I've been thinking quite a lot about the negativity that exists in the trade. It's certainly there. One commentator recently noted that the licensed trade can be worse than farmers for complaining about how bad things are. Although things are pretty bleak right now there are some good things if we look for them.
Whilst thinking about the positives I remembered a piece I wrote sometime ago that never got used. It mainly talks about pub food and the style that should be considered. I realise this is probably biased towards the remoter rural pubs. Town centre pubs have a different situation. I hate writing stuff that doesn't get seen, so here it is:
How to survive the recession - a guide for pubs.
Before the worldwide economic situation revealed itself, pubs and beer brewing was already under great strain. Put simply, the size of the market is shrinking; people are not willing to spend as much in pubs. To compound this problem the costs associated with running a pub are increasing at an alarming rate. This equates to a very simple outcome. Many pubs will have to close because they will not be able to make money. The current economic situation is simply making this worse.
Does this mean all pubs are doomed - are we all going to close? No, I don't believe so. There are many ways that a pub can mark out its differences and ensure that it builds a strong customer base. In our view this is the secret; mark out the differences. The way that pubs fail in the first instance is that the landlord tries to please too many people, running themselves ragged in the process, increasing costs trying to deliver a watered down version of what could be delivered.
Pubs that provide the bland, one size fits all service are likely to have problems unless the establishment footfall is captive. It is difficult for the landlord to say "sorry we don't do that" and watch the potential customer leave. Whatever you do though, some will not enjoy the experience, so deciding who you want in your pub and delivering for them gets you there quicker.
Sadly, the most important thing to consider is what style of food offering is to be provided. The size of the market for most pubs for just pure "wet" trade is small; and getting smaller. The smoking ban, health issues regarding drinking to excess and a significant reduction in drinking and driving have affected this trade. The main revenue for most pubs now is going to be food. So deciding what type of food is going to work best is the key to shaping a customer base. Trying to deliver too big a menu is often a mistake that is made. The overall quality will suffer and the style of operation will be unclear.
Fast, cost effective food will work in a busy pub. Where the pubs location provides a good residential customer base the trade will grow as people understand that value for money is provided; Volume provision for a volume market. Providing good quality, wholesome, honest, beer soaking food might be the route for developing a great pub.
But value for money does not mean the same as cheap. Quality, that demands a premium, can be considered good value to an increasing proportion of the population, providing that the quality promised is delivered. Looking at the numbers of potential customers and providing added value might increase spends per head, but this will be at the expense of footfall. If the establishment is unlikely to achieve volume then this might be a way forward. The result will be a more select establishment.
So where does real ale fit? I have long argued that top quality real ale fits well alongside food in the same way as a fine wine. Irrespective of the pubs food offering, be it fine dining or beer soaking, always provide the best real ale that can be found. Choose some beers that are not served in the pub down the road, don't continue to buy off the brewery if the quality is poor or inconsistent, and learn how to keep it in tip top condition.