Thursday 11 January 2024

Opening Hours Erosion. Good or Bad?

In the world of hospitality, pubs have long been regarded -  probably through rose-tinted glasses -  as communal hubs where friends gather, strangers become friends, and general relaxed jollity ensues. However, in recent times, there has been a growing tendency for pubs to close during quiet business periods. Outside city centres, it has become increasingly difficult to find a wet led pub that is open at lunchtime, never mind one that is bustling.

 Managed houses, with a food offering and salaried staff rather than part-timers are likely your best bet, though these may be a bit too restaurant like for the casual drinker.  It is particularly noticeable that pubs run by tenants often see little point in opening the doors just for the odd one or two punters that might wander in and stretch a pint for a couple of hours. In fact, increasingly, days like Monday and Tuesday are often being written off altogether. This shift in perspective challenges the traditional notion that pubs should remain open at all permitted hours, and highlights the dilemma for pub owners and the effect on the community at large. 

Running a pub is a pretty hard game these days, especially when it comes to juggling costs and earnings. Lots of places end up staying open when things are slow, which means more expenses - heating being a prime example. Shutting down during slow times seems like a sensible way of overcoming this. It helps pub owners make the most of what they've got and build a business that matches the actual number of people coming in.

The logic is quite a simple one: closing the doors during quiet periods allows pub owners to reduce operating costs significantly. Energy consumption - a huge overhead these days -  is decreased and staff wages reduced. By strategically closing during these hours, owners can better match staff to demand, and thus operate more efficiently. Getting opening hours in synch with likely footfall is also good for morale, as it were, as there is little more soul-destroying than overseeing an empty pub as the clock slowly ticks away the pointless hours. 

Hopefully too, focusing efforts on the hours when customer footfall is at its highest can also make for a better customer experience, as after all, who wants to sit in a miserably empty pub? Customers make for atmosphere, and the lack of it does not encourage a lengthy stay. Concentrating efforts and resources on peak business hours, can - or here I'll say should  - ensure that the service, atmosphere, and offerings are of the optimal standard. It does not work at all if you simply take the same sad old offering and simply spread it over a shorter period. If you are going to open less, greater efforts have to be made to make the pub attractive when you do.  And above all, you need to ensure that potential customers know when you will be open. Even now, far too many pubs seem to think that opening hours are some kind of state secret that should jealously be guarded. Telling potential customers about opening hours and what's happening in the pub is not a bothersome extra. It is an essential part of the business.

While the idea of closing pubs during quiet business periods may seem a bad idea at first, it can be an acknowledgement that times have changed and cloth must be cut accordingly. By embracing a more strategic and efficient operational model, pub owners can create a sustainable business that benefits both their bottom line and the customer experience. 

In the end, finding the right balance involves satisfying customer needs, while also securing the enduring sustainability of the business in a constantly changing market, but it does look as though reduced hours are here to stay and ultimately, better than the pub closing altogether..


Curmudgeon said...

And, of course, giving potential customers the confidence that they are open all day, every day is one of the key factors behind Wetherspoons' success.

I am only too well aware of the cost pressures on the pub trade, but there's a difficult balance to strike in reducing your hours. Unless you have a very predictable regular trade, cutting hours introduces an element of uncertainty into people's minds.

I wrote about this in 2022, in which I quoted from an article in the Spectator. What applies to cafés is just as valid for pubs.

"It cannot escape the notice of café operators that one reason why both chains and immigrant-run businesses do well is that they are open consistently and open late. But this isn’t simply because they sell more stuff later in the day by dint of being open: the reality is more complicated. If you stay open two hours more, even if you sell little in those two extra hours, you will still profit over time, because you will get far more business in your core hours. Firstly people are more confident that you are open: nobody plans to rendezvous in a café where there is a 20 per cent chance it’ll be shut. And no one really enjoys eating in cafés in the hour before closing, because once the staff start ostentatiously delactating the nozzle on the coffee machine, it ruins the vibe."

Tandleman said...

It is an excellent point and I remember you making it.

Beermunster said...

What Spoons did was clever. They not only opened all day but they started to offer more than just booze. If I go into my local Spoons at 9am, yes there will be a small number of people drinking a pint, but there will be 30 or 40 people drinking coffee and some having breakfast.

Interestingly, my local has just announced plans to do something similar. Country pub in Cheshire. They have several rooms, one of which is pretty much empty aside from weekend diners. They are going to try and open a cafe using this room which will be serving coffee, cakes etc. during the day but will revert back to the pub/restaurant in the evenings.

retiredmartin said...

Excellent discussion post, Peter.

Alistair Reece said...

As has been mentioned, this is one of the things about a 'Spoons that all but ensures it's success, it is more than "just" a pub. I say it often, but whenever I get home to the UK, you can guarantee I will be going to the occasional 'Spoons because I know they will be open.

Ultimately it all comes down to the offer, there needs to be more than just a few beers to coax people in. Speaking as a remote worker, if a pub doesn't have reasonable coffee and good wifi, I won't be working from one of the tables there, regardless of how amazing the beer selection is. If there is decent coffee (bottomless refills on drip coffee too, please), good wifi, and a decent beer selection, then I am likely to be there all of an afternoon working, and then have a couple of post closing the laptop pints.

Just because a pub is wet led doesn't necessitate the wet needs to be laced with ethyl alcohol, having a good range of soft drinks as well can appeal to people who don't/can't drink for whatever reason, they are part of the community too surely?

If we really want pubs to be viewed as community assets and places where the community gathers, then they need to provide offerings that are relevant to that community.

Major pet peeve though is pubs and brewery taprooms that will close for a private event with the bare minimum of notification. I get it that the guaranteed income is important, but communication isn't that difficult these days.

Tandleman said...

Cheers Martin

Tandleman said...

Good points Al. Also another way pubs can broaden their appeal.

Cooking Lager said...

A lot of pubs these days are vanity businesses run for the convenience of the owner. It's a consequence of the shrinkage of the industry into a cottage industry of micro pubs and micro pubs. It is what it is. Most of the people moaning supported this industry wide change.