Customer behaviour is important


Drinking habits are shifting

Alcohol consumption in Britain is slowly reducing. This is particularly the case among younger people: over a quarter of 18 to 24-year-olds now say that they do not drink at all, and fewer are binge drinking. In one small survey, as many as 81% of people who do drink alcohol said they wanted to moderate their drinking in some way. And since consumption at home has increased slightly in recent years, it means that drinking in pubs and bars is reducing at an even faster rate than the overall figures.

Research for major soft drinks producer BritVic has discovered that 73% of licensed venue operators believe the demand for soft drinks to be growing.

Research by drinks producer AB InBev confirms the growing demand for non-alcoholic beer in the UK. A survey of 2,000 adults found that 31% had tried a non-alcoholic beer, and that younger people and, in particular, Londoners are the most eager consumers: a fifth of both groups prefer a non-alcoholic beer when they go out to pubs and bars.

Non-drinking customers plan ahead

An important finding from our workshop with customers was that planning and preparation for a night out can take a lot time and effort for someone who wants to drink less than their friends. This includes questions about the venue (“will they have a lower-alcohol lager”? or “will it be busy?”), and actions by themselves (“will I be the first to leave?”) and by others (“is everyone else going to get smashed?”). All of this will influence their choice of venue, and trying to decide in advance what they may order.

Apprehension, anxiety, even panic about the situation was noted by all teams. Buying rounds was also mentioned as a distressing aspect of a night out, both at the workshop and in the online survey (“Everyone else’s drinks are expensive – not fair”). [Photo: Customer journey exercise from co-design workshop, June 2015]

I would like to be strong enough to refuse a drink while in a drinking environment. I find my designated “non-drinking” days involve staying at home.

Need to drink more low alcohol alternatives, and to decide to ‘cap’ my drinking before I go out. Unplanned drinking is always the worst.”

“I would like to socialize more with friends who do go out to pubs more often.” Online survey responses

Panic at the bar

A seemingly small issue came up several times during our project: the moment of panic many customers feel when ordering at the bar. Especially in a busy venue most people are unlikely to ask about the different choices available, and instead default to either what is the first thing they see, or what they are used to ordering. This can lead to unwanted purchases if the customer is trying to cut down on their drinking.

The best examples of this issue came up in our workshop with customers. Ordering at the bar was considered by many participants as the most difficult part of going to pubs and bars if they want to drink less. Several ideas came up to deal with this issue, such as soda fountains with pre-purchased tokens, or order slips where you tick the drink you want, so that non-drinking customers don’t have to order non-alcoholic drinks at the bar several times a night.

“When the pubs are busy and the bar is packed with people waiting to order it’s very challenging to start asking what non-alcoholic drinks they have (it feels like ending up having a negotiation, waiters are not very willing to help, they feel anxiety, they feel like a burden) and so they opt for their default alcoholic choice.” Online survey response

Customers want to see non-alcoholic drinks presented well and visible on menus

There is still some stigma attached to drinking non-alcoholic drinks in pubs and bars. In the prototyping design, many teams in our workshops dealt with making non-alcoholic drinks more adult/sexy/visible/socially acceptable, or even making them “aspirational”.

Some specific ideas included non-alcoholic drinks menus, non-alcoholic cocktail (or “mocktail”) training for bar staff, always including soft drinks in any happy hour deals, and creating a “ceremony” around the serving of non-alcoholic drinks, or a mobile app helping bar staff (or anyone else) create mocktails and other new drinks from ingredients already available in most venues.

Our experiments with new soft drink and non-alcoholic beer sales and promotion showed that it is possible to successfully introduce them into venues. This may be a slow process though: the sales weren’t very big to begin with. And one pub manager warned us that it would probably take some time for customers to notice and start ordering any new options.  [Photo: Dalston bar fridges – soft drinks are at the very bottom]

“It’s got to taste bloody amazing. It’s got to taste better than the other drinks at the bar. I had a virgin cocktail at the Holborn Grind – it was the perfect mocktail – smooth with a strong flavour, and absolutely beautifully presented. Soft drinks usually don’t have the artistry or glamour of cocktails.”

“I don’t want to be the person drinking coke or orange juice out of a tall glass with a fat straw ( that screams “I’m not drinking” )” Online survey responses

What this told us

  • There is a growing demand for non-alcoholic drinks in pubs and bars. This applies to non-alcoholic beer as well as soft drinks.
  • Customers would like to see more ‘grown up’ soft drink choices, special offers, and a good presentation of their choice.
  • Some customers try to choose venues based on their non-alcoholic drink options.
  • It does not matter how practiced we are at using pubs, we still panic at the bar and opt for the default/practised/obvious option.