During a World Cup of dizzy highs and gut-wrenching lows, the British public de-camped from their homes and places of work to our most iconic of locations: the bar, the local, the boozer and, more and more frequently, the gastropub. These are no longer the sole dominion of pork scratchings and suspiciously scented bowls of crisps, but the new frontier of trendy and affordable dining. Truffle chips are replacing Walkers, teriyaki chicken is the new cheeseburger (well, almost), but how do publicans keep abreast of what is effectively an entirely new business, with its waves of discerning customers? The quality of food being produced is ever improving, so it behoves a business to match that in their service.
As young people become more and more culinarily literate, so their expectations rise higher. The British pub is, for the most part, evolving to meet this new demand superbly – but that evolution must be ongoing, and it pays to stay ahead of the curve. A pub operator that changes its menu and hopes for the best is doomed to failure. Technology is in fact the key to remaining at the cutting edge. EPOS, or Electronic Point of Sales systems, that integrate with a wider guest management, and even stock management system, are becoming ever more popular amongst pub owners and operators. In a highly competitive and relentlessly embattled industry, it’s do or die for the British pub industry when it comes to embracing the 21st Century.
Technology is a double-edged sword though, as industry stalwart JD Wetherspoon found out this year. Even as they open 35 new pubs across the country, they have faced complaints over issues with their now outdated EPOS systems – resulting in issues of near invisibility between supplier and retailer: massive shortages or wasteful overstocking are the enemy of all food and drink outlets.
JD Wetherspoon’s attempts to work an old technology system into a massive modern business should teach smaller pubs and chains a thing or two: do not try to hold on against the odds to outdated methods of service, when the market is bustling with alternatives. Few other operators could deal with the problems Wetherspoons faced. In fact, you could argue that it was only their iconic status that kept them afloat in this adjustment period. Smaller businesses would be well advised not to expect such leniency from their customers.
A BBC report recently suggested that food sales in UK pubs are increasing to nearly the same level as alcohol: £7.4bn worth of trade was done solely in pub meal sales, creeping ever closer to the £11.9bn figure for drinks sales. To maintain this increase, pubs must evolve their internal systems to reflect the changing needs of their patrons. Smaller chains and independent establishments do have one edge over the industry giants: the freedom to hire chefs with more ability to create, rather than having to adhere to a set menu churned out across dozens of outlets nationwide.
This independent spirit, coupled with a move away from pads and pencils towards streamlined EPOS and guest management systems, will bring this British institution firmly into the modern age. It will also help those bartenders and servers doing their best to accurately deal with that inevitable table of twelve, each of whom has a different dietary requirement, half of whom want something added or taken away from the dish that appears on the menu, and who then want to accurately split the bill at the end according to what each has individually consumed.
The 18 pub closures per week is a dark spectre hanging over the industry. The result of ‘triple whammy taxes’, and a client base changing its tastes at lightning speed towards gin and artisanal cheese, it will take dedication and innovation for Britain’s boozy living rooms to keep afloat.
However, the nation that perfected the pouring of the pint will continue to support an industry that unites a divided population. Survive we must, and survive we will.