Great pubs make money … whatever the weather

I returned on Sunday from Amsterdam where I completed the marathon in an unbelievably slow time (which shame prevents me from disclosing).

Without wishing to find excuses for my pathetic display, the weather was unseasonably warm and it took many of the runners, including me, by surprise.  However, the local crowds seemed to love it and packed the course cheering at almost anything.  Practically every single person was drunk.

And once the marathon had finished and I hobbled to a steak restaurant with my friend, we found the place packed and were lucky to get a table.

I guess it was the perfect day for local people to take a stroll to the pub, marvel at the speeding Kenyans and then laugh at the rest of us over a huge glass of powerful Dutch lager.  So, for the pubs, bars and restaurants in the city centre and along the course, it was a truly bumper weekend.

However, on the plane home somebody told me that a few years ago the weather for the marathon had been freezing cold and raining.  That year nobody wanted to go drinking and simply stayed at home … so Amsterdam was silent apart from the sound of padding feet and muttered swearing.

So much in the leisure industry seems to be about the weather.  Small wonder that pub landlords begin their day by emerging from their front door and looking up at the skies like Farmer Giles.

The Indian Summer experienced in the UK during September has seen this “good weather factor” manifest itself in a number of ways.

Firstly Ortus borrowers buying a pub or restaurant find themselves up against strange and inexplicable delays from vendors who are understandably keen to benefit from a last summer of trading.  Secondly, food-led businesses have enjoyed a hugely beneficial “stretch” to their summer trading as families and couples squeeze in that last outdoor pub lunch.

Indeed, the latest Coffer Peach Business Tracker data confirms that restaurant and pub groups enjoyed a collective like-for-like increase of 2.2% on the same month last year.  Peter Martin, vice president of CGA Peach (the business insight consultancy that produces the Tracker, in partnership with Coffer Group, Baker Tilly and UBS) commented that “Pubs in London and restaurants outside of the M25 were the strongest performers – with like-for-likes up 4.0% and 4.8% respectively”

That said, it isn’t all down to the weather because the eating-out sector has now enjoyed growth for eighteen consecutive months.  On this point Peter Martin commented “eating-out frequency also remains healthy, with the Peach BrandTrack consumer survey showing that 42% of the UK adult population eating out at least weekly, rising to 58% of 25-34 year-olds”

It must therefore be tempting for pub and restaurant operators to simply open their doors and put their faith in the gods. If the weather is great, the economy is going well and a few local events are organised they will do fine.  Otherwise, they won’t.

However, as we’ve alluded to before in these blogs, we find the best operators have the complete opposite of a fatalistic attitude.  They carefully plan their business around the local calendar and adapt their offering to maximise the benefit for their business.  For example, operators in Amsterdam last weekend would have known that thousands of runners were about to descend on their city.  Therefore, any restaurant offering a “carb-up pasta special” the evening before the event … or even a pub offering non-alcoholic lager after the event … was highly likely to clean up.

As we’ve found countless times at Ortus, there is nothing fatalistic about the leisure industry.  It might be an industry of fun, but success depends on organisation, market knowledge and careful planning.  In this respect, the businesses run by creative and experienced operators always seem to do well … whatever the weather.

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