Increasingly, the term ‘wet house’ finds itself relegated to the backwaters of today’s hospitality lexicon. Instead, ‘diversification’ defines today’s licensed trade. And in boosting footfall through diversification many pubs have adopted new ways of bringing ‘em in during the infamous ‘shoulder periods’ and beyond.
We spoke to some prominent publicans about what they do to keep their business viable from dawn to dusk.
Adjunct business at Hugh Lynch’s
Publicans seeking extra footfall need to lay claim to at least one Unique Selling Point whether it’s offering quality coffee to beat the band or having another custom-drawing business such as a café attached to the licensed premises.
Emmet Lynch of Hugh Lynch’s in Tullamore has converted an old function room into a food-serving café.
“It’s our first time offering food and rather than offering bar food and having to go ‘all out’ we began as a café,” says Emmet.
The café has its own entrance (linked to the bar) and serves breakfasts, lunches, coffees and scones.
“It’s certainly helped drink sales at the weekend,” he believes.
“A couple might come in, have lunch in the café and move into the bar if there’s a sporting event on where they’ll have a few drinks,” he says.
The bar also offers an Afternoon Tea service including a glass of wine.
“This seems to appeal to the retired market so it’s helping our drinks sales. We’re trying to capitalise on the fact that we’ve a licence and can also do food now.”
As a result, four people now work from 10am until 6pm in an operation that used employ just one in this outlet which operates a loyalty card scheme.
Doing the business at Gleeson’s
Gleeson’s of Booterstown, South County Dublin, has seemingly cracked the quiet shoulder periods – but it didn’t happen overnight.
“For the shoulder period where we used to close in the afternoon we continue our food menu right through the day” explains proprietor John Gleeson, “so it’s just a question of re-organising your chef rota as there’s definitely trade in the afternoon which restaurants aren’t filling in that 3pm to 6pm period.”
Diversifying the offering plays a more significant role in John’s business now with a delicatessen bolted onto the pub’s all-day offering which begins with a sit-down early morning breakfast segueing into the coffees and scones market prior to lunch.
“A lot of it would be mothers after dropping off their children from schools in area which we’ve tapped into,” says John, “The coffee market has exploded in Ireland and by-and-large the pubs supply that demand.”
Indeed, the burgeoning takeaway market for coffee has shown itself to be so lucrative that JD Wetherspoon has decided to run with it in the UK – as does Gleeson’s.
Alongside early morning service, the whole takeout market in pubs remains relatively untapped, believes John.
“I’m surprised more pubs don’t do it,” he says.
A lot of pubs already have the facilities to make a good range of coffees so why not have the place clean and ready the night before so that at 8am it’s an acceptable environment in which to sit and have your coffee or take away a coffee?
“Not alone can pubs get into the takeout coffee market but a lot also make their own soups, brown bread, desserts and salads, so why not provide them for the takeout market too?”
Both sit-down breakfasts and offering takeaway coffees and snacks via Gleeson’s early-opening Deli help generate extra income.
The Deli created a whole new market and provides a ready opportunity to tap into the take-out market.
“Since doing it this way, our food sales have increased over the last couple of years and a lot of it is the new early morning market,” says John, “The 8-12am market is there to be tapped into. We can have 50 to 60 people here in the morning for a sit-down breakfast and that’s not including the takeout market.”
Two Sisters at the Community Hub
Suburban pubs must also be more innovative in their approach. At The Two Sisters in Tereneure, South Dublin, LVA Chair Deirdre Devitt puts her pub firmly at the hub of the community.
On a Wednesday morning she offers a ‘Parent & Baby Group’ when the pub pushes back the furniture, makes space for the infants, provides toys and offers parents a well-earned coffee break.
“It was originally set up for ‘spouses’ who may have just moved into the area and may not be familiar with it yet, whose friends perhaps don’t live close-by,” explains Deirdre, “Our hope is that they might come back for dinner or a drink in the evening. It’s really about them feeling comfortable here and coming back for a meal or drinks with friends,” she says.
The pub also plays host to an active retirement group and a French-speakers’ group. It offers tea, coffee, scones or a full breakfast (one being consumed appreciatively by builders doing up houses around the area on my last visit).
Then there’s ‘Tapas Tuesday’.
On Ireland’s parting from the last World Cup Deirdre adopted Spain (fortunately), decking out the pub in Spanish regalia and serving up Tapas throughout the rest of the tournament on Tuesdays, traditionally a poor enough day for custom in the suburbs.
It worked so well that even today, every Tuesday evening is known as ‘Tapas Tuesday’ with a Flamenco guitarist to accompany the Spanish menu.
Tapas Tuesdays “sell out the door” three times out of four, says Deirdre.
But knowing your community’s needs helps generate business too.
“It’s about knowing your customers,” she stresses, “The trade has changed in the last few years. We’re in an established community with lots of older people here so we do a special mini-menu for them where they can get half-portions.”
She also sends out a few local deliveries for those living on their own and can see the value in doing takeaway breakfasts “… or anything else that brings income to the business”.
It’s equally important to ensure women remain happy to come to The Two Sisters. She does this by ensuring that they like the menu on offer, that they like the wine offering.
“We’re also growing the business by doing a lot of outdoor catering for big house-owners in the locality – First Communions, Confirmations and Christenings. We’ll even provide a bar for them if they want.”
In fact she’s rebranding part of the business under the name Two Sisters Catering.
Business central at Nancy Blake’s
At Nancy Blake’s in Limerick proprietor Donal Mulcahy runs the pub as a café in the morning, a restaurant in the afternoon and evening, a bar at night and a nightclub after midnight.
During the day he offers Tapas and other light-bites to attract people in.
“Many bars are specialising in different items rather than having the heavier sit-down-type meal these days,” he says, “Being more health-conscious, people are looking for lighter bites.”
As a result, he’s developed a new bar menu with smaller portions – and prices reflect this.
“Irish people travel a lot more and are changing, with people looking for way lighter dishes today,” he says, so pubs should widen their appeal away from the ‘core’ fare range.
“If someone asked for a Prosecco or Champagne 10 years ago, you’d think, ‘Who is this guy?’,” he explains, “But not today.
“Today, premium spirits, premium ‘pour’ and premium ‘serve’ are so important. We specialise in whiskeys and cocktails in our bars and we find that people drink a lot more high-end product these days. That’s where the real money is,” believes Donal.