Star Pubs & Bars looks at some great ways to expand your offer

Star Pubs & Bars looks at some great ways to expand your offer

Thinking about adding another string to your bar’s bow? We speak to two lessees who have expanded their offering and find out the secrets of their success.

The Station Tavern, Lytham

Known for: Live music

Expanded into: Good food

Long known for its live music, the Station Tavern didn’t have much of a food offering until lessees Debbie and Simon Malings noticed a gap in the market.

“We looked around at what there was in the area, and we realized that although there were loads of Italian restaurants, cafés and wine bars in the town, there wasn’t anywhere serving traditional pub food made from locally sourced ingredients,” says Debbie.

After deciding to blaze a trail and revamp their food offering, Debbie and Simon not only hired a new chef but also brought in another chef with experience of working in Michelin-starred restaurants to work with them as a consultant. He focused on their all-important Christmas menus.

Catering for all

The menus at the Station Tavern now include staple pub fare such as cottage pie and fish ’n’ chips, as well as more exotic specials like seared tuna steak with salsa. The pub also caters for vegetarians and customers with allergies, such as those who follow a gluten-free diet. In addition, it offers smaller plates for people who only want a light bite or older children who want to eat something a bit more ‘grown up’, plus early bird specials.

By offering something for everyone, Debbie and Simon have noticed that they now attract a wider range of customers. “I’d say our weekend customers are mainly aged about 25 to 40, and during the week we tend to attract a mainly older crowd,” says Debbie. “We also have lots of families who come, and because we show sports, we get new youngsters visiting too. They enjoy our Aberdeen Angus burgers with a pint of Coca-Cola.”

The couple hasn’t forgotten what the pub was originally known for, though. “The Station Tavern has a great name for live music, and we continue to offer that and put a lot of work into it,” Debbie tells us. “Our live acts are always on Friday and Saturday nights, and it’s still the case that on those nights, our business is mainly wet-led and driven by people coming to see the bands. By offering more food options, it just means that the pub is now busier on the other five days of the week.”

The Argyll & Sutherland, The Wirral

Known for: Being a wet-led pub

Expanded into: Showing sport

Lessee John Mallan may be a football fan himself, but his decision to turn the Argyll & Sutherland into a sports pub was purely a business decision.

“Football’s really popular in the area, as there are loads of Liverpool and Everton fans around,” says John. “Knowing this, and having such a large pub, I just thought it made sense to capitalise on it.”

Investing in change

“Our projector screen is the biggest in the area – you can be stood 60ft away from it and still see everything clearly!” says John.

His 1.75m x 3.5m screen, which he first installed before the 2010 World Cup, came at a price – £6,000, to be precise. However, since making live sport the pub’s main selling point, trade has increased by about 15%, so it was certainly a wise move.

Although John is clearly glad he decided to make the move into sports, he’s learnt a lesson about managing the cost of trying something new. “We had a four year warranty on the first TV we bought, but by the end of it, it was on its last legs anyway,” he recalls. “I’ve now started leasing the projector from a company for just £14 a week. Considering a single bulb for a screen of that size costs £200, it makes a lot more sense.”

In addition to the large screen and the three other HD TVs John has put in place, he decided to introduce a carvery. The pub now offers plenty of fast-food options, such as burgers and £2 ham sandwiches cut from the carvery, for people watching matches.

This means that, although live sport is now a focal point for the majority of the pub’s customers, it’s certainly not the only reason to visit the Argyll & Sutherland.

Top tips for branching out:

• Do your research

Before embarking on a new venture, make sure there’s a market for it. From assessing what’s already on offer in the local area to asking customers for their feedback, there are a number of simple ways to find out if your idea has legs.

• Ask the experts

You may be full of great ideas, but if you’re going to move outside of your comfort zone, it’s a good idea to seek advice from others who have already had success in your chosen field.

• Market your venue clearly

If you’re known for showing sports and you start offering great food too, it’s vital that you get the message out or all your hard work could go to waste. Get the basics covered by changing the messaging on your own website and social media before you start paying for advertising.

• Don’t cut corners

If you’re going to start doing something new, do it well. After all, if you’re going to publicise the fact that you’ve started offering live music or great food, you want to make sure that the new customers this attracts are satisfied and come back for more.

• Learn from your experience

Whether your new venture is an instant success or it takes a while to warm up, there will be lessons to learn along the way. It’s important to take them on board – just as John did when deciding to lease his TV instead of buying a new one.