Ten years ago next month, the smoking ban came into effect across the UK.Opponents at the time argued that the ban would critically harm the pub sector, viewing drinking and smoking as too closely linked
Opponents at the time argued that the ban would critically harm the pub sector, viewing drinking and smoking as too closely linked for a typically wet-led trade to survive. While some businesses undoubtedly suffered, many more have been able to adapt, with progressive operators embracing changes to the way people view and use pubs, bars, and restaurants and creating a welcoming, comfortable, modern atmosphere.
Over the last decade, as vertical drinking has largely declined, the popularity of comfortable, multi-purpose sites has grown. With groups of friends increasingly meeting to sit around a table and enjoy drinks, coffees, or food, it has paved the way for operators like Loungers to thrive. With an eclectic offer that appeals to morning coffee addicts, late night drinkers, and everyone in between, it’s no surprise the Lion Capital backed group have experienced roaring success, opening their 100th site last month.
So, what have the likes of Loungers done so well? Critical to their growth has been their ability to develop a warm, appealing ambiance. Simply put, they have managed to create sites where people have a reason to stay, resulting in excellent sales and a formula for sustained success. Central to this is furnishing. Modern hospitality operators must have a keen eye for detail, and be prepared to spend time and money acquiring furniture and furnishings that encourage the varied customer culture that propagates through our most successful pubs, bars, and cafes today. If the bar room of days gone by was an escape from the home, in 2017 it’s an extension of it. Consumers expect to be just as comfortable in the pub as they would be hosting friends at home. Furnishings and ambience should reflect this.
But comfort isn’t everything. The savviest operators know that while creating a comfortable, welcoming site will attract customers, they must also focus on site ergonomics and the flow of the customer journey through the premises to optimise efficiency.
Form and function must work in harmony, particularly in high-footfall sites.
A table may be aesthetically perfect, but if it seats two and a half people on each side, by using it you could be limiting your site’s capacity and therefore your profits. Conversely, simple, plain two-top tables may be ideal for moving around to maximise covers, but this may diminish the overall ambiance, again leading to reduced sales. Café-style seating – typically lightweight and low to the ground – has gained considerable popularity and benefits from versatility as well as stylishness.
Flow of customers through a site is equally important. Particular consideration should be given to the point of entry, in line with your trading style. In a wet-let establishment it makes clear sense to have customers arriving straight into the bar. For those focusing on food, particularly full service venues, it is logical to have customers entering into an area where staff are expecting to receive them, allowing them to be guided to a table quickly, improving efficiency and guest experience. Waiting for a table may at times be necessary. It’s important that this can be done in an inviting area and in a way that will not be obstructive to staff or other customers.
There are further easy wins to be gained in terms of layout. Removing the causes of blockages in tight areas to reduce bottlenecks can do wonders for the atmosphere in high-volume sites. Ensuring your team always have easy and unhindered access to tills, waiter stations, and anything else they need to do their job may seem like common sense, but is something it’s never hard to find operators failing to do as well as they could. A final development that has marked the last decade is the rise in mobile technology. In an ever-connected world, consumers expect good quality Wi-Fi when they go out to eat and drink. Failing to provide it in all areas of your business could be limiting your potential pool of customers and stunting your sales.
There’s little doubt that our industry has changed in the ten years since the ban came in. In terms of ambiance, site layout, and customer flow, there is more to consider than ever before. One constant is the opportunity for the best operators to make their businesses a success. Today they do this by adopting an adaptive, detail-oriented approach. Those who fail to do so could see their best-laid plans go up in smoke.