Building business for public houses

The first three months of this year have seen us enjoying what seems like a glut of enticing food offers in our local and UK-wide pubs as we travel while working, or enjoy the weekends closer to home.

Promotions on the food ranges in public houses have a solid part to play in the overall marketing plan of any hostelry and this month we thought we’d explore the opportunity a little further by concentrating on three concepts of promotional activity that if used thoughtfully can deliver some different and often specifically targeted results.

So what is it your pub customers want to do?

l Get new people in.

l Reward the loyalty of those who regularly spend money with them.

l Encourage their customers to spend more money with them.

And often, all three.

Enticing new customers through the door is such an important way of holding up and driving forward turnover. Why don’t they just come of their own accord? Because as we know, they don’t all live on the doorstep, they pass other competitors on the way to the pub. For those who are looking to eat, the competition is often good at what they do and offers variety of choice and in the case of national restaurant chains use significant marketing budgets. But restaurant chains are not pubs are they? No, not yet part of our institution and loved for the place the pub holds in our society. All is never lost.

New customers can be enticed in by lowering the price of certain parts, or the entire menu, to effectively ‘reduce the risk’ of any disappointment when they take the step to move away from their trusted pub or other provider. A solid price offer is a good strategy here. One of our locals recently offered ‘50% off the price of your meal’ for a three-day period only, following a two-week closure for refurbishment, but other percentage reductions work and can be effective 15% off your bill in March, or 10% off on the production of a coupon distributed through a local paper- all can help the customer make up their minds to choose a specific pub as a new destination.

Rewarding loyalty is way for publicans to say thank you to those who have already chosen to eat with them. Most widely used here is some type of discount off the next visit and food purchase. A simple bowl of soup recently prompted a loyalty offer of 10% off the next meal it was created on a computer in the pub, numbered 26 and the offer closed at the end of February. It’s a thank you, a recognition that you have been and how it would be greatly appreciated to see you come back. It can often be enough, to make customers return, to generate a greater frequency of visit and purchase, as long, of course, as they have enjoyed the experience the first time.

Getting customers to spend more is about encouraging people to raise their weight of purchase. An ideal mechanic is 10 meals for the price of 8, making it clear that it is the cheapest two free, or similarly and slightly different in its focus ‘kids eat free’. The aim is just to give that little hook that makes a party, a larger group, chose a specific pub.

The promotional plan should be worked into the menu plan the beauty of public house catering is that evenings are different to lunch times, Sunday lunch is different to Tuesday lunch, Saturday night different to Monday night so they have the opportunity to be flexible and thoughtful.

We recently saw a bar owner in London put out a movable sign that said ‘50% off all food and drink between 5pm and 8pm tonight.’ Deep cut, definitely. Too deep? Perhaps, but probably not an offer every night and thus it can be turned on at will.

Publicans should think sessions, think customers and vary the approach to attract new customers and reward loyal ones as well as encouraging parties. We’d recommend they make sure the terms and conditions are clear, what is in and what is out and when the offer is on and when it finishes-add in wine and other offers? Of course, make it work.

The latest promotional offer that we have seen? ‘Mothers eat free on Mothers Day’ and so they should! Good luck.

Steve Pepperell and Andrew Bailey have both held senior positions in multinational suppliers and smaller companies in the foodservice and retail sectors. They are partners in ‘How To Solutions’ and act as consultants and trainers to a range of businesses. You can find out more by looking at their website or by emailing them at or or telephone them on 07802 641813

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