, or stop, their alcohol consumption.
“Softs can play a pivotal role in helping guests to feel included. Having part of your menu dedicated to low and no-alcohol cocktails softs is a great way to help guests feel included and completely eliminate the risk of alienation.”
Aside from drinks selections, operators will be keen to really push up trade and traffic throughout the rest of 2021 by any means after a very tough 18 months. And, with the on-trade arguably never more appreciated than it is now by the public. There’s lots of ideas that can be actioned in outlets to really profit from the augmented demand for great bars and restaurants.
As guests are now ready to seek out new and exciting experiences, Stefanie stated that:
Creating both big and small moments throughout guests’ time in outlets, such as small complimentary bar snacks, can help generate brand loyalty to venues and add real value for customers without breaking the bank.
She added: “Getting the balance of staffing versus staffing costs also needs to be constantly reviewed, as the potential to increase sales by giving staff time to engage with guests is really crucial. The service aspect of hospitality will be the big reason for guests coming out, so delivering the best possible experience will help with guest retention and therefore sales.”
Not forgetting some of the key lessons of recent years will also take centre-stage for some operators not just for the rest of 2021 but for years to come. Outlets with outdoor areas were at a natural advantage for much of the pandemic, causing many operators to expand to offer al fresco seating when had not previously.
And continuing to offer that as well as a home delivery service, which also offered many operators a decent income stream during Covid-19-caused closures, was flagged as key by Daniel at Alchemilla.
“Use and utilise all possible space both inside and outside the venue,” he said. “The last 18 months has taught us that the outdoor space around venues in prime real estate and, although weather-dependant, is a great way to add value to an already solid drinks selection.
“Another trend, born directly out of lockdown, is the takeaway/delivery operation that many bars and restaurants have jumped on. This worked fantastically well during lockdowns when customers couldn’t visit their favourite venues, and this can be successfully operated to create a good subsidiary income for bar operators.”