Refurbishing and taking your pub to the next level

Making the decision to invest in refurbishing your pub is a big move and one that needs careful thought and preparation. However, it is also a very effective way of taking your pub to the next level and increasing profits.

A refurbishment may be a simple job of updating the pub: - repainting the interior or exterior, resurfacing the car park, updating your furniture or catering equipment. Or it could involve a more major undertaking such as changing the bar, extending or opening up rooms, or providing new outdoor facilities.  

Improving catering or outdoor facilities is a popular means of refurbishing a pub and taking your business to the next level. Stone or wood fired pizza ovens, outdoor huts for customers to use in the summer months, and increasing the number of food covers your pub can handle can bring in valuable extra business. 

It’s also important to remember that pubs now have to compete with many other hospitality businesses. Cafes and restaurants are all chasing after the same customers, and those customers expect a great service and experience whereverthey go. That includes the décor and ambience within your pub; it needs to appeal to customers who have the choice of many different venues.

Refurbishing Your Pub - Budgeting

Whatever the scale of your project and ambition for your pub, it needs to be properly budgeted for and allowances made for unexpected expenses.  You need to have a clear idea as to exactly what you are aiming to do and allocate funds appropriately.  Full refurbishments designed to completely transform the interior can take several weeks, so you will probably need to shut the pub for some of this time while the work is being completed. Make sure you have factored in any loss of trade during the refurbishment project.

However, sometimes a simple lick of paint is all that’s required to attract customers into your pub. Repainting the exterior of The Dining Room in Kirkcaldy was sufficient to transform the pub’s fortunes. Martyn Stewart explains, “We felt that one of the biggest handicaps was the colour of the building. It had been painted a dull brown and simply didn’t stand out to passing traffic, and was being overlooked. Belhaven agreed with us and repainted the building – a simple solution that has made a huge difference to trade.” 

Who pays?

That depends on exactly what you’re planning. Check the terms of your Agreement to identify specific responsibilities for the building and its maintenance. PubCo’s like Greene King may help fund improvements in return for an adjustment to the rent.  

It can also be the case that a PubCo has already earmarked a pub for investment, recognising that changes need to be made. If you’re looking for a new site or to get your first pub, find out whether investment is available for refurbishment – if you search for available pubs on our website you will find many are marked up as having potential for investment.

Brainstorming with your Business Development Manager can also help – they can draw on years of experience within the business and make constructive suggestions regarding finance as well as the nature of the proposed refurbishment.

Refurbishing Your Pub - Who should you work with?

Greene King and other PubCo’s have their own trusted surveyors, architects, interior designers and contractors, often they work to agreed fees that may be more affordable than finding suppliers yourself.  They will be familiar with the pub environment and know all the relevant legal requirements - making your task much easier as you can rely on their advice. Their knowledge and expertise can also result in suggestions and advice on ways to make your refurbishment even more successful. 

You may find that you’re contractually obliged to use your PubCo’s approved professionals, especially if you’re planning any major alterations to the site. Remember, the PubCo or brewery owns the premises and therefore they must agree to any changes and ensure that work is carried out to a high standard. If you just want to repaint the pub, in most cases you can use your own local decorator or do it yourself, but check first to be sure.

Looking After Your Customers During Refurbishment Projects

When considering refurbishment projects, always remember to consider the needs of your customers.  It is important not to alienate existing customers, in favour of trying to bring in new ones. Before embarking on any major refurbishment consult your existing customers and find out what they want. You might not agree, but at least you’ll be forewarned about any resistance to your plans!

Nigel Williams at The Bell Inn, Bearsted, spent a year trading before refurbishing his pub. He used this time to talk to customers about the pub, what they wanted, and also what his plans were. He was able to explain the reasons behind his plans, and that helped to get their support. He opened after the refurbishment to a packed pub, and hasn’t looked back since.

How Refurbishing Your Pub Can Make A Difference To Your Bottom Line

Refurbishing a pub can certainly make a major difference to trading and profitability. At the Railway Tavern, East Grinstead, Shane Rowe recognised that the pub had a large, underused space:

“Over the years the pub had become known as a ‘male boozer’.  The business needed to work harder and would only be able to do that if we could cater for a wider audience – we wanted to appeal to young, old, male, female, or whoever walked in the door.  This was easy to achieve by redesigningthe trading space. Moving the sports and pool table to the rear meant that the front area was freed up and more welcoming. Zoning the trading area would work miracles for our customers and ensure that we provided a natural space for everybody to feel comfortable in.”  

Even minor changes affected trading as he says, “We had a carvery that stood unused for most of the week and at the weekend was only busy at lunchtimes. The equipment was occupying valuable floor space and yet not paying its way for 90% of the time.  So we removed it and replaced it with a table. We also installed a TV within perfect viewing distance. Now we have a space that gets used all the time – resulting in a higher yield for the space and higher margins for the business.”

A much more dramatic refurbishment was undertaken at The Hideout in Taunton:

“When I first found the pub, I knew what needed to be done. A top-to-bottom refit meant that I could influence how the pub looked. Most of the ideas in here are mine and it would be tempting to say that the Greene King interior design company just followed my instructions, but that’s not how it happened. I’m flexible and always looking for new ideas – if the designers suggested something that worked, I went with it. The result is the best of both.

“For example, we have an in-house space that can be used as a mini-cinema with roll-down screen. Using our space like this makes it easy to transform the pub with minimal effort and make a pleasant experience for each visit.” 

Whatever your refurbishment plans for your pub, the most important thing to consider is what difference will it make to your bottom line. A simple paint job will stop your pub looking tired and unloved and therefore help to retain customers and attract passing trade. Whereas a major refurbishment project could transform the space and provide opportunities to increase sales and profits, attracting new customers and taking your pub to the next level.

Speak to your BDM is you’re thinking about making any changes to your pub. If you’re planning to take on a new site or your first pub, sign up for our email series that provides lots of useful advice and insight into running a successful business. Click on the link below to sign up today.