Closing time? How pubs and bars can fight back in 2019

The UK hospitality industry has witnessed a similar trajectory to the high street, with many pubs and bars struggling to make ends meet and remain profitable. According to the Office of National Statistics, 25% of pubs have closed since 2001 and the number of pubs has fallen from 52,500 in 2001 to 38,815. This decline is predicted to continue if pubs do not adapt and evolve alongside the changes in customer attitudes. We are amid a culture of austerity with a younger generation who are opting to shun traditional public houses and focus their attention and cash elsewhere. This decline presents a real challenge for establishments to create a genuine reason to keep customers coming back.

At the same time, we’re starting to see an increasing number of alternatives to the traditional pub or bar cropping up all over the UK with pop-up bars such as The Hamptons in London Liverpool Street and immersive drinking experiences including the ABQ London molecular cooking experience and Alcotraz, a prison themed cocktail bar. A number of retailers are also moving into the hospitality arena, all promising to offer consumers something more enticing and ‘exclusive’. The success of this revolution cannot be underestimated, and the hospitality industry will need to sit up and take note if they want to fight off increased competition in 2019.

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A spellbinding experience

In the same way that brick and mortar stores are starting their own retail revolution by offering an ‘experiential’ shopping experience, pubs and bars similarly need to consider how to revolutionise the drinking experience. This is particularly pertinent as according to a study by research firm Mintel, millennials seek unique experiences and new drinks, with 22% of this age group saying more bars should offer some kind of activity.

Brands in particular have been successful at putting immersive experiences into practice, with the likes of Irish beer brand and gin brand Hendrick’s leading the charge. Earlier this month, Guinness launched an experiential taproom in London, where visitors can enjoy a pint of Open Gate Brewery’s beers alongside a range of exclusive and special brews, such as chilli-flavoured stout and Christmas beer. At the taproom a team of expert brewers host ticketed workshops and tastings, with beer and food pairings available. Meanwhile Hendrick’s celebrated London Cocktail Week with a Gin Tini Martini Bar pop-up aimed at showing that best things come in small packages, serving six different miniature versions of the iconic drink, each inspired by a part of the world. Both of these are great ways of ensuring consumers are left with a lasting, memorable impression, positively contributing to their perception of the brand itself.

In a similar vein, Johnnie Walker opened a flagship retail store in Madrid’s fashionable Salamanca district, offering cocktail classes, whisky tastings, personalised bottle labels and engravings and bespoke Whisky blends to try out. The store serves as a ‘laboratory’ to trial experimental whisky experiences in a store format that mirrors the rich heritage of the original Johnnie Walker House with touches of localisation. The experience capitalises on a fun theme of discovery and is a great example of a full brand immersion in-store that Johnnie Walker can replicate globally.

The power of music

For pubs and bars considering simple yet powerful ways to elevate the customer experience, sound can be a great place to start, as shown by the Out of the Blue activation. When it comes to choosing background music, it is not as simple as getting an in-store staff member to choose a playlist at random, as there’s actually more of a science behind it. The music should always reflect the personality of a brand and appeal to the clientele it wants to attract. Our research shows that 67% of shoppers think that if a shop plays music that they like, then it’s a brand that they can relate and connect to, which pubs and bars should take note of.

At Mood Media, we work with pub chain Fuller’s, who have implemented our Music Master solution, allowing the pub managers to control the music system remotely via a phone or tablet. Individual pubs can play custom Fuller’s music channels (curated by us) but managers can also create their own custom playlists should they wish, choosing from thousands of titles available. In the case of Fuller’s, we opted for a Radio 2 vibe, catering to an older and comfortable crowd. We also work with a number of bars and restaurants who have integrated our Mood Social Mix solution into their mobile app, giving customers the opportunity to upvote their favourite songs having  their say on the music that is played in the establishment. These are good examples of how music can both reflect the personality of a brand, and be used in a more interactive and personalised way.

Looking ahead to 2019

It’s clear that as we move into 2019, it’s not enough for pubs and bars to stick to tradition – they need to start thinking about how to enhance their customer experience. To do this, they need to create a complete brand universe, powerful enough to transcend the drinks on offer, and foster a community around it. Just like a number of retail stores have introduced add-on services to transform their premises into more of a ‘destination’, pubs and bars need to rethink how they approach the community aspect and assess the different services they can offer consumers to keep them coming back.

Equally, consumers are increasingly demanding that brands adapt themselves to support their changing needs and desires, and one area where this is most apparent is the progress made in payment technologies. Even though NFC (contactless) payment is not yet mainstream globally, replacing tills with tablets can improve the overall customer journey, giving servers more time to tend to customers, while resulting in fewer queues at the bar!

Pubs and bar are at a crossroads, keeping up with changing consumer expectations, demand for unique experiences, belonging and new technology will be critical for those establishments who wish to succeed.

by Linda Ralph, VP international business development at in-store music provider, Mood Media

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