While the second national lockdown will see on-trade operators close their doors for a month, there is an opportunity to use this time to prepare for the December trading period. There is likely to be consumer demand to get together and make the most of the Christmas season once restrictions are lifted.
Consumers recognised operators’ hard work in creating a safe environment after the first lockdown, which grew their confidence and translated into sales in August and September. While one in four consumers are confident about visiting the on-trade this Christmas, it’s important to encourage those still unsure and therefore incentivise them to visit in December.
Operators have already had to adapt to government guidelines and changing consumer behaviour but, this month, attention should be focused on planning your festive offering ahead of this critical trading period. As the UK’s leading pub, cider and beer business, HEINEKEN UK has compiled insights and tips to help operators prepare, maximise sales and deliver a memorable experience in December.
- Planning and Preparation
Every trading day is important, but last year six out of the top ten trading days for wet sales were in December and the first weekend of December 2019 saw sales higher than the previous three years. Mad Friday (the Friday before Christmas Day) had the biggest single day sales in 2019 and were 36% higher than the previous Friday; clearly this is a huge moment to boost revenue.
- Promote and Advertise. Ensure your venue and Christmas menu is well advertised on your website and amplified via social channels like Facebook, Instagram, and online marketplace platforms to help consumers find out about your festive offering . Consider including imagery to attract attention and bring your offering to life. Over half of consumers who tried new drinks last Christmas were influenced to do so because of promotions and advertisements, so be sure to utilise menu mechanics like featuring images, cocktail descriptors or food-pairing recommendations, as well as communicating specials or deals via chalkboards, to guide consumers towards margin-enhancing drinks offers.
- Adapt – every challenge is an opportunity. Organise your tables and sittings in line with the latest guidelines for your area and early curfew (if applicable) to maximise capacity and revenue. Consider expanding your window of opportunity, by catering to new occasions like brunch or afternoon tea. You can even implement dynamic pricing strategies, such as splitting Sunday-Wednesday and Thursday-Saturday, or offer incentives for off-peak bookings to fill quieter periods.
- Building Consumer Confidence
For many, Christmas is the time to get together, usually characterised by family meals, office parties and New Year celebrations. While many consumers are looking for a return to normality, 45% still do not feel confident about visiting on-trade venues. It’s vital to implement and communicate strategies that will strike a balance between enjoying the festivities they’re used to and making them feel at ease this Christmas.
- Contactless Payment & Table Service. Meet new social distancing and hygiene standards by employing valuable technology solutions. Eliminating the need for physical contact, Swifty is a new payment, loyalty and reservation app that will allow customers to view your Christmas menus, order and pay at the table, as well as book in advance. You can also gather insights into your customers’ purchasing behaviour by monitoring peak sales periods, buying preferences and demographic information. This will help you stay agile in meeting consumer demand in December.
- Pre-Ordering & Pre-Booking. A fifth of consumers are more likely to pre-book for festive occasions this year than last, and 13% would pay more for a pre-ordered meal over the Christmas period. Having a robust booking system in place that allows consumers to pre-book and pre-order will help you deliver a seamless customer experience and manage both the covers and space in your venue effectively. Reassure your customers by providing flexible booking T&Cs where possible.
- Quality. Customers are willing to spend more at Christmas, so the quality of your drinks, venue and overall atmosphere is critical. Having Covid-19 safety precautions in place and venues’ hygiene / cleanliness levels topped the list of important factors boosting guests’ confidence and driving decisions on where to visit. Reassure customers you have a strong handle on health and safety, while implementing a good cellar management routine to ensure the drinks served are tip-top – after all, we know a great quality drink inspires return visits.
- Hello BEER is a mobile training app that can support you with pouring best practice as well as reducing wastage costs and maintaining staff engagement.
- Festive Sparkle
As always, consumers are looking to spend time with friends and family over Christmas and New Year. But now more than ever they’re looking for a high-quality experience, so it pays to offer the right food, drinks and overall experience to encourage them to choose your venue and return when the festive period is over.
- Expensive Tastes. Consumers are willing to pay more and try new drinks at Christmas; 40% expect a wider range of drinks and 32% are more likely to pay for better quality, so push them into trading up across categories. Spirits prove popular over the weekend, while continental premium and premium 4% lagers enjoy an increase in sales during the festive season – consider stocking leading brands like Amstel and Birra Moretti, the fastest growing beer brand in the UK over the last three years. Don’t forget those moderating, by offering no and low alcohol options like Heineken 0.0 (the number one no and low alcohol brand) and Old Mout Alcohol Free (the fastest growing no and low alcohol cider in the on-trade), to ensure all pub-goers feel part of the occasion.
- Christmas Specials. Over half of consumers like to see seasonal drinks offered over the festive period, so be sure to include some options like mulled fruit cider that allow them to get more experimental with their repertoires. Guests want to enjoy the atmosphere they’re used to in hospitality venues at Christmas, so give some thought to your festive decorations and overall ambiance.
- Festive Experiences. With the Great British Pub an essential mainstay of the community consumers rely on their local to deliver rich experiences. Take advantage of your pub garden or outdoor space, where consumers will feel safer, and utilise areas that wouldn’t see much use during the colder months. You could even create your own Christmas market! Ensure you adhere to social distancing, by creating a one-way system and monitoring guest numbers, as well as setting up heaters and fairy lights so guests feel cosy and comfortable outside.