AS pub and bar customers come to demand more from the on-trade venues they visit, hot beverages have become an increasingly important part of the offer in many outlets.
A venue’s drinks range can have a real influence on how customers perceive that business, and hot drinks specialists have advised licensees to give the same care and attention to their tea and coffees as the rest of their product range.
“Customers judge a pub or bar by the drinks it serves,” said Justin Stockwell, managing director of Caffeine Ltd.
“They know exactly what good coffee should taste like, so it’s up to venues to supply this or risk being marked down for their poor service and losing their customers to the high street.”
And yet it seems the message isn’t being received by everyone in the trade.
A recent study by supplier UCC Coffee UK & Ireland found that bar and pub customers are often unimpressed with the quality of coffee in licensed premises.
The study of 750 consumers found that, in general, the quality of coffee purchased in pubs and bars was considered “average”.
This wasn’t bad news in itself, however, as the report also found that if venues provide top quality hot beverages there is an opportunity for them to grow their revenues.
According to the survey, 41% of consumers would buy coffee more often in pubs and bars if the quality was better, with 31% ordering a coffee instead of a dessert when they eat outside of the home and 63% believing that a high-quality coffee at the end of a meal can make the difference between a good dining experience and a great one.
Hot beverages can’t be a token gesture, however, as 44% of respondents said they would be put off returning to a venue if they felt the coffee was of poor quality.
Coffee is increasingly popular, and the market is constantly growing.
Phil Smith, head of category and insight at UCC Coffee UK & Ireland, said that, while many venues are already providing quality coffee, “there’s still significant room for improvement across the market”.
“For pubs and bars keen to diversify, grow and retain their customer base, or to set themselves apart from the competition, high-quality coffee is the key,” said Smith.
“For pubs with a strong food offer, coffee quality significantly impacts on customer satisfaction. It’s an integral part of eating out, with three quarters of diners valuing coffee quality as an important part of the overall experience.
“The results from our research clearly show that consumers are willing to drink more coffee in pubs and bars – in turn, operators must be willing to give coffee the same attention as they do their alcohol or food offers.”
Stockwell, at Caffeine Ltd, argued that coffee machines are “fast becoming a back-bar essential as customers are increasingly looking for good quality and variety when it comes to on-trade coffee”.
In fact, much as in categories such as beer and spirits, customers are becoming more knowledgeable in their coffees, said Stockwell.
“Coffee is increasingly popular, and the market is constantly growing,” he said.
“As coffee consumers become more aware of what is available and what they like, there is a greater demand for a wider range of coffees, including iced coffees and flavoured coffees.
“Specialist coffees are increasingly popular.”
Roger Heap, managing director at supplier Jura UK, agreed.
Describing the ‘speciality’ coffee sector as “booming”, Heap said the rise of coffee shops across the UK has helped make coffee culture “mainstream”, with more emphasis placed on specific beans and roasts.
“Its heightened status has prompted consumers to become more educated on the beverage and discover alternative options and flavours,” said Heap.
“Shorter specialities are gaining momentum and the flat white has become increasingly popular.”
Operators needn’t become experts themselves, however.
Stockwell said that contemporary coffee machines are “easy to operate and look after”.
“Often the touchscreen can take operators through step-by-step trouble shooting and routine maintenance procedures,” he said. “If there’s an issue that the operator doesn’t understand, then some machines can do the training, there and then.
“This is via built-in videos that display on the touchscreen control panel, showing what needs to be done and how to do it.”
A strong hot beverage offer isn’t only about coffee.
Britain is historically a country of tea drinkers and Allan Pirret, sales director of Novus Tea, was keen to stress that tea can also help pub and bar operators to increase trade at the traditionally quieter times of day.
And as with coffee, premium and speciality teas are where the growth is, said Pirret.
“The tea market is shifting in favour of premium teas, healthier green teas and herbal infusions,” he said.
“Premium tea has an increasingly cool image, which is great news for the pub and bar sector.”