Is your pub ripe for investment?

When you’re looking for a pub to run, one of the things you will need to decide is whether you want a pub that has scope for refurbishing and improvements, or a pub that requires no work at all. It’s similar to house hunting – do you want somewhere that could benefit from an extension to give you extra space for example? Making improvements to a pub is all about taking it to the next level and, by doing so, increasing sales and profits. 

So when you view different pubs, consider the following:

  • Does the décor look tired? Could it do with an update to appeal to a new generation of customers?
  • Is there enough space to cater for customers (both in the bar areas, restaurant and outside)?
  • Is there scope to become a venue for customers by holding events or hiring out space?
  • Is the kitchen big enough to service the number of food covers you want to deliver?

Simple Changes To A Pub Can Make A Difference

Even simply changing the colour of the exterior of the pub can make an immediate difference. Martyn Stewart of the Dining Room in Kirkaldy commented, “we felt 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.”

Soft furnishings such as curtains and cushions, or coverings on sofas can quickly become worn as a result of daily use.  Tears and worn patches can create adverse impressions on potential customers.  Updating tables and chairs in restaurant areas improves the overall décor, and make it easy to adjust the layout to maximise space and improve access when serving food.

Adding a fire pit or patio heaters can extend seasonal use of your outside areas, making them a very attractive place to sit on a winter’s evening especially if you are offering hot mulled wine or hot mulled cider!

Equally worth thinking about are changes to your lighting systems.  Making them more eco-friendly can reduce costs and improve the ambiance inside and outside of the pub.

Extending A Pub To Increase Revenue 

Many pub licensees are investing in extensions to increase the capacity of their pubs. Particularly so they can cater for more food covers which is a key growth area for many pub businesses. However, there’s no point extending your pub to provide more space for diners if your existing kitchen cannot cope!

It’s important to consider the logistics of running a busy service. For example, if the extension is on the other side of the pub from the kitchen it could be impractical. There may be a better way to configure the interior space so that food orders can be delivered quickly and easily to the main dining areas in the pub.

The kitchen itself may also require extending to cope with more covers. You might also want to consider whether a separate outdoor kitchen for the summer months would be a good investment. Many licensees have added street food style kitchen facilities in their pub gardens to take the pressure off the traditional pub kitchen. Pizza ovens, BBQs and grills are all popular with customers, and some pubs continue to use them in the winter months too.

Investing In The Beer Garden

Increasingly, there is a trend to use pub gardens almost all year round by installing covered areas such as lodges and cabanas where customers can enjoy privacy and some shelter from the weather.  Cushioned seats, even the provision of blankets on cool nights, can make dining or drinking outside a pleasure enabling customers to watch the stars come out and relax in the open air. One pub that has recently expanded its outdoor facilities is the Rose & Crown at Egham. Clive Price explains what they have done.

“One of the highlights of our outside space is bookable sheds. They offer a sheltered space for a group of customers eating and drinking together and they have their own heaters too so they often get used in the evenings. 

“Customers appreciate the exclusivity and privacy and for something that’s really simple, they have been an amazing hit.  Word has got around about how good they are – Russell Crowe has even used one, and nobody knew he was here!”

Gardens are great for adding inexpensive extra catering space too as Clive indicates. “We are just about to commission a purpose built pizza oven and servery – all built into a shipping container! As a temporary structure, it won’t need planning permission and working with a design company, we have managed to create a solution that has come in at under £40,000 but will provide an amazing experience that customers will enjoy and recommend to others in the area.”

Over at the The Fishes, Oxford, Sam Terry says, “When the garden is fully laid out, it can take up to 300 extra covers – that’s a lot more than the pub itself and could cause a logistics problem for the business. We have a small kitchen, and it couldn’t possibly cope with the extra demand. Our solution is that every Thursday to Sunday in summer, we set up an outside kitchen selling BBQ burgers, steaks and salads.  By having a separate kitchen we can take pressure off the pub and also sell food that’s easier to prepare. We serve interesting salads and garnishes too – we like to think that our BBQ food is leagues above what you could create at home.”

He continues, “If you want to create an unusual experience, you need to do something different, so the centre of our garden features a huge tipi in the summer. This is a big talking point and transforms the space into something really special.  We use a Silver Bullet retro caravan as our outside bar too. Not only does it look the part, but it has also been designed with our business in mind so we can move it to different parts of the garden – even loaning it other pubs in the group!”

Taking action

If you’ve found a pub that has great scope, have a chat with your Business Development Manager about possible investment opportunities. Talking through your options and ideas with them can often throw up new ideas or concepts that the BDM’s have seen in practice elsewhere. The PubCo may also have that pub earmarked for investment, so it’s a good opportunity to explore how you can work with them to develop the pub.

PubCos like Greene King are keen to work with licensees who want to innovate and develop really profitable and exciting businesses. So if you’ve got ideas for a pub that they want to support, investment may be forthcoming.

For more advice and ideas for refurbishing a pub, read our post – Refurbishing Your Pub And Taking It To The Next Level