How what you drink impacts on the night-time economy

At the launch of the Home Office’s new Local Alcohol Action Areas event last week at the LGA, I began to consider our nudging pubs project in this wider context. So far for us it’s been all about the beer (0.5% ABV of course!).

Every town has a place they can point to as the area where people generally go on a night out. The high street where people fall out of pubs at 1am, and things get a little out of hand. It has been the same everywhere I have lived in the UK – from Chard in Somerset to Islington in north London.

It is these pubs and bars that shape nights out for everyone, whether you are a gastro pub in a small village or a late night coffee bar in Soho. The rules and regulations that venues have to stick to have mostly been designed with the booze-filled high street at 2am in mind.

It’s a fine balance for councils. Supporting local business and allowing people to have fun, while trying to manage the resources of police, ambulance, A&E, and street cleaning. Then there is the basic protection of local residents from noise and nuisance.

Managing the night-time economy

So it’s no surprise that there is an ever-evolving network of initiatives to manage the night-time economy. From Best Bar None schemes to Purple Flag Awards. Pub Watch, which has been around the longest, was something we had in the pub my family ran in Chard in 1985. Back then it ran through a pub to pub phone tree – in Buxton today they use a WhatsApp group.

nannystatewarriorFor Club Soda, our reason for plonking ourselves inside this suite of initiatives and regulations is slightly more self-serving. We and our members want something nicer to drink when we go to the pub. We don’t think we should have a second rate product on our first rate, but more sober, night out.

We see our drinking needs as a positive proposition for pubs. Customers have the power to shift the behaviour of businesses just as much as regulators and authorities can. But we are also impatient, so while we know that the market demand for less alcoholic drinks is growing, we want pubs and bars to move quicker. Our members want a low alcohol or non-alcoholic beer today.

Better non-alcoholic choices

Without our prompting our members have already been trying to shift where beers are displayed in their supermarket, phoning restaurants about bringing their own non-alcoholic drinks with them, and asking for their local to stock their regular tipple.

I phoned the restaurant that the birthday dinner is to be in on Saturday, and asked them what AF [alcohol-free] wine or beer they have. Only Beck’s bleurgh. So I asked if I could take my own bubbles – fave of the moment, Sainsbury’s Sparkling af @£2.50 – and yes, I can take it and pay £5 corkage. Result!

Social action from customers is just one way to deliver change. The other is for venues to support each other. Peer pressure is a powerful tool.  But whether you are a customer or bar manager you need the tools and mechanisms to voice your needs and share your knowledge. This has to go beyond just improved takings on the till. It is also about improving reputation, customer diversity, footfall, and management.

What does this mean for pubs?

We know we still have to make the business case. That precious shelf or fridge space is worth surrendering to a product that may not shift as quickly.

But we feel pubs can speed up the sales by giving customers permission to pick something different. Especially in a place like a pub where everything screams ‘this is where you drink alcohol’.

By changing just a few things pubs and bars can support and encourage their customers to make a deliberate choice; maybe picking a low alcohol beer, alternate soft drinks (something delicious and tasty in its own right), or give their livers a rest but still come out to the pub. Still buying product – just a different one. Still having a great night out – but not leaving a trail of puke in the toilets for you to clean tomorrow.

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