The need for pub operators to constantly raise their game on food is nothing new, but it’s a topic that received a new airing in February at the PUB16 trade show.
Lynx Purchasing spent a busy couple of days at London Olympia, talking to chefs and licensees from single pubs and multiple-site operations about how they can offer food that drives footfall, increases customer spend in the pub and delivers a healthy profit.
Talk of pub food wasn’t restricted to the Lynx stand either: the show’s seminar programme included two sessions on the subject, both of them attracting high calibre speakers and sizeable, engaged audiences, resulting in lively debate. There was general agreement among speakers that food is now the most important driver of trade for pubs. Our less-than-scientific count of the supplier stalls at the event definitely noted more food than drink providers wanting to secure or expand pub distribution for their product.
The pub sector now serves 1 billion meals every year, making it the largest provider of food outside the home. In a recent survey, 54% of consumers said they see higher-quality food as the key reason why they would visit pubs more often. And, according to Matthew Clark, gastropubs are the ‘growth engine’ of premium wine sales, with a 52% increase in the past year – so dining customers aren’t just good for food sales. Like love and marriage, or bacon and eggs, pubs and food now go hand-in-hand.
Many of the licensees we met talked about the shortage of pub chefs. It’s a perennial problem, and one the industry needs to address if it’s to fill the estimated 11,000 new chef vacancies that could be created by 2022. So we were pleased to read about the new Pub Chef Awards, launched by the British Beer & Pub Association: in this first year, they received more than 120 nominations from MPs who had been impressed by a chef working in a pub in their constituency.
The winning Pub Chef of the Year and Young Pub Chef received a plaque and recognition from the industry, and we hope that they, and the other talented chefs shortlisted for the Awards, will be feeling motivated to continue their careers in the pub sector.
Walking round the supplier stalls at PUB16 highlighted a number of trends in the pub market, and some exciting opportunities for operators:
- All day trading: finding the right offer for each day part is the Holy Grail for many pub operators and has seen thousands of outlets open early for breakfast and offer food late into the night. We saw no shortage of suppliers offering solutions to these non-traditional food occasions, from home-made cakes to ‘posh’ crisps and cured meat bites. Make sure you’re constantly reviewing your local market for opportunities to extend your food offer:
are there local workers who’d buy their latte and pastry from you instead of a coffee shop, could you target shoppers with an afternoon tea or encourage drinkers to stay later in the evening by offering sharing platters?
- Technology: offering free wi-fi isn’t a ‘nice to do’ any more, it’s essential for any pub targeting the growing number of customers who want to work, shop and use social media on the move. Think about how else you can help these customers, perhaps by providing clear tables with good lighting, accessible power points or even secure charging zones for phones and tablets. Make sure you promote your techno-friendliness with prominent ‘free wi-fi’ signs giving log-in details – and make it as quick and easy as possible for your customers to get online.
- Soft drinks: one in five adults in the UK now drink no alcohol at all. So if your soft drink offer is still Coke or orange juice, it’s time you explored the full range of alternatives out there, from coconut water to cordials, fruit presses and smoothies. Don’t just think about single-serve bottles or cans; with summer approaching, jugs of non-alcoholic punch should keep your teetotal customers happy while also delivering healthy margins for you.
- Craft beer: no longer the preserve of a few metropolitan hipsters, craft beer has moved into the mainstream, driving a 4.2% increase in total UK beer sales in 2014. Any pub serious about its beer has to have handful of craft brands – on draught, in bottle or, increasingly, in cans. Another pack format that’s catching on here after success in the US is the beer growler: a large glass container, which can be branded with your pub name, that customers can fill with their draught beer of choice to enjoy at home. Think about whether you could offer this as an add-on, ensuring customers are buying their beer from you rather than the off-licence come closing time.
So, there are plenty of ways to broaden your offer and potentially grow your customer base and sales, but at the same time, it’s important to watch your costs and maintain food margins. That’s where Lynx Purchasing can help, and it’s why we’re working with a growing number of operators in the pub and casual dining sector, such as Peach Pub Company and Benito’s Hat.
For them, and for other businesses with growth plans, we become effectively their purchasing manager, researching and negotiating the prices they pay for food. We work closely with suppliers to ensure that we know exactly what’s happening on availability and prices across a range of product areas, meaning that we can help our customers produce menus that not only appeal to diners, but also deliver a healthy profit.
We have also developed our free GP Calculator App, endorsed by the Craft Guild of Chefs, which helps chefs to monitor margins, particularly specials, using their smartphone or tablet in a busy kitchen. You can download the app from the App Store or Google Play, using the links below:
For iPhones: Lynx Purchasing GP Calculator App for Apple iPhone and iPad
For Android: Lynx Purchasing GP Calculator App on Google Play