Starbucks and Pizza Hut entering the 'booze battle' isn't necessarily a good thing

Long live the pub, says Alex Fatho-Bland, account director, Arc Worldwide, as Starbucks and Pizza Hut muscle in on the urban drinking crowd.

Starbucks to start selling wine as part of its new evening menu
Starbucks to start selling wine as part of its new evening menu

This week Starbucks announced that they will be offering consumers beer and wine in their stores as part of an evening programme, whilst Pizza Hut are creating cocktail bars in each of their venues. It’s undoubtedly a strategy to pluck business from pubs and bars as well as their direct competitors, but is this the first sign of alcohol being sold everywhere and is this necessarily a good thing?

With big name coffee and restaurant chains trying to shoe in on what pubs and bars have been doing successfully for years, can they truly expect to deliver or will we be paying for something mediocre at best as a way of filling a perceived demand?

Consumers often pay a premium for drinking out and expect to be offered more than just the product itself. They expect a good and memorable experience. With big name coffee and restaurant chains trying to shoe in on what pubs and bars have been doing successfully for years, can they truly expect to deliver or will we be paying for something mediocre at best as a way of filling a perceived demand? Jamie Oliver has done a good job by investing time and money into the alcohol industry, working with key industry figures like Simon Difford to create an Italian grappa bar in one of his restaurants as a point of difference to what’s on offer beyond just creating a good bar, but whether this is achievable at chain outlet scale without losing a sense of personalisation that is necessary to achieve a rewarding experience, is questionable.

Bars and pubs need to up their game

If anything, the recent examples of restaurant and coffee chain tactics are further testimony that pubs and bars really need to up their game or face a similar fate to that of local high street businesses with the domination of supermarkets.

To put this into perspective, about 30 pubs are closing down every week across the UK. What was once a key pillar of many a community, ‘the pub’ has slowly felt outdated and replaced by restaurants and coffee shops that have understood that the consumer has moved on from sleepy old man pubs with a dart board sitting on a wall covered with nostalgic dart holes.

Consumers want a point of difference and a reason to leave the comfort of their home where they’ve learnt they can create their own experiences for less. The recession has told them this, much the detriment of the on-trade. 

Offer a communal space

A lot of pubs have challenged their predicament and helped stabilise the declining sales of beer with the popularity of craft beers, but this trend is exactly that and is not the only way of sustaining business given the innovation they’re facing. Pubs have to remember what they used to do best. Offer a communal space, that means everyone, not just the football supporters, and build on what is relevant today to their local demographic, whilst having a point of difference and giving that personal touch. Some pubs have achieved this incredibly well. The Yummy Pub Co. are offering a ‘pig’n’mix’ at one of their pubs, where consumers get to enjoy picking from 6 different flavoured pork scratchings to put in a sweet shop paper bag. A bit of fun and something with tremendous social currency and pull to get consumers coming back again and again.

Whether it’s added value to your pint with some theatrical snacks or a friendly "hi guys" from a chorus of staff at places like The London Cocktail Club who know how to encourage loyalty with great banter, there are accessible premium experiences that restaurant and coffee chains may never achieve and I truly hope they don’t try too hard to. I for one can’t possibly digest the thought of enjoying a pint served by disengaged staff wearing a coffee shop uniform. Long live the pub!

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