I found myself feeling very sorry for my friend as we boarded our flight to the UK. He looked ghastly and his white pallor told me this journey was not going to be his easiest.
Settling into his seat I wondered what dreadful bug had invaded his being. After a while, he uttered those immortal words “Never again, that’s it, I’m giving up the drink”.
My initial sympathy was receding faster than an impatient tide. It was his own fault. It’s one thing if you get me into your pub and can’t keep me there, quite another if you prevent me entering in the first place.
The term “shooting oneself in the foot” springs to mind for both my friend and the out-of-touch publican.
Never before has the business of pubs been so challenging. Although most challenges are beyond the control of individual publicans there’s no excuse for creating new self-inflicted barriers. Here are some of the more common of them:
Word-of-mouth is the most important reference we can ever get. We believe it, we trust it and it becomes the truth.
Reputation can come from several sources: a bad pint, a cold welcome, poor food, a dirty bar, dirty toilets and a much much more.
Besides word-of-mouth there is the impact of social media (facebook, Boards and so forth); one bad experience can quickly end up gathering an unwelcome following. Today, media is at our fingertips. Today, we are the directors, producers, editors and distributors of instant video. Think ‘You Tube’ and then consider that it’s the fourth most-visited website in the world today.
Then there is the Press. What would they sayabout you? What have they said? Do you know?
2 Parking or pass by?
In an ever-more time-compressed world parking is a factor in making my decision. No parking, no problem, I just move on.
Worse still, if you have parking and it is littered or full of dodgy cars bearing wide mouthed exhaust pipes then I definitely won’t go in. Your car park says a lot about who’s inside. Who’s inside might just keep me outside.
Worse again is that dreadful Celtic Tiger hangover, the pay-and-display car park. You want to charge me to spend my money with you?
3 Dodgy signs
Have you seen it? The dodgy signs we have to walk by to get inside?
Signs like “Chef required” or “Staff required”? What does it say? What does it tell you?
Perhaps they are expanding, progressive and busy? Perhaps they can’t keep their staff?
Where there’s ambiguity there’s doubt. Where there’s doubt there’s the sound of an ignition churning as a car departs. Recruit carefully (and in the right places).
4 Sport and sporting messages
Whilst sport might be a huge attraction to sports fans, it might just be a reason not to go in. Your outdoor signage says a lot about what’s going on indoors.
If your signs are attractive, alluring and promising, they will work. If they are limited, macho and loud, don’t expect females to flock.
5 Friend or foe?
Doorstaff have an enormous impact on your pub, your brand and your message. They can be your guardian angels or aggressive devils. If they are professional, polite and welcoming, they invite me in. If they are dressed as giant paramilitaries with bulging muscles they might just intimidate me.
A few years back, unpleasant door staff were given as the single biggest reason why young men would not enter a pub. Why? They did not want to risk the embarrassment of a giant saying ‘no’.
6 Corner boys
Since the smoking ban, pubs have a new issue to contend with – the front door smokers. Picture an attractive group of girls launching their night on the town. Picture your front door. Now picture your other type of ‘door men’. What do they say? How do they look? What message do they emit? Are they attracting or deflecting?
If you don’t know, ask a girl and let them tell you their view, their experience and their decision-making process.
7 Shopfronts – or warning signs?
We make decisions instinctively and quickly. Like mobile radars, we scan and process without a thought. The first barrier to a new customer is the exterior of your pub. What does it say? What does it promise? Does it stand out? Is it alluring?
It’s obvious to say a shabby shopfront implies a shabby everything else. Equally, the converse is true. An enticing exterior will at least win attention and that is a big first step.
Why not review your shopfront today and ask yourself two questions: What does it say about my business? If I was a customer, would I come in?
8 It’s next to Godliness – cleanliness
“You cannot be fresh and feeling fine, wearing a washed vest under an unwashed shirt; or, an unwashed vest over a washed shirt. Both have to be clean, to provide a sense of tingling joy” – Sri Sathya Sai Baba. Philosopher.
We are sensory little creatures. No matter how often we are told, we do judge a book by its cover – and its cleanliness.
From the outside in, this is the single biggest barrier to your future. There is no room for “But…” – you get one chance to make that first impression.
Cleanliness goes way beyond clean doors, windows and glasses. It dives deep into your staff, your ceiling, your floor – everything and everywhere. Most of all, your toilets will simply define you. The Number One reason a lady will refuse to return to your pub is poor quality toilets. That’s not just dirt, that’s fittings, heating, lighting and more.
Put simply, you cannot afford to be filthy, you cannot afford to be smelly and you cannot afford to compromise.
9 Safe or not?
In a world full of challenges for publicans no other challenge has greater potential for damage than the widespread use of drugs. Drugs lead to psychological impairment and that leads to trouble.
The first requirement for any potential customer is a simple answer to the instinctive “Do I feel safe?” question. It touches our soul and it is not negotiable.
If I don’t feel safe, I won’t come in.
Check your pub from the outside in. What’s the message? Do you need to do something about it?
10 Kids? Don’t you just love ‘em?
You can easily get two answers to the vexed question, “Should kids be allowed into pubs?”. Of course they should, if you are catering for families. Of course not, if you are catering for adults only.
There is no right or wrong, simply a need to be clear.
Once you answer “yes” or “no”, everything else must follow.
The business of pubs has been tested, challenged and rocked over the last number of years. Being challenged also brings out the best in people as well as bringing out the best of ideas.
The Irish pub is central to our history, our culture and our deep desire to be sociable.
More challenges will come and how publicans respond to those challenges will define their future.
That future lies in their own hands and current realities do not give any business the luxury of shooting oneself in ones foot before the customer has even entered the premises!
For further information or an informal consultation with Conor – log on to www.conorkenny.com or call 01-6633685.