As pubs and restaurants open up across Ireland, B&A took a look at the eating, drinking and social occasions to find that just 37% of respondents to its survey have either been back to pubs or plan on going to them in the next four weeks so consumers are not in quite such a hurry to get back to the pub as might have been at first thought. For restaurants, the figure rises to 45%.
In this rapidly changing landscape where do the opportunities lie for restaurants, bars and food & drink brands, ponders B&F.
Opportunity 1: Shape the shifting landscape
The lockdown and re-opening of bars and restaurants has radically shaken-up the consumers’ experience of socialising, eating and drinking, states B&A.
The boundaries of what businesses are offering are blurring with:
- bars becoming quasi-restaurants
- restaurants becoming takeaways
- bars becoming off licence/delivery services
- supermarkets offering significantly more ‘food to go’.
New occasions are emerging via:
- gourmet takeaways from high-end restaurants
- cocktail delivery/kit-making in home
- meal kits for easy assembly dinners
- the pub crawl.
B&A therefore believes that there are significant opportunities for brands that can adapt and differentiate in this changing landscape, but what’s delivered, the competitive set and the service experience may all be very different.
Opportunity 2: Win at home
Even as pubs and restaurants open back up, the in-home occasion for eating/drinking/socialising will continue to be significant. But the thrust of consumer thinking has definitely swung more in favour of home as
44% of respondents don’t plan to visit a pub or restaurant in the next four weeks while 90% are planning a takeaway occasion in the next four weeks, with 55% planning to entertain friends and family at home.
And B&A is seeing new home occasion sub-types starting to emerge as home becomes more consequential with:
- ‘elevated’ home entertaining: with fancy value-adds one wouldn’t normally expect (professional cocktails, restaurant quality meals)
- ‘blended’ home entertaining: before/after the pub/restaurant to lengthen the night
- ‘hassle-free’ home entertaining: with takeaway/meal box kits for ease.
So, finding ways to deliver and engage ‘at home’ is a business opportunity for brands.
Opportunity 3: Re-imagine the bar occasion
B&A’s research has found that those who’ve been back to the pub are struggling with the Socially Distanced pub occasion, for example:
- we’re unsure of how to behave, looking horizontally (at others) and vertically (at management) for guidance
- we’re struggling to find the sweet spot between relaxed enough to have fun but not too relaxed to Socially Distance
- many of our favourite aspects aren’t in play (the bar, the dance floor).
It’s important to focus on what can be achieved safely under the current guidelines – and building a satisfying experience around that, suggests B&A.
Opportunity 4: Master the ‘blended’ journey
In a new world of ‘time slots’ for bars and restaurants, the pre- and post-drinks occasions will become much more important.
For the pub, consumers see their ‘journeys’ unfolding with 45% of respondents having pre-drinks with the family (30%) or with friends (23%) and 53% drinking ‘post-pub’ via a takeaway from an off-licence (16%), the supermarket (43%) or none of these two (47%).
Opportunity 5: Know your target
While 30% of consumers plan to visit a pub in the next four weeks, certain customers are more up for it than others.
Their desire to visit the pub skews towards males (38%) rather than females (22%), while 32% of respondents are under 34 and 16% are over 35; 35% of the respondents here are urban compared to 20% being rural.
Bars with a core target from different demographics will have to work much harder to convince them that the bar is a safe, enjoyable place to be at the moment.
On female respondent commented, “My back garden is the new pub. I just bought new patio furniture for it”.
Opportunities for all 5 key areas: Ways to win
- As new opportunities open up, both within premises, delivery and in store, it’s important for brands to identify what they can do well and really go for it, states B&A which advises, “Feel free to tear up the rule book. The boundaries observed before Covid are all up for grabs now. For example restaurant brands could now make their presence felt in-store in the form of meal kits in a way that wasn’t imaginable before.”
- The home occasion will continue to be so important and brands used to engaging with their consumers in the bar or restaurant space need to think about how they can adapt. For drinks brands, differentiating their offering in-store and in terms of packaging and delivery represent big opportunity areas. Consumers seek to make their home occasions more festive and fun and drinks merchandising could help them do that as people turn their living rooms into home bars.
- As the home occasion develops and proliferates there are opportunities for brands to ‘own’ emerging occasions or even invent their own. Elevated home entertaining is ripe for the taking for premium brands, for example.
- Bars need to distract consumers from the things they’re missing. With the bar area a ‘no-go’, individual tables become the centre of energy, focus, fun and theatre. Working the tables needs to be top of the agenda for bar staff. Getting visibility on tables should be a top ambition for drinks brands.
- As blended bar/restaurant ‘journeys’ develop brands need to think about how they can play across the various stages – joined-up offers between off-licenses (for pre-drinks) and bars, for example, or restaurants sending customers home with house cocktails.
- Establishments can and should work together to meet the emerging journey opportunities. For example, with pub crawls returning to fashion and food a requirement, can some pubs look after savoury food and some sweet? The three-course meal pub crawl (with great dessert options) looks like an interesting development.
- It’s never been more important to understand your target, how they’re feeling and what would help them feel safe. The Irish pub experience, once a universal and uniting experience, might end-up becoming much more tailored to different demographic needs.
For the post-Covid bar experience to work, it needs to be re-imagined, concludes the B&F study.