Published: 14th Nov 2019

Raising the Bar

5 digital shots to revive an ailing hospitality industry

Richard McCloskey - Client Services Director

Over the past 5 years, the number of licensed premises in the UK has been in steady decline.

The rate of pub closures has slowed from 52 a week since the catastrophic post smoking ban days of 2009, but they are still closing. According to CAMRA, 18 UK pubs close every week.

And things are far from rosy in the bar and restaurant trade. 2018 has seen high profile restaurant chains including Carluccio’s, Jamie’s Italian, Prezzo, Byron, Cau and Cote reporting losses and closures.

Not everyone is struggling though. In June 2018, Fuller Smith & Turner PLC reported a strong set of results. Revenue up 5%, sales growth in Managed Pubs and Hotels, growing profits in Tenanted Inns and news of new pub and brewery acquisitions all contributed to a refreshingly positive picture.

One of Fuller’s key strengths is a measurable, strategic digital presence. Theirs is a brand that understands the vital measures needed to attract more customers, encourage repeat visits, increase time and money spent and build a successful hospitality team. Here are those measures, served up in 5 digital shots:

Attract the Conscious Consumer

I’m pretty sure digital agency teams are bucking this trend but according to the Office for National Statistics, drinking rates among UK adults are at their lowest since 2005.

Heineken has reported phenomenal growth in the low and no alcohol category. Spending on low or no alcohol beers has risen by 28% in the last year, while the nation spent nearly £40 million on low and no alcohol wine. Soft drinks and coffees are an increasingly important part of a brewer’s drinks portfolio.

In a thirst for knowledge sparked by the craft beer movement, many of those who ARE drinking beer want to know everything about it. Fuller’s beer pages, crafted to work as a collection or as stand alone experiences, lovingly portray the care and expertise that goes into each one.

Similarly, in a world where pubs face stiff competition from far more affordable drinking at home, pub websites need to offer a lot more than opening times. Setting the tone and selling the experience has never been more important.

Provide something special

Since the 2007 smoking ban took effect, food has been increasingly important for pubs.

Fuller’s places huge emphasis on the quality of food in Fuller’s Kitchens. The brewer has long endorsed locally sourced produce, working with British farmers, manufacturers and suppliers to give their chefs nothing but the best ingredients to work with. Each chef produces their own signature dishes, making for distinctive menu choices in every pub.

Individuality goes beyond food. Fuller’s pub décor and, in the case of new builds, even construction reflect the environment, the history and the community they’re in.

Creating something special extends to accommodation too. Fuller’s hope to have 1,000 rooms across their pub estate in the next 5 years, each designed to have its own unique character and design. People who stay are likely to dine in the pub and to drink more, making this a very worthwhile investment.

Offer a Career Ladder

In the hospitality industry, you are only as good as the service you provide. Reviews can make or break you, so it’s important your front line staff are on their A game.

Unfortunately, jobs in pubs are rarely seen as careers. The hospitality sector is the UK’s third largest private employer, but has a significantly lower than average staff retention rate.

It also relies heavily on EU migrants, so throw Brexit into the mix, and there are major challenges ahead. According to the Chief Executive of UK Hospitality, around a quarter of employers in the sector already say they are struggling to fill vacancies.

Fuller’s careers portal was designed to tackle the three main barriers for people considering pub work: unsociable hours, low pay and benefits, and poor career prospects.

With content emphasising that you’ll be part of a team, any worries about being an unsociable job are dismissed. Perks of working with London’s oldest family brewer, including discounts in pubs and special rates on hotel rooms, address the pay and benefits issue and stories of stellar careers that began behind the bar and led to management roles show that Fuller’s supports learning and development – and anything is possible.

If you want to attract, develop and retain the best staff, you need to do more than advertise jobs. You need to sell experiences and opportunities.

Cater for the Big Event

When it comes to watching sport, the pub has tough competition in the shape of the stands and the sofa.

The experience needs to be better than seeing it live (cheaper, better all round view) or watching in the comfort of your own home (drinks on tap, great atmosphere, sociability).

Fuller’s supported the World Cup with The Beautiful Game, a real life and digital spinning wheel where landing on a team that was playing that day earned you a free pint. A really simple mechanic, it added to the atmosphere in pubs and showed shared enthusiasm with the fans.

Family occasions can be even bigger than sporting ones. According to 2017 statistics, while family visits to pubs as a whole were slightly down, 64% of families went to the pub on Mother’s Day, and 58% on Father’s Day. Over 30% of family pub visits were prompted by deals and offers, so it’s important to make your voice heard. For Fuller’s, that meant offering a Father’s Day gift money could never buy – his very own pub for the day. 

And, of course, smart brands will create their own occasions, teaming up with musicians and theatre companies to host their own events or getting in on the festival act with a local beer or cider festival.

Think local

It may seem like a statement of the blindingly obvious, but you’d be surprised how many hotels, bars and restaurants don’t make it easy for people to find them.

A lot of people define a radius based on where they live and look for ideas in that area, using search as a start point. If your listing doesn’t include your location to help search engines understand the local context, you won’t get found.

Setting up a Google My Business listing for each of your business locations will give you a stronger presence in search and give searchers the information they’re looking for, like opening hours, directions and reviews.

Think about how you can partner with local bloggers, social media influencers and other local businesses to grow awareness of your premises through content, events and offers.

Finally, think about what your customers are looking for and what’s motivating their interest. Do they need accommodation or a table booking for a local event? Creating content that focuses on what is happening around you can help to get your business in front of a new audience, especially those travelling to the area and doing their research in advance.

If you’d like to know how to raise the bar with your digital presence, please get in touch with Sam.