THE comically-named ‘Hurricane Bawbag’ aside, pubs, restaurants and hotels did not have to contend with the kind of adverse weather at Christmas and New Year that blighted festive business in 2010.
But as we stand at the start of 2012 the industry, as usual, has more than the weather to worry about.
A new year traditionally heralds new pricing structures from the major brewers, and this year is no different, with Molson Coors, Heineken and Carlsberg all confirming details of their wholesale prices for 2012 last week. Belhaven and Tennent’s had still to confirm their plans as SLTN went to press, though the latter is expected to announce a price rise in the coming weeks.
On average, the brewers said the rises will amount to an increase of 7p on the wholesale price of a pint, but, as ever, operators will have to decide whether to put prices up significantly more for drinkers to maintain margins.
In a bull market, this is an easy decision to make. With the economy continuing to stagnate, and pressure still being exerted on household incomes, however, it’s one I imagine some business owners will lose sleep over.
It’s OK for the big managed operators like Wetherspoon and Barracuda, which due to their buying power have been able to stage January sales this month to entice people out of their homes and into their pubs.
For the smaller, independent operator, the picture is less straightforward: do they take the hit and absorb the costs for the benefit of hard-pressed regulars, or do they relent to the pressure being applied by growing costs and add a few pence to the price of a pint?
It’s a tricky one, particularly when the trade is traditionally more quiet than at other times of the year, and in the end I suppose it all boils down to the trading position individual businesses find themselves in.
January need not be a totally bleak month for pubs, though. There’s plenty going on in the football calendar on both sides of the border, including the entry of the big clubs into the domestic cup competitions, and there’s also Burns Night to look forward to on January 25.
As several operators and Scotch whisky distillers told us last week, the chance to celebrate the work of our national bard gives the trade a quick opportunity to attract custom soon after Christmas.
Even if you don’t have the resources to put on the full Burns works, with pipers and professional recitals, it might at least be worth adding haggis, neeps and tatties to the menu and throwing on some traditional Scottish music. It might just be enough to tempt people out of cold storage and into the warmth of your venue.
Beyond Burns there are other big events the trade can seek to exploit this year, including top class international football this summer with Euro 2012 and the public holidays for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in June. Even the London Olympics offers creative operators the chance to drive business to their outlets.
Consumers may well have to pay a little more for a pint this year, but perhaps they won’t notice if they’re having a great time in your establishment.