How pubs and bars are dealing with the cost-of-living crisis

Britain is a nation that loves its pubs and bars. Though numbers have been declining in recent years, many remain stalwart community establishments.

Britain is a nation that loves its pubs and bars. Though numbers have been declining in recent years, many remain stalwart community establishments, with the oldest pub - Ye Olde Fighting Cocks in St Albans – dating back to 793AD! 

Yet, our beloved bars and boozers are not immune to the challenges of the times. The cost-of-living crisis, compounded by the long-term ramifications of Covid-19, has brought a wave of unprecedented pressures. Consequently, many more establishments have had to close their doors for the final time.  

In this blog, we look at some of the more pressing difficulties facing pubs and bars and share some actionable strategies that owners can use to help steer through today’s turbulent waters.

The current climate

The past year has seen a disheartening trend of closures in the pub and bar sector. Indeed, in the first half of 2023, almost 400 pubs closed their doors for good in England and Wales. Nearly as many as the whole of 2022.

A customer base with less disposable income has been compounded by rising operational costs and supply chain disruptions to create a perfect storm, testing the resilience of even the most robust establishments.

Covid-19’s long-term impact is also still being felt. Customer behaviours and expectations have shifted, and many pubs and bars are needing to adapt to altered preferences, such as the provision of expanded outdoor spaces and a heightened focus on hygiene.

It was always likely to be the case that two years of uncertainty and intermittent lockdowns would leave a lasting imprint, affecting customer confidence and changing the way people interact with their local establishments.

However bleak the picture may seem right now, there are steps that pubs and bars can take to help ensure 2024 is a year in which the bar is full and the drinks are flowing.

Pubs and bars as ‘community hubs’

Though it might appear paradoxical, pubs and bars can use difficult economic times to their advantage. By establishing themselves as vibrant community hubs, they can entrench their positions within their local communities as places that offer belonging and support.

Through the hosting of such communal gatherings as local trade events, special interest group meetings, and charity initiatives, pubs and bars can establish and strengthen ties with the local populace. In the short term, this brings people into the premises who will invariably purchase drinks and snacks. In the long term, it can foster a powerful sense of loyalty that’s rewarded with regular patronage.

Dry January as a springboard

2023 marked the 10th anniversary of 'Dry January', the month in which those who otherwise enjoy an alcoholic tipple commit to a tee-total lifestyle for the 31 days of January.

Vaunted as an initiative that does wonders for public health, few owners of licenced establishments approach the month with the same level of enthusiasm. And yet, Dry January presents opportunities as well as challenges.

Latest figures reveal that a whopping 85% of UK pubs – around 39,000 in total - now serve low or zero-alcohol beer, in addition to the range of other non-alcoholic drinks already on offer.  

Aside from demonstrating the sheer adaptability of UK pubs and bars, the sale of low and zero-alcohol can be leveraged to promote a different, more inclusive atmosphere. One that caters to those participating in Dry January and those who aren’t.

By placing special offers on non-alcoholic drinks, bringing in some artisan zero-alcohol beverages, or hosting nights for groups that wouldn't usually choose a pub as a venue, such as book clubs and language classes, a more diverse crowd can be brought into the establishment’s orbit.

Even beyond Dry January, pubs and bars should look to creating an environment where everyone can feel welcome and accepted, regardless of their drinking preferences.

Let’s raise a glass to the future

Tested though it’s undoubtedly been, the resilience of Britain’s pubs and bars in the face of all that’s been thrown at them over the last few years tells a story of adaptation and community spirit.

By embracing their role as community hubs and diversifying their offerings, these crucial monuments of British culture can withstand the current storm.

The industry's evolving response to Dry January is a prime example of this adaptability, proving that pubs and bars remain integral to the British social fabric even in the toughest times.

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