Nearly 20 years ago, the UK was home to 60,800 pubs. Now, the number is closer to 48,350. With supermarkets offering alcohol for keep, and more than enough takeaway apps and entertainment at home, it’s an increasingly difficult game to try and coax people out of their homes.
In this article, we will explore the ways in which the food and drinks sector is adapting to trends in order to draw in customers.
More for your money
Obviously, people will often go for the cheaper options. So, it’s a difficult pitch for bars and restaurants really — travel somewhere else, pay for a meal you could cook at home for less, then travel home. Pros? You get your food cooked for you, you don’t have to do the washing up, and it’s cooked by a professional.
What are the downsides? You have to pay for travel, be it in fuel or taxi fare. You have to pay more for the food than buying the ingredients yourself. You can’t always tell what’s in the food, and for now at least, you can’t really tell how healthy the meal is. In a world that is becoming more conscious of health and wellbeing, that last point can be a real put-off for eating out.
For restaurants, the additional cost is repaid in enjoying professionally-cooked food. For bars and pubs, the game is even harder; there aren’t many brands of drink on offer at a pub or bar that you can’t buy more of, cheaper, at a supermarket. Then, you can have them at home, with your friends, away from other people, doing your own thing. Why sit in a pub trying to chat with your friends over the sound of a band you don’t particularly like when you can sit at home, chat to your friends with the same drinks, more money in your pocket, and Spotify on with band you do like?
But that’s the problem. People have so much technology at their disposal now that pubs and bars can seem a little dated. Without change and renovation, pubs in particular have felt the sharp sting of decline.
Creating an experience
We can compare these trouble with another sector who has dealt with similar issues. For many years, outlets were mourning the decline of the cinema industry — between piracy and prices, cinema attendance had fallen considerably from its post-war heydays. But despite this, and even with the advent of legitimate streaming services from the comfort of our own homes, the cinema industry has experienced a resurgence of attendance, hitting 177 million UK admissions in 2018, the highest it’s been since 1971.
Where did this success come from? Put simply, cinemas have adapted and played to their strengths. The quality of film has certainly helped, with the popularity of huge-scale cinematic universes tying multiple movies together like never before. But beyond that, cinemas have something streaming services simply can’t match — a real sense of escapism, which is certainly a treasure in difficult times. Plus, cinemas don’t just offer movies now. Instead, they offer screenings of live theatre, opera, and ballet that viewers may not otherwise be able to view. Vintage films are often given a limited-time re-release, offering retro-loving younger generations a chance to see their favourite old films in a cinema setting they may have otherwise missed out on. In short, cinemas offered an experience.
Consider this in light of the issues facing food and drinks businesses. Can this tactic be applied to our bars, pubs, and restaurants in order to appeal once more to the public that going out is still a worthwhile expenditure of their time?
Ways to improve
There needs to be more on offer than just food and drink. We’ve established it’s no longer enough to simply offer food and drink though, nor are the public very swayed by uninspired steak-night specials. So, how else are companies adapting?
Making the surroundings part of the experience can be effective. It might be difficult to persuade someone to leave the comfort of their home sofa for another sofa in a bar, but what about sitting in a post-war bunker concept bar? Now that sounds interesting. That’s exactly what Cahoots in London did. This bar embraces British history and quirky vibes with a ‘hidden’ bar underground. Complete with a train guard at the door, the bar is set in an old Tube carriage and filled with stories of its previous life as a shelter. The theme runs through the whole bar too, with menus presented as old newspapers and themed cocktails that stand out from the usual fare.
If it’s not easy to do yourself at home, people will make the effort to go out. This bar isn’t pulling crowds just to try the drinks (though that is no doubt one selling point) — it’s offering a full package experience with your friends.
Offering better quality food
Not every location is going to be steeped in history or quirky and unusual. But that doesn’t mean you can’t adapt and offer an experience.
Consider the offerings within your establishment. People aren’t just out to eat, they’re out to photograph their food too. #FoodPhotography has around 30 million photos under its tag, and #Foodgasm has over 40 million photos. Increasing food offerings from standard fare is vital for bars, pubs, and restaurants to survive and draw in customers. That means improving not only the quality, but the range available too. For example, clean eating, health-conscious, and vegan options are all buzzwords in the modern day. Without offering these, establishments are potentially missing out on huge pools of customers.
The right grub can really pull in the customers. According to one study of 1,485 adults, over 50 per cent said more tempting food would encourage them to visit pubs and restaurants more often compared to cheaper drinks. Home-made, locally-sourced food will quickly travel by word of mouth in the area.
Identify your strengths
Playing to strengths is a valuable strategy. For example, while cinemas can’t always compete with the on-demand range of movies streaming services offer, they can more than compete with the desire for escapism and comfort without distractions. In the same way, restaurants and bars can’t always compete with supermarket pricing when it comes to their drinks. But they can more than compete with the drinks trends and offerings that simply aren’t as accessible from the supermarket shelf. For example, the growing trend for slushy machine cocktails caters to experience-seeking and a touch of quirkiness, while also being something different from what you can get at home. They can also be mixed to suit mainstream trends, like the love for gin or none-alcoholic options.
Gin has been a hit trend for a number of years, but there’s plenty of new trends to watch. Now, bars and restaurants are benefiting from the wellness and low-and-no trend creeping into 2019. Catering to non-drinkers will certainly appeal to those in a friend group who may otherwise duck out of a night out or make a night in sound easier to cater to all. Adapt by making the bar more flexible in its offerings and it’s an easy display of catering to the customer. Plus, the offering of non-alcoholic spirit-style or wine-style drinks is rather lacking in supermarkets right now — a perfect niche for restaurants and bars to tap into.
Customer demands are changing, and the food and drinks sector needs to change to keep up. With the right variety, flexibility, and quality, going out can certainly reclaim its crown over staying in!