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In Tiers: How pubs can keep serving under lockdown                          

Hospitality venues are finding creative ways to bring in customers even as restrictions tighten.

‘Sorry we’re fully-booked until Sunday.’ That’s not what you expect to hear when you call your local pub to book a table outside on a miserable Tuesday evening in mid-October, not even at the best of times. And - with Tier 2 restrictions leaving many customers drinking out in the cold - we’re a long way from the best of times. 

Trade body UKHospitality has said it will be ‘catastrophic’ for venues who find themselves still open but facing more rules for customers and no government financial support. As Chief Executive Kate Nicholls puts it, Tier 2 represents ‘the worst of both worlds for businesses’.

Indeed, after the first few days under the new system, consultancy CGA reports that pubs and restaurants in Tier 2 have recorded sales down between 46% and 54%. 

But while there is no doubting the severity of the impact on an already damaged industry, there are opportunities for businesses fortunate enough to have the right kind of space and who can pivot their offering, and their marketing, to a new kind of customer. So who's finding a way to wipe away the Tier 2 blues, and how?  

The initial impact of Tier 2 was a 20% drop in trade but this has bounced back since the tent went up

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(Image credit: Big Smoke Brew Co)

Garden centre  

The Sussex Arms sits in leafy south-west London, a community pub known for its food and beer. It’s part of a family of venues from the Big Smoke Brew Co in nearby Esher, Surrey.  

Its garden is the focus of its marketing to a new kind of pub customer. They come early evening, and throughout the week - wrapped up in coats and hats, to see friends, sit outside and socialise safely through the winter. 

‘Every new restriction has had an impact on trade for the whole industry. We expected further restrictions over the winter this year but didn’t think it would start so early on,’ says Big Smoke director James Morgan. 

‘We invested in our garden with a stretch tent and repositioned our existing large umbrellas so we have 120 seats outside, all undercover and heated. Customers still want to meet and see friends in a safe way and we can provide this.’ 

And when you can’t get a booking on a wet Tuesday, something is working. 

‘The initial impact of Tier 2 was a 20% drop in trade but this has bounced back since the tent went up,’ he says. ‘We are now trading at our normal level for this time of year, so it’s a 20 to 30% increase. 

‘We have been lucky as we are a small independent, we can act quickly to changes and implement new ideas such as a home delivery service from the brewery seven days a week - to ‘work from the pub’ now.’

And while moving your office to the pub used to be a dream, it can now be a reality for customers who are fed up of being restricted to their ‘home office’ and want a room with a different view. 

Pubs and restaurants are social places, but the new solitary life of the home worker could mean the chance to create a different daytime experience.

In Tiers: How pubs can keep serving under lockdown                                      

(Image credit: facebook.com/AdmiralNelsonWhitton)

Working from the local  

Not far away  The Admiral Nelson a Fuller’s venue, is one of many now offering a Covid-safe space, reliable wifi and a coffee for less than the cost of a day’s commute. 

For venues without the outside space to lure groups of friends at night, it makes sense to make the interior fit for the new pub customers in all their different forms – and to appeal to them directly with marketing offers that can bring them in. 

Pubs and restaurants are social places, but the new solitary life of the home worker could mean the chance to create a different daytime experience. 

Brunch, good wifi, a safe, clean environment using table lay-outs for the ‘solo diner’ the chance to book timeslots across the day to break up the new routine, with a snack offering broader than the usual pub fare to get through those endless Zoom meetings. 

And while friends can’t meet inside, families still can, and as their social outlook narrows, they will look to places that can appeal directly to them. 

For those who work around childcare, pubs and restaurants they trust can give them a chance to escape the house at 5pm – a way of getting back the separation between ‘home’ and ‘work’ that so many feel has vanished. 

Targeted menus and experiences designed to bring families together in the early evening would then mean tables being clear for later bookings for couples – the only other group legally allowed to enjoy inside dining. 

For those who work around childcare, pubs and restaurants they trust can give them a chance to escape the house at 5pm

Turn that on its head and make inside dining an exclusive experience for those who want some time with their partner, and you could lure them away from make-at-home restaurant offers and endless box sets. 

Taking a flexible approach to seating and menu offerings across different parts of the day and evening gives a chance to create different pubs for different people in the same venue. 

A targeted pub experience, marketed directly to the target audience in the places they go for digital content – until we can all go back to great British boozer. 

For further information on Sticky, or to talk to us about a business challenge or campaign, contact: Ben Reilly, New Business Director, +44 (0)207 963 7070

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